Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Updating your detail shop

April 6, 2011

As we begin 2011, especially after what we have gone through this past year and a half, it is not uncommon to hope for more business. There is nothing wrong with hope, but your odds increase if you take some action to make what you hope for happen.

The first thing you can do is take a close look at your entire detail operation. Begin with the exterior, and then move to the interior. Aren’t there some improvements you can make to catch the consumer’s eye? Perhaps just a good cleaning is needed? Or some paint? Maybe you can clean the windows, or repair your sign.

You are probably thinking, “Sounds good, but I don’t have the money for remodeling or even improvements.” However, there are some things you can do to spruce up your operation that don’t require a lot of money, but some time and effort on your part.

Check your image
In my discussions with detail business owners all over the country, they all agreed that making improvements to the image of their operation would help not only their business, but also that of the entire detail industry. It is logical that if your shop’s exterior appearance is poor, customers will conclude that the interior looks the same, and your detail work is probably just as bad.

When I evaluate a detail shop, the first thing I focus on is the windows. If I cannot see through them, it is a negative.

I also look at the condition of the signs because they are what bring the customers in, or should. While a catchy title is good, people need to know you are a detail shop. A bad sign will use a catchy phrase, but not identify the business as a detail facility. For example, “Auto Spa.” What does that say? Carwash? Body shop? Repair shop? It is simply not clear. Let the sign be your billboard.

Check the exterior
If you have brick, make sure that none is cracked. It’s the little things on the exterior that can attract or drive away customers. Use bright colors on the outside and make sure your sidewalk, parking lot and any walk ways are in good repair.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating your exterior:

  • Are the windows dirty and/or cluttered with old signs?
  • Is the shop visible from the street?
  • Is landscaping in order? There are no weeds or trash lying around.
  • What is the condition of your building signs?
  • Can the passerby read your sign and know that you are a detail business?
  • Is the exterior in need of a fresh coat of paint?
  • Does your exterior honestly convey a feeling of security, which is especially important for women.
  • Can the motorist see the interior through the windows?

Check the interior
There are also many improvements you can make to the interior. You should not have to be told about the importance of having a clean and organized shop, and the “musts” include an overall clean interior, good lighting and a professional-looking environment. Also, check to see:

  • Does the interior need a fresh coat of paint? (I suggest white, as it always brightens things up).
  • Is it time to paint or tile the floor?
  • Can the addition of better lighting help the appearance? (I suggest using top-quality lighting. When I look into the store, I check if it’s dark or dingy and ask, “If I were a woman would I really want to go in?”)
  • Is the waiting area clean and tidy?

You can add some unique touches like graphics on the wall. These things will make your shop stand out. If you can afford neon lighting, it is a real plus.

Put up decorations for all holidays and changing of the seasons. It tells people that you are attentive to things and are creative.

Detail business owners always ask how they can attract more business without spending an arm and a leg. As we have said, it is all about appearance and cleanliness. In assessing detail shops it is a lack of cleanliness that is the major flaw.

I harp on cleanliness to the owners, but being technicians, at heart, they seem not to see it as important. Their mentality is that the quality of work is all that matters.

Setting the tone
Think about it, the number one reason that you are attracted to any business is its exterior signage. Some signs are not clear, don’t project well and are simply confusing about what the business offers. Operators need to make good use of the brief time a motorist might give as they pass by.

What your shop looks like on the outside, will influence what customers will think of its inside. Some simple improvements can really boost sales. Detail business owners need to realize how much business is lost by not being appealing.

Also, in good weather months put seating outside with greenery, benches, etc. Even consider placing smoking containers.

The right light
One of the most positive things you can do to brighten up your detail shop is to change or improve the lighting. Begin with your sign, if you have an illuminated identification sign, make sure that all the fluorescent tubes are working and cleaned.

Then, in the customer service/waiting room area, make sure you have bright lighting because this is where the customer first encounters you and your business. If it is dark and dreary, that is the impression they will get of you and your shop and probably your work.

In the workshop area, it goes without saying that your workshop should be well lit to ensure that your workers can see what they are doing. I have been in far too many shops where the lighting was so bad that the workers could not see the dirt on the inside of the car, and they could not ascertain the correction or non-correction they were achieving with the buffer when working on the paint.

Natural light is also a key. If you are remodeling, add windows or sky lights. It helps the employees’ attitudes, too.

Avoid cluttering windows. Here are a few ideas to consider, rather than giving you definitive recommendations because every shop situation and budget is different. These ideas will give you some ideas to work with:

You want exposure in and out. When people look in, they are interested in what’s in there. Make the look appealing.

When reevaluating your interior, the focus should be on lighting, painting and the floor. Replace any broken light fixtures and remember that paint is cheap. A little elbow grease and a small investment can result in significant improvements in your shop.

You are an appearance specialist
Regardless of the changes you consider, remember all good customers want image and appearance. They need to feel your shop is not a dingy, dirty detail shop, but a professional operation. You are, after all, an appearance specialist.

Things are evolving in the industry. Ten years ago a detail shop was a dirty, poorly lit operation. But today there are more and more business people getting into auto detailing and they know what it takes to be successful.

If you are thinking about building a new shop, the focus should be on speed. Our culture is about doing things faster. Speed is everything. Layouts should be targeted to match this need. Look at your vehicle flow. Drive-thru bays are always the best, if possible.

For those already established, I’m sure a lot of you have been surviving for years, but the future winners will make changes and survive making more money. It’s all about getting and keeping new customers every day.

Certainly landlords, municipal codes, etc. can hamper your creative spirit. But when possible, make your exterior colorful with a lot of windows. If the customer cannot see the inside, that is a turnoff. Customers need to see the interior bright lights from the outside, a few words and no clutter on the windows. No clutter equates to cleanliness. Keep all your advertising on the interior.

Detail shops can be boring, so utilize some outside-the-box thinking to create excitement at your shop and even consider a theme throughout the shop. Themes are excellent at creating excitement.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is also the executive director of the International Detailing Association and a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors. Abraham can be contacted at