For many years the detailing industry has struggled with fragmentation and in-fighting. There are different schools of thought on techniques and products, which produce endless amounts of debate and turbulence.

Just a few years ago, if you went onto any public forum, you would think that all detailers do is spend their time putting each other down. Not only does this look terrible on the detailers themselves, but on the industry as a whole. Of course, there are always exceptions, but it was difficult to see any type of professionalism or community in the industry.

Over the past year or two, I have seen the detailing community begin to focus on creating a united front. Organizations such as the International Detailing Association (IDA) have attempted to bring the industry together and legitimize our trade as a whole. No two detailing businesses are exactly alike; they can focus on high-end polishing or carwashes, retail or wholesale. What all detailing companies do need to have in common is a certain level of professionalism clients can count on and expect. Large and small operations will benefit from the following four parts of business: Look the part, act the part, know the part, be a part.

Look the part

The first step to being a true professional is looking the part. First impressions are everything, and if you expect clients to hand over the keys to their vehicles or allow you to come to their houses, it is essential you appear trustworthy enough to do so.

Detailing is a blue-collar industry, and we spend most of our time bent over in someone else’s dirty vehicle. The client will not expect you to arrive in a suit and tie, but they will expect you to appear well-kempt and clean. Personal appearance is a key component in any customer service-driven industry. Quite often you see this simple step not taken into consideration. Bathing, trimming/cleaning fingernails, keeping facial hair neat, removing extreme amounts of facial jewelry and maintaining hair are all things that could mean the difference between whether a customer uses you or the guy down the street.

How the business represents itself is just as important as how you represent it. If you have a mobile detailing company, you want to make sure your detailing rig (car, truck, van, trailer) exudes professionalism. Make sure it is always clean, not severely damaged and organized inside to show customers how you intend to leave their vehicles. Another aspect to a professional detailing rig is proper lettering/signage. Not only will this help to advertise as you travel around, it will also leave a more professional impression when sitting in a driveway or outside someone’s house for hours at a time.

At a shop, operator cleanliness is just as important. Customers will look around your shop and sometimes ask to be shown around. Show customers you are a true professional by giving the impression your shop is clean, organized and ready for business.

Act the part

It is one thing to look like a professional detailer, it is entirely another to act like a professional detailer. Every time you open your mouth or put something on the Internet, you represent the detailing industry. The Internet is forever. A statement from five years ago could cost you a potential client in the future. This means care should always be taken to think through any public statements.

The first instinct in responding to a negative review is to get defensive and sometimes aggressive, but that is the worst thing you could do. If you disagree, ask the customer to contact you to discuss the issue. Nothing looks worse than a business publically attacking a customer. That sends a red flag, giving potential clients an idea of what could happen if there is a problem.

Acting professionally not only applies to interactions with customers, but also with other detailers. The level of bickering and in-fighting has decreased, but it still exists in many public forums. Imagine if doctors, dentists or lawyers acted in that manner. Until we start thinking of detailing as a professional industry, and portraying that image, it will never be taken seriously by the public.

There is a certain level of accountability all detailers carry with them. Each one is an ambassador for the industry, and their dealings with the public should reflect that. Putting down competition publicly or to a potential customer should always be avoided. You should sell the customer on your business, not disparage someone else’s. When a business puts down other businesses, it looks petty and could prevent that customer from using you, as well.

Know the part

Because the detailing industry is inexpensive to get into, it attracts a lot of people who are only looking to start their own businesses. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is essential that time is taken to learn about detailing — processes, equipment and product uses.

When a potential customer contacts you about a detailing service, it is because they are looking for a professional to help them solve a problem. Having the knowledge to educate will go a long way in the customer’s eyes. You should be able to explain possible solutions to their problems in terms they can understand. They are more likely to spend a few extra dollars with someone who took the time to educate them, rather than the person who just spoke down to them for not knowing the ins and outs of detailing.

For the beginner, training classes can be attended all over the country. The classes are a couple of days in length, but will teach you the basics of the car detailing industry. More intermediate detailers will want to look to events such as Mobile Tech, SEMA or webinars for continuing education. The classes can be found on various topics, but will satisfy your need for continuing education. More in-depth, one-on-one classes are offered by some of the industry’s top professionals and can teach you finer, more advanced skills.

Be a part

The detailing business is rapidly growing into a strong industry and community. There are organizations that focus on providing resources to help grow the industry.

The IDA is a good example of a trade organization comprised of volunteers looking out for your detailing business. It holds webinars on various detailing topics, sends out newsletters to keep you abreast of new developments, presents seminars at events for continuing education and offers ever-expanding levels of certification.

Joining a trade organization and getting involved shows you are serious about what you do, and you have invested in making yourself, your business and the industry that supports your family better. That sort of commitment is what will set you apart from the rest.

Be a part of the community you serve. You will often be asked for donations. Give when you can. The communities around you help pay your bills, so it is important to thank them for your livelihood. Join local networking groups and chambers of commerce; they are great places to generate leads to grow your business.

If you follow these four simple steps, you will find success in business and in life. Professionalism is not only an indication of how you run your business; it also gives an indication of who you are.

Rob Schruefer is president of the International Detailing Association. He founded On The Spot Mobile Detailing in 2004. Schruefer hopes to create a standard of professionalism in the auto detailing world.