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Detailing

Step-by-step: Train your staff

October 11, 2010
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Properly training your detailing staff from the very beginning is critical for a successful auto detailing business. Without a training and management plan, detail business owners quickly lose control of quality which is necessary for the success of their business.

This article is not intended to teach you how to detail a car, but to emphasize the important areas of training for the employee. Your detailing staff should eventually all be taught how to detail a vehicle inside and out; including the engine and trunk components.

Job checklist
The first thing you should create is a standard operating procedures document (SOP). Every single employee should be provided a copy of the SOP and this document should be reviewed with them periodically to be sure it is being followed.

Your company’s SOP should contain methods and procedures pertaining to the responsibilities that have been delegated to each member of your staff. By creating and using this document it will ensure consistency and be a great tool — especially for new hires.

The SOP should include the five job categories that encompass the services offered at every detail operation. Once the employee has mastered a job then move to the next one on the list.

You can divide the various jobs in the following way:

  • Job One: Wash & prep
  • Job Two: Engine & trunk
  • Job Three: Interior detailing
  • Job Four: Exterior detailing
  • Job Five: Added value services

Job One: Wash & prep
If a vehicle is not properly washed and prepped prior to the detail it will take longer and the results may be unsatisfactory. New employees must be taught the vehicle components that will be washed, including:

  • Wheel wells;
  • Wheels;
  • Tires;
  • Gas tank door well;
  • Grill;
  • Lower fascia;
  • Body side moldings;
  • Running boards;
  • Convertible roofs; and
  • Door and trunk jambs.

The new employee will also need to know what chemicals and brushes to use for the various areas being scrubbed; as well as how to use clay during the prep procedure to clean industrial fallout (IFO) and contaminants from the paint.

The final rinse and wash-up are the final steps before drying. Be sure the employee knows the steps, has the correct brushes to get the item clean and is using the right chemicals and solutions. Stress upon the fact that he must not let the degreasers splash on the paint if the paint is dry and to take all precautions when scrubbing and cleaning the wheels. Train your detail staff to use two buckets of water; one for scrubbing and the other bucket for the body wash.

Job Two: Engine & trunk
Your employee should know how to clean, detail and dress an engine compartment. Teach them what components to cover-up before getting the engine wet. Review all of the scrubbing steps including:

  • Under the hood;
  • Windshield wiper cowl;
  • Radiator;
  • Valve covers;
  • Power steering;
  • Power brake; and
  • Windshield washer fluid reservoirs.

Show the trainee what they should and should not clean and get wet and make sure the new detailer has the proper brushes and detailing accessories to clean the nooks and crannies that the pressure washer water and degreaser may not have completely cleaned.

It is critical that you teach them to use water dispensed at a lower pressure when wetting the engine compartment and to stand at least three feet away from blasting the engine compartment with water. The engine should be started once any protective plastic has been removed that were covering up exposed electrical components.

It is always a good idea to start the engine after it has been rinsed to be sure it starts right up and you don’t embarrass yourself when it is presented to its owner. Letting the motor run for five minutes or so will assist with the drying process.

Safety is critical and especially important during the training process. Detailers should wear gloves, protective eye wear and should not scrub the engine compartment while the vehicle is running. Take all precautions during the cleaning of the engine compartment including protecting the fenders and front bumper painted areas. Employees must understand the safety issues. You should clean at least three engine compartments with him or her before they clean one on their own.

The trunk compartment is not always done, but the employee should know how to clean and shampoo the trunk. Customers need to remove their personal items prior to the detailing appointment.

The detailer should vacuum the trunk, shampoo the carpeting, clean the inner deck lid, quick wax the jamb and condition the weather stripping. It would be nice to also check the spare tire air pressure and secure any loose tire jack accessories.

Job Three: Interior
Train your new hire to master the interior detailing methods and procedures first; versus training the exterior procedures. There are more intricate applications involved in interior detailing that can also prepare detailers for the larger job items like buffing and polishing.

Furnish the employee with a pocket-sized, laminated check-list so they can refer to it during the training period. Again, stress the importance of the walk-around and of the cleaners and brushes that will be used for interior detailing. It is a good idea to have a detail cart set up so they can wheel it over to the vehicle.

Teach your detailers to start from the top (headliner) and work their way to the bottom (carpets). Be sure you have plenty of quality supplies. It is your responsibility to equip the detailer with clean towels, quality brushes and chemicals, as well as working equipment. If an employee does not have the tools to perform their job the failure falls squarely on the owner/operator.

Once the interior has been completed it should be inspected by the manager or foreperson along with the detailer to see if anything was missed. If the vehicle was being “double teamed” by fully trained detailers they should inspect each other’s work assuming that one detailer did the interior and the other did the exterior.

Your detailers should be provided with an in-depth checklist to make sure each area is inspected. Both the detailer and the foreperson should sign off on this document and it should be attached to the customer’s invoice. It shows your customer that the work is taken seriously and has been double checked.

If the carpets are still a little damp then the windows should be cracked about an inch and the clean mats placed in the trunk, not on top of each other. The customer needs to be told where to find their mats. If only one detailer is designated to perform a complete detail on both the exterior and interior I recommend completing the worst component of the vehicle first. If they are both equal, I usually complete the exterior first and then the interior.

Job Four: Exterior detailing
Depending on the severity of the paint correction needed, the vehicle may need to be buffed with a rotary buffer to level the paint and remove imperfections. The exterior detailer should have had many hours of buffing experience before he or she is allowed to buff a customer’s vehicle.

You will need to spend time teaching this person how to use a high-speed buffer and educate them on the various cutting and polishing pads and compounds. The new hire will also need to know the various paint finish problems and the degree to which they can correct them.

A good learning technique is to have the new detailer buff his own car for starters. He can also pick-up various tips when watching another experienced detailer buff a paint finish. Start new trainees out with orbital polishers so they get a feel for using polishing equipment on painted surfaces.

Your detailers should be taught to examine the paint for various issues including vulnerable areas and newly painted surfaces. Plastic and vinyl trim and moldings along with uneven body panel edges should be taped-off with safe release painters masking tape to avoid damages with a rotary buffer. Always teach them to check for loose trim items and emblems that may be already cracked and loose or damaged. You don’t want an employee cleaning exterior windows before he has waxed the vehicle or dressed the tires and trim.

Once the exterior has been buffed, polished, waxed, dressed, and the glass and chrome cleaned and polished, the vehicle should be inspected by someone other than the person who detailed it. It is always a great idea to perform exterior or interior inspections outside in the natural light, weather permitting. You will be able to see smudges, smears, spots and stains that you may not see indoors. Mobile detailers have an edge here because they are always outdoors.

Job Five: Added value services
As your employees become more experienced with how to perform the basic detailing jobs, you can train them on other profitable value added services like paint chip repair, plastic trim restoration, headlight restoration, glass repair, carpet dying, and vinyl and leather repair.

As your company grows so should they. You must train your detailing staff on all of the basic detailing services, not only on one or two of the detailing jobs. They will get bored and eventually move on if you do not create challenges for them and opportunities for them to be more valuable to your business and increase their wages as they earn more responsibilities.


Nick Vacco is owner/operator of Detail King Inc. (www.detailking.com) and has been involved in the auto appearance industry since 1985 and is an independent consultant within the auto appearance industry.
He can be reached at 1-888-314-0847 or via email at nvacco@detailking.com.

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