For car washes looking to significantly boost their average ticket, detailing can be one of the most profitable add-on services today.
By Keith Duplessie
For car washes looking to significantly boost their average ticket, detailing can be one of the most profitable add-on services today. Yet with the minimum wage rising and more than 25 percent of the full-serve budget and about 10 percent of the flex-serve budget dedicated to labor, operators need to reduce the cost of their labor and materials as much as possible in the available space.
New systems are organizing equipment, personnel, and materials to dramatically enhance sales, productivity, and quality while minimizing waste.The problem is that for too long traditional car wash detailing has been surprisingly inefficient, utilizing non-standardized, even messy approaches that not only waste labor, time, and materials, but also “scare off” customers.
Now, however, top car wash owners are taking a page from the auto industry’s lean production techniques. By adding professional detailing systems in a compact footprint, they are managing equipment, personnel, and materials to optimize productivity, workflow, and quality while also minimizing waste. With this approach, they can cut 25 percent or more of the time and labor needed, and save several dollars per vehicle in chemical and material costs for approximately a one-year ROI.
“With our new detailing system, we are able to charge about 30 percent to 40 percent more per car while getting more referrals and repeat business,” says Chris Skoglund, owner of Skogie’s Auto Spa in Kelowna, BC, Canada. “Our revenue from two detailing bays is 25 percent higher than we anticipated, up to $250,000 [Canadian] a year.”
TRADITIONAL DETAILING INEFFICIENCIES
The challenge is that the quality of traditional detailing is often poor due to a lack of a standardized processes, materials, and management. Most detailing operations store equipment, supplies, and chemicals in a disorganized manner and inadequately control the process.
Yet when the operation is a mess, customers are hesitant to trust their vehicles to detailers who cannot keep their own operation clean and presentable. Spray bottles, chemicals, buffers, pads, and materials may be in different locations, requiring detailers to leave the service bay to retrieve the items before work can proceed. The detailing steps may be followed, but often not in a systematic order.
Furthermore, the process is usually inconsistent with chemical concentrations varying depending on how much of each chemical is put into the bottle and who is diluting it. Too much time is wasted filling bottles, mixing chemicals, looking for this, and waiting for that. Chemical and supply costs also increase due to spills and theft in such operations.
According to Skoglund, when Skogie’s Auto Spa had previously been a full-serve wash, its add-on detailing service needed greater throughput, consistency, and quality control.
“We had one guy doing the detailing in the parking lot, so he had to run around to get supplies as well as mix and fill spray bottles,” says Skoglund. “We spelled out chemical mixing directions for our staff, but over time these weren’t followed so we’d get uneven mixtures. The detailing was inconsistent and not really professional because we didn’t have a system in place.”
IMPROVED PRODUCTIVITY AND QUALITY
Following the lead of the auto industry’s implementation of lean production, popularized by the Toyota Production System, top auto dealers are now learning how to cut the waste from their detailing operations while optimizing workflow, quality, turnaround, and customer value. This is turning underperforming detail operations into significant revenue sources.
What this approach requires is organizing and controlling the detailing process via centralized stations that anticipate every need and put it all at the fingertips of the person doing the work. This includes the organization of materials at fully supplied workstations with controlled chemical delivery and dilution, along with racks and carts.
One example of this approach involves a workstation system that puts all the tools and supplies needed by detailers within easy reach so they never have to leave the vehicle or service bay. The workstations are placed on both sides of the vehicle to allow multiple technicians to work independently at once. This increases productivity so more vehicles are detailed per day.
When Skogie’s Auto Spa expanded to include an automatic tunnel wash, self-serve bay barn, and flex-serve area, Skoglund also set up a two-service-bay detailing shop, which includes several workstations along with a variety of other equipment.
The workstations dispense up to 12 necessary cleaners, shampoos, and treatments through color coded, chemical lines, eliminating the waste, distraction, and mess of squeeze and spray bottles. The system also dispenses more viscous chemicals, such as waxes, polishes, and compounds, which further expedites paint finishing.
“With the workstations, all the equipment and supplies are right there within easy reach,” says Skoglund. “We often have two technicians detail a car together so customers don’t have to wait. We detail faster with more consistency and professionalism. Now detailing is one of the most profitable areas of our business.”
Because each workstation includes a powerful wet/dry vacuum, this eliminates the need for clumsy portable shop vacuums, which are prone to bump into and mar vehicles when dragged around the shop.
For cleaning and shampooing carpets and fabric upholstery, each workstation also has an internal heated soil extraction system. In addition, two coiled air lines are available for operating pneumatic tools such as buffers, shampooers, and orbital waxers.
One key to making the system function more productively than shops using spray bottles is an accompanying chemical dilution and dispensing system. This automatically dilutes all water-based chemicals to exact proportions, which improves safety and quality while eliminating chemical waste and improper mixing. All chemicals, including ready-to-use products, are delivered to the workstations installed in the detailing center.
“The chemical distribution center helps ensure detailing quality and consistency by eliminating improper chemical mixing,” says Skoglund. “It makes it easier to train employees as well. We know that even new detailers are using chemicals at the correct concentrations and not making mistakes.”
GREATER SALES AND PROFITABILITY
The bottom line for car washes looking to add detailing as an efficient, high-profit-margin service (particularly full- and flex-serve washes) is enabling everyone to work smarter, not harder.
According to Skoglund, his advanced detailing equipment has also given him a sales edge. Instead of one guy in a parking lot waiting for business, he typically leaves the doors of his detailing bays open in a busy foot traffic area, which gives customers the confidence to add his detailing service.
“We are doing a significantly better job detailing now, so we charge a premium price,” concludes Skoglund. “When customers see our professional operation, it spurs them to add the service. As a result, we are keeping four detailers busy largely through [impulse buys], referrals, and repeat business.”
Keith Duplessie is owner of DETAIL PLUS Car Appearance System, a Dallas, TX-based manufacturer of car detailing equipment including ChemSpense workstations and chemical dilution and dispensing systems. He managed sales and technical services at the company before acquiring it in 2017. Keith is a founding member of the International Detailing Association.