By Prentice St. Clair
Your professional image is what the customer sees when looking at your business. If you have a shop, this should be obvious — signage, clean building, tidy work area, etc. But image goes beyond some of these more obvious items. More and more we must be concerned with our “online” image as well, especially if you rely on the Internet to attract customers. Finally, image includes how you “carry yourself” as a businessperson and how you interact with customers.
When it comes to the difference between image and marketing, there is a blurry line. The clean, professional appearance of a detail shop or mobile rig can indeed attract customers. So, image is important in and of itself, but it is also important as a means of attracting and retaining customers.
There are some basic things you can do to help establish your image. Start with the business name. Try to create a business name that not only indicates who you are but what you do. “Joe’s Detailing” is basic, straightforward, and to the point. But it lacks pizzazz. Instead, try something like “Auto Appearance Specialists,” which sounds more sophisticated.
You may also want to use a name that more generically refers to automotive appearance care than simply “detailing.” This allows you to expand your business in the future by adding other services (e.g., accessories, windshield repair, paint, etc.) that are beyond basic detailing.
Many marketing gurus suggest the development and use of a logo. This is a symbol or picture that captures your business in one simple visual representation. Logos can be quite powerful for customer recognition — think golden arches, the colonel, the cola bottle, etc.
Colors are important as well. You can do some research online or speak with a marketing expert for advice on what colors to use in your logo and other promotional materials. For example, “clean” colors include green, blue, and white. Eye-attracting colors are yellow and red. Black and red in combination indicate power.
Once you have decided on your business name, colors, and logo, start putting it on everything you can think of, including signage. The idea is to begin “branding” your business so that customers recognize your business from the standpoint of its image. This is what the large nationwide franchises do, and thus we can all recognize their names no matter what city we are in around the country. We can take a lesson from these multi-billion-dollar operators and add a “franchise look” to our own relatively tiny operations.
If you are already “in the game” and want to check on your progress, take a sample of each of your printed items and lay them out on a table. This includes brochures, business cards, uniforms, letterhead, invoices, thank-you cards, feedback cards, printed advertisements, and printouts of the home pages of all your online items. Do they all match or does it look like a ransom letter? If they don’t match, consider hiring a graphic designer to pull your materials together.
When you are an employer, part of your image is projected by the people working for you. From the beginning, make it easier on yourself by hiring those with good grooming habits. Think about the clientele that you are trying to attract to your business — if they are the type that might be put off by piercings and tattoos, then you may want to shy away from potential hires that sport such items.
Have and enforce a dress code. Uniforms can include hats with logos and collared shirts, tucked in. And everyone should wear the same colored pants or shorts (pulled up and kept up). Uniforms should be clean all day, so have employees keep an extra shirt handy should the first one become soiled. Better yet, have everyone use aprons (embroidered with your logo) during detailing so that the shirts can’t get soiled.
My personal conviction is that detailing and smoking cannot go together. The problem is that tobacco smoke is easily transferable from the clothes and breath of the smoking technician into the customer’s car that is supposed to be getting cleaned. Thus, avoid hiring employees who smoke. If it’s unavoidable, have them smoke somewhere out of view of customers and completely away from customers’ vehicles.
There are less obvious ways of projecting an image. One of these is how you converse with customers. Answer the phone energetically and enthusiastically while identifying your business and yourself. Respond quickly to voicemails and other messages.
Another intangible way to project an image is how you do your work. I remember many years ago, Steve Okun spoke of “the big show.” And he is absolutely right. Whether your operation is mobile or fixed, your process of performing an automotive detail can be quite a theater. With proper training and good process, you can create a performance that demonstrates that you really know what you’re doing. This is especially important if you are mobile because, believe me, people are watching.
Another way to improve or extend your image is to become involved in the community. Donations to local causes that are attached to advertising, a booth at community fairs, and sponsoring local kids’ sports teams are just a few ways to get your name out there and add to the “community involvement” aspect of your image.
The appearance of your fixed location is an extension of the work that you do. Walk outside and take a look from across the street. Is it something to be proud of?
Signage should be clean and professional. At a minimum, make sure the grounds are always free of trash and weeds, and see that the building itself has a good coat of paint. Keep the windows clean and the lobby area spotless. Get rid of old, worn out furniture. The bathrooms that customers use must be spotless, even if this means cleaning them once a day and checking several times a day.
The detailing work area must be clean and tidy at all times. No towels on the ground! Keep all trash in receptacles — have the technicians take trashcans with them when emptying the contents of the car. All unnecessary cords and equipment must be stowed when not in use. Other essentials include: fresh paint on the walls, back-up supplies stored in clean cabinets, and lots of bright light. There should also be no bad smells in the detail area. Launder dirty towels each day and clean out the extractors (leaving them open to fully air).
When you are “out there” performing a detail on a mobile basis, your business is really on display. Your vehicle should be clean at all times. Take advantage of the large surfaces on your van, truck, or enclosed trailer to advertise your business with a professionally designed and installed wrap or vinyl lettering. You can also use the edges of your canopy to announce your activity. I recommend having a simple message in big block letters, like “Auto Detailing” — just something to catch the eye of the passer-by so that he or she is encouraged to approach you about your service.
Keep your work area clean and tidy. No trash or towels on the ground. Roll up hoses and cords that are not currently in use. Use a cart, caddy, or tote to carry your bottles and supplies instead of leaving them spread out on the ground.
IMAGE ON A BUDGET
I am a big fan of letting professionals do jobs that I am not the best at. When you think about it, we are the recipients of the same from our customers. They don’t know how or don’t have the time to detail, so they pay us to do it. We should do the same when it comes to image. Graphic designers, public relations experts, advertising specialists, and printers and embroiderers can all help you to improve your image.
Although these services should be an investment in your future profitability, for some, they can be too expensive. (As I have mentioned many times in my writings, make sure your pricing is appropriate so that you can pay for normal business expenses like marketing.) Nonetheless, there are ways to improve your image without spending too much money.
The easiest way is to provide superior customer service. If you absolutely delight your customers on a consistent basis, they really won’t care how you look. Use customer service to boost your reputation and your prices so that you can afford image enhancements later.
Consider trading with some of the professionals listed above. You can provide detailing service in exchange for the services provided by the professional. Be sure you agree with the service provider on the terms of the exchange. For example, I like to trade full-retail with full-retail value. That is, no special discounts on either side. This keeps it simple.
There are many ways that you can create printed materials yourself. You can use your own home computer and readily available software or online services. Ask a trusted business acquaintance to review your materials.
How does your business look these days? Professional or frumpy? Consider all of the obvious and less obvious ways that you can improve your image so that you can attract the most customers.
Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.