The economic impact of our current pandemic has prompted some professional detailers to reevaluate their available streams of revenue.
By Prentice St. Clair
The economic impact of our current pandemic has prompted some professional detailers to reevaluate their available streams of revenue. Some detailing operations have taken a big hit from lack of customers, either at the beginning of the “lock-down” or on a continuing basis.
This may be a good time for these struggling operators, and, quite frankly, any operator who is looking to increase average per-vehicle revenue, to look at offering automotive reconditioning services that go beyond traditional or standard detailing. I’m sure that many detailers have either seen or been asked about vehicle appearance issues like these:
• Windshield chips
• Curb rash on factory wheels
• Scuffed or damaged leather seats
• Scraped, chipped, or pushed-in plastic bumpers
These are problems that are not included in the normal detailing repertoire, yet could very well be a part of a complete vehicle reconditioning service, as well as a standalone service offering. So, this month, I would like to discuss the issues involved with adding additional reconditioning services. There are a number of services that can be performed on a vehicle besides detailing. I have categorized these into three main areas:
1. Things you can do right away
2. Easy add-ons (requiring minimal product expense or training)
3. New systems (requiring moderate initial training and expense)
WHY ADD-ON SERVICES?
Adding new services can make sense for several reasons. For example, additional services typically bring in more per hour than standard detailing. Over the years, I have preached that a properly trained and equipped detail technician should be able to generate at least $50 per hour while providing standard detailing services.
Many high-end professional detail shops around the country have increased this to more than $100 per hour. And, with the advent of ceramic coating packages, it is now much easier to obtain these kinds of numbers. Yet, for many detailers, it is not practical to rely solely on ceramic coating applications to generate high-dollar tickets.
The services that I will discuss in this column can bring in as much as $200 per hour. Moreover, almost every vehicle we work on will have at least one of these issues that can be fixed, so the market for additional services is much broader than that of premium protection services.
A common effect of offering multiple services is an increased revenue per vehicle. For example, a single detailing technician may be able to perform two $300 detail jobs in a day, yielding a total revenue of $600 for the day. By performing several services on a single vehicle, its possible for the same technician to bring in the same daily total or much more on a single vehicle.
An operation that offers multiple services becomes a “one-stop” resource center for its customers, which creates customer convenience. You can educate your customers to think of you first for any need that involves the appearance of the vehicle, thus keeping the money in your operation instead of letting it go elsewhere.
Things You Should be Doing Right Now
There are some services that are very easy to perform and require little or no investment in time or money. All detailers should be offering these services to their customers. These include one-year ceramic coating, fabric protection, premium leather conditioning, and convertible top care.
More and more companies are coming out with easy-to-apply “one-year” or “short-term” curable ceramic coating options that make it relatively simple for the detailer who is new to ceramic coatings to offer premium protection. Because of the excellent protection that a curable ceramic coating provides, this service commands a significantly higher price than that of a standard exterior detail using wax or sealant. You can double or triple the price of your standard exterior detail by adding a short-term coating application, and, with the right sales pitch, you get a once-a-year repeat customer for years.
Fabric protection (or liquid repellant) takes only a few minutes to spray onto fabric seats and carpeting. Yet you can charge $25-$100 above the price of your standard interior detail for such application. Normal interior detailing removes existing fabric protection; thus the opportunity arises to sell “re-application” to each customer requesting interior detailing.
Many high-end vehicles come equipped with leather-trimmed seating. Typically, it takes less than 30 minutes to clean and recondition all the leather seating in even the largest SUV. The customer paid extra for the comfort of leather, so it makes sense that the customer might want to pay extra to keep the leather soft and supple for years to come through regular professional cleaning and conditioning.
Both vinyl and cloth convertible tops require special attention to keep them looking new and protected from the elements. There are products available that are made specifically for the cleaning and protection of convertible top material. Considering that it can cost thousands of dollars to replace a worn-out convertible top, it just makes sense to sell specialized convertible top care service.
