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What is your detail business's potential?

October 11, 2010
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If you’re looking to grow your detail business and potentially grow your profits, there are several factors to consider. Listed below are six variables you should carefully examine before making any decisions to expand.

1 Staff: Know your staff, including the number, knowledge, and skills of employees throughout the shop.

2 Commitment: You and your employees must be committed to maintaining the highest level of customer satisfaction resulting in higher levels of customer retention.

3 Marketing and advertising: You must have effective marketing and advertising tactics in place to generate new business.

4 Equipment: Your facility and its equipment must be able to support any desired growth.

5 Goals: Take time to outline measurable goals that you intend to achieve with your new services.

6 Plan: Use these goals to write a plan with action points that will take your detail shop to the next level.

Know your staff
Experience indicates that most detail businesses are understaffed relative to the potential that exists with expansion. This appears to be a result of the owner’s lack of knowledge about how a detail business operates. They look at their business and look only at surviving so they do not know how to grow it and they attempt to control costs by reducing employees.

Cutting staff members has a negative effect on sales because shorthanded businesses cannot answer phones promptly, they cannot take the time needed to sell advantages and benefits to prospective customers, and they do not have the time to follow up with customers. Understaffed detail businesses find themselves on a never-ending cycle of either too much work to handle or too little work to cover the bills.

Know their commitment
You have to get the commitment of your personnel to satisfy customers if you are going to be successful. The most dangerous employee you can have is the one who quit working for you three months ago and still shows up every day to draw a paycheck.

There are many of these types of people in the detail business. They are frustrated by the lack of support they receive from owners and are bothered by the low pay, and they have simply given up before they start. Unfortunately, they continue to show up and draw a paycheck from you as long as you let them.

As the owner, you must manage both employee skills and morale. You need to make sure that all of your employees have the training and skills necessary to provide a high level of customer satisfaction and you also need to make sure that every employee utilizes these skills to ensure that every customer is provided with a great experience.

And remember, a skilled employee deserves good pay.

Know your marketing plan
You must understand that the majority of the customers who contact you are ready to purchase detail services for their vehicle. The only decision they have to make is whether or not your detail operation is right for them.

Your marketing and merchandising efforts must be designed to convince customers that your detail business is the only place in the world that can detail their vehicle properly.

Your marking communications need to show the quality of work you have done for others. You need letters of recommendations, training certificates, and certification forms.

Finally, your facility or detail rig is like a picture, it sends every customer a 1,000-word description of who you are, and how you operate. You must make sure that the marketing and merchandising messages you are sending out are positive pictures.

Know your equipment
Any business should purchase equipment if it will increase productivity and/or reduce labor. To not purchase means you are paying for it without having it. The ability of your detail business to support desired growth is a huge factor in lost revenue. Your customers want you to deliver a superior job but that’s impossible if you have inferior equipment.

Everywhere I go I see primitive equipment in detail operations. Cheap shop vacuums, no soil extractors, old ratty buffing pads, and dirty wash mitts. You cannot provide a superior quality job when you are working with inferior outdated equipment. You must have adequate equipment if you plan to be in the detail business for the long term.

Know your goals
Effective goals and action plans are what you need to implement the above items already discussed. Have an outline of what you need to do and how you’re going to do it. Successful owners are those who have the ability to visualize success and then sell their employees on that vision.

Establishing individual goals for yourself and each employee. Tell your staff how much work you expect from each of them and how and when you expect that work to be accomplished. Hold regular meetings in order to check in and see how progress is being made.

Know your business plan
A business plan is essential to the long-term survivability of your detail shop. No business can survive if their market share is diminishing. This is especially critical because detail business growth has been flat for the past two years. Flat industry growth means that in order to succeed, you must gain market share by taking it away from your competitors!

You must be growing your business at least 10 percent on a yearly basis in order to afford to keep your business, your equipment, and your personnel up to date with current trends in the business. This means that you must proactively seek out new customers. Your business plan should account for this growth.

In addition, you need to follow-up with existing customers. If you lose them, it means they were contacting by another detailer. Have action points in your business plan which give you measurable goals and call for regular status checks. Ensure your business is on target to succeed in the manner you originally envisioned.

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

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