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Detailing

Detailing your services

May I ask you to take a quiz?  Name the three most common business myths about detailing. Carwash owners should know the answer, but if you don’t, they are as follows: 

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1. All customers pretty much need the same thing.

2. Most of your business comes exclusively from carwash customers or word-of-mouth referrals. 

3. Detailing businesses have to service a lot of cars every week.

If you believe these myths, you can probably increase your profits by improving your sales skills or the sales skills of your detail manager. After you or the detail manager learn how to sell better, your detail business will increase the number of jobs you book and increase your profit per car. 

Honestly, are you or your detail manager on top of good salesmanship? Remember, being a good salesperson is just as important as being a good businessperson and a skilled detailer — probably more so.

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There’s a huge influx of people coming into the detail industry today because it is one of the easiest businesses to enter, but it is also one of the toughest businesses to stay in and be successful. A great many carwash operators initially offer detail services, but because they don’t do it correctly, which includes having a good salesperson selling the services, they give up and get out of the business.

Long-term success is found by offering a good detail service and enhanced by an ability to persuasively sell the value of premium detailing methods and premium detailing products to the motorist. The savvy operator today not only understands the properties of chemicals being used, but also everything about the car, especially the paint. These operators also know how to effectively explain everything to the motorist.

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Marketing takes precedence

You probably didn’t decide to offer detail service because you like sales; you likely also didn’t hire a detail salesperson. But, just the same, you should consider some of these ideas from marketing experts if you are going to be ultimately successful with your carwash detail operation.

You need to start with a good approach to time management. It’s a matter of priorities. Understand that, among the many things you must do, certain things are clearly revenue-generating. For example, returning phone calls for prospective customers deserves a top priority.

Detail managers cannot spend all their time detailing cars. They need to answer the phone, they need to be talking with carwash customers on the line or out in the lot in their spare time generating business.

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Know your operating costs and your market

You should also be aware of the operating costs of your detail operation. Your costs should determine your prices rather than a general feeling of what the market will bear or what you believe other detailers are charging. The latter are totally irrelevant to the question of pricing. 

When pricing your services, there are a couple of things you need to do. 

1. Have your accountant determine an hourly shop rate based on expenses.

2. Set a time standard for every job that is performed in the operation, including engine clean, wash and wax, buff, polish and wax, express wax, express carpet shampoo, etc.

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With a sound cost model in hand, you can then take a look at your market. What is the customer most interested in purchasing? Is it express maintenance services, full service restoration services or both? 

A good source of this information could be your carwash customers. You can do a simple survey and hand it out to customers, offering a free polish and wax if they complete the detail survey which will provide a wealth of information.

For example, in another industry I worked in, I learned through a customer survey that there were 10 factors in buying behavior that consumers had rated in importance. Surprisingly, at the bottom of the list were price and the years of experience in the business. However, everyone had always been pushing those two things in advertising messages. 

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When you develop your marketing and advertising materials, including the message on your answering machine or the sales pitch the detail manager gives to the customer, language should emphasize those factors that are most important to the buyer. That leads to the visual image customers will associate with your business, and this association does not have to be price (unless you’re selling fast-food hamburgers). 

I often hear from carwash operators that because their business comes from customers at the carwash, they don’t need marketing. It is true that you might not be using direct mail, radio ads or TV ads — these traditional media avenues may not be cost effective. 

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However, you still need to do marketing … just think of it differently. For example, the image your detail operation projects, from the cleanliness of the detail area to uniforms employees wear and signage on the building, all influence customers in planning to use your detail operation or not.

Nevertheless, formal marketing should not be ruled out. It’s often less expensive than you think. You can build awareness by targeting your carwash customers with flyers containing customer services, specials, etc. 

You would be amazed at how many customers do not even know you offer detail services. I was in a midwestern full-serve carwash on a Saturday that washed 800 cars that day. The detail shop, which had big bays and large windows so customers could see the shop, only had one car worked on all day.

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 You will also want to consider allowing your costs to set your marketing strategy. Determine where you make money and which types of customers provide the greatest profits. Are they full-serve detail customers or express detail customers? Then, gear your marketing strategy to entice those customers. Also, get satisfied customers to make referrals. 

If dealer work is good for you, work with dealer associations in your city to assist you. What can you do for them? You know what they can do for you.

Meeting the customers

In the detail business, true selling begins when you meet the customer and their car to perform an inspection and make the bid. Have your detail manager ask the prospective customer to walk around the car with you. Spend a lot of time making the inspection and asking questions before giving the customer a price. Walk them through the steps — what procedures will be followed to do the paint, the carpets, etc. 

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It’s during this presentation time that listening skills come into play. It’s the first premise of sales. Listening becomes especially important with a motor vehicle involved. Ask customers how they use the vehicle, even if it seems obvious. Don’t assume anything, let them tell you. The more chances that are given to say what they’re looking for, the less chance there is to disappoint them. 

After asking a stream of questions, you may find the answer that price is the most important thing to this customer. But, you may also find out that the customer is thinking, “I don’t want to have to do this again in six months or a year” or that he plans to keep the car for five more years. These things are important to know when trying to close this particular customer.

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While learning the customer’s specific needs and desires, you can begin to determine in your own mind how much they are prepared to spend. Qualify them financially. You may assume customers want a detail because they asked about it or came into the detail shop. But, maybe they want something else, such as chip and paint repair. 

It’s common among far too many business owners to feel that price drives every purchasing decision. But, it doesn’t drive as many as you’d think. If price was the only issue driving purchasing decisions, we’d all be driving Yugos and eating fast food for every meal.

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As you listen, begin to propose different options with different price points. Experts say that studies have shown most consumers need three choices
before they can make a decision. You can present different options or let your competition do it. 

Frame your competition as a less than desirable option on account of lower price, poor quality, etc. By presenting options, you’ve sufficed their need to get a second or third price. Maybe they will avoid that path because you’ve given them a tremendous level of confidence in your professionalism and craftsmanship. 

Share the details

Some people are simply uncomfortable with the notion of sales. It may not fit their personality or they fear being perceived as pushy. If so, these people should think about sales as telling a story. Relate their car’s problems to a previous job you’ve handled well. This lets you tell your message in a friendly way that serves multiple purposes. It helps to educate and it tells how you’ve successfully met other motorist’s needs. 

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When working with a motorist, there’s a fine line between demonstrating your knowledge and providing information that the customer either doesn’t understand or does not care about. An analogy can be made to a quality auto mechanic who gains your confidence but doesn’t sit down with you to explain your engine’s compression ratio. Share enough information to demonstrate your proficiency, but do not scare them off. 

Astute consumers will place more confidence in a detailer who can give a concise but credible explanation of why their service is better than another detailer. Explain the difference between a wholesale detail and a high quality retail detail. Your three-step paint finishing process compared with a “quickie” one step. The amount of information to give depends on the customer, which makes listening all the more important. 

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A little goes a long way

It is recommended that you or your detail manager demonstrate expertise and professionalism by sharing select details with customers. Limited explanation of the detail process puts customers at ease and assures them that you are a safe choice. On the other hand, too much detail will alienate the customer. 

Hopefully you now realize how important it is to market your detail services to your carwash customer and how important asking questions and listening might be.


RL “Bud” Abraham has been in the carwash and detailing industries since 1969 and is considered one of the foremost experts in the field. He worked for several carwash manufacturers and started his own company, DETAIL PLUS, in 1986. He was the founder and first executive secretary of the International Detailing Association. Today, he offers consulting services on carwashing and/or detailing to operators and manufacturers. Contact Bud at [email protected]

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