These four items — one-year curable ceramic coating application, fabric protection application, leather conditioning, and convertible top care — are easy to provide and easy to sell. In fact, every customer should be offered these services. For example, if you have a customer who requests an exterior detail, he or she should be sold on the extra protection and duration that a ceramic coating offers. The worst that can happen is that the customer says “no.” If the vehicle of the same customer has leather seats, you could quickly ask if the customer wants the leather conditioned: “You are obviously concerned about maintaining the paint on your vehicle; why not do the same for the expensive leather seats that you have?”
Work with your current detailing chemical supplier as to what chemicals you need to add to your collection to provide single-year ceramic coating, fabric protection, leather conditioning, and convertible top care.
There are a number of relatively simple additional services that can be provided with minimal product expense and training. These include black trim painting, window polishing, lens clarification, and wheel polishing.
We’ve all seen the older car with faded or chipped wiper arms. And sometimes painted-black door and window frames can fade as well. The black trim piece on the bumpers of some older vehicles is also susceptible to scuffing or fading. The appearance of these surfaces can be greatly enhanced in a matter of a few minutes by using black trim paint or wipe-on restoration chemicals. This service goes a long way to improving the overall appearance of the vehicle’s exterior.
Windows that are stained or have water spots can often be polished back to intense clarity using a random-orbit polisher (or by hand) and glass polish available from your favorite detail supplier. For even more profit, follow-up with an application of ceramic coating for glass. You can combine these two services and call it a “winter prep” for your customer’s windows.
Many plastic headlamp lenses become faded or yellowed with time and extensive exposure to direct sunlight. Some of the detailing chemicals that you already have for the paint (e.g., compound, polish, wax) work rather well on plastic lenses. There are also special “re-clarification” kits available that do an even better job. The bottom line is that you can make most lenses look almost new at a fraction of the cost of replacement, and still make a great profit.
Wheels are an important part of the appearance of the vehicle. Some people pay thousands of dollars for a set of chrome or aluminum aftermarket wheels. Ninety-five percent of factory wheels are actually painted (usually with a clearcoat). On these, you can simply use the same detailing chemicals that you use on the painted surfaces of the car. Remember to charge extra if you have to spend a significant amount of time to make the wheels look right.
Chrome wheels can be polished with chrome polish, of course. Use aluminum polish on bare (i.e., without clearcoat) aluminum wheels. There are a number of polishing kits and appliances that will help you polish wheels to amazing brilliance. Such polishing efforts can fetch hundreds of extra dollars, depending on the amount of time needed to shine the wheel.
To sell these “easy add-on” services, all that is typically needed is to walk around each customer’s vehicle and check for the need for such services. If there is a need, then it’s simply a matter of asking the customer. Again, the worst that can happen is the customer says “no.” The best that can happen is that you can increase your revenue on that vehicle by two to three times what you would normally make with your standard detailing rates.
New Reconditioning Systems
Significant increases in detailing profit are possible with the addition of other reconditioning systems, such as paint touch-up, spot-blending, windshield repair, interior surface repair, and paintless dent removal. Of course, to attain that increased profit potential requires some up-front investment in equipment and training. This can cost several thousand dollars. But with good marketing and practice, it is possible to pay for that investment many times over within the first year of offering the new services. These services offer the customer excellent value by repairing vehicle damage at a savings of 50 percent to 75 percent over traditional replacement practices.
If you have a thriving detailing business with hundreds of regular customers, your marketing of new services is virtually built-in because almost every car out there has at least one malady that goes beyond standard detailing. It’s not uncommon to see one car that has a windshield chip, a bumper scuff, and a worn leather seat all in one. Actually, any of these services could be (and are) successfully operated as a standalone business. However, combining several services with detailing allows the operator to offer the customer the greatest convenience (it’s all done at one location) and the best overall price.
Until you are ready to jump into other reconditioning systems, find some local operators that provide excellent work and sub-contract with them so that you can provide your customers with that “one-stop” shopping experience.
If your detailing operation is not bringing in the money you want — it’s tapped out — consider offering additional services to your customers. Even if you have a thriving detailing business, you can take your income to the next level with add-on services. The initial investment will pay for itself many times over if you price and market the service correctly. You don’t have to do it all at once, however. Try selling your current customers on some of the “easy add-ons” discussed. These alone can generate the extra income needed to make larger investments on new reconditioning services down the line.
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 email@example.com.