Auto Laundry News - August 2012

Marketing Program — Detail Services and the Car Wash, Part II

By Keith Duplessie

In the July issue of Auto Laundry News we discussed ways of making car wash customers aware of their vehicles’ detailing needs. This month, we’ll look at creating an effective marketing and sales program for detailing services at the car wash.


It does not matter if you offer express detailing under a canopy or full-service detailing in a nice building. The sales team at your car wash must be the same if you are going to maximize business.

A car wash sales team for detailing services should be made up of anyone who comes in contact with the customer, namely: the service writer/ greeter, cashier, checker/final inspector, car wash manager and assistant(s), detail shop manager, and anyone who answers the phone.

Not all of these people will be involved in the direct sale of detailing services. However, if they come in contact with the customer they should have sufficient knowledge about what the detailing department can do, and the services offered.

The detail shop manager or assistant should be the only ones doing evaluations, inspections, and pricing.

With the members of the team identified, you can then assign roles to each person or position — what they are to say and do if the customer asks about detailing, or a particular service.


In all my years in the business, the following detail sales program is one of the best I’ve seen. Much has been borrowed from successful operators, and for their experience and knowledge I am indebted and grateful.

In our perfect marketing program, the service writer does not try to sell detailing services. Why? Because at that point, customers have “car wash” on their mind, and the service writer should be trying to sell a car wash package.

Actually, the cashier should be first to mention your detailing services to customers. How? After collecting on the sale and handing them a receipt, the cashier hands out a small brochure on your detail services, asking: “Did you know about the polishing, waxing, and interior shampooing services offered in our detail center?”

If the customer displays a genuine interest, the cashier could call the detail manager over to further address the subject or, if your layout permits, direct the customer to an area where the detail department can be viewed, and the performance seen firsthand.

To build upon this initial exposure, have a detailing video playing in the waiting room as well as some sign that expands on the information in your brochure.

Your staff’s knowledge of your detailing services is most valuable. The customer may seriously consider purchasing your detail services, and an informed answer from your staff — anyone from the manager to the impulse boutique salesperson — could mean the difference in closing the sale.

However, the key player on your sales team is the final inspector/quality checker. Before car wash customers retrieve their car, your final inspector should have done an evaluation of the vehicle using a detail-evaluation form pointing out certain problems with the paint and interior that could be corrected in your detailing department.

As customers collect their vehicles, the inspector hands the evaluation form to them along with any verbal comments that may apply. If customers respond positively, they should be referred to the detail manager, or the manger should be called to the car.

Remember, you are trying to create a need, not sell. It is difficult to sell where there is no need.


The final detail sale can come in a number of ways. That day in the car wash detail area, with the customer returning to the detail department, another time or day, or with drop-in customers who heard about, or were referred to, your detail department.

No matter how the opportunity to sell detail services develops, the sales principles remain the same. Keep in mind that through all of your promotion and advertising, you have been trying to create need and expose the motoring public to detailing services. When the customer acknowledges that need by showing an interest in the service or by coming to the detail center, they are indicating that they are ready to buy.

Now, it is up to you to show them what their car needs and sell them what they want to buy. Three key elements to remember when preparing a detail sales presentation:

  1. What services do customers perceive they need?
  2. What does the vehicle actually need?
  3. Are they price conscious?

Another way of looking at sales is the ABC Sales Approach:

  1. Ask relevant questions
  2. Build the sales ticket
  3. Close the sale

Combining the three elements, a typical sales scenario might go like this:

A customer asks about the cost of some detailing service. The response should be, “Let’s look at the vehicle.”
As the vehicle is being inspected, there are two important things that must be done: Reinforce the need for the service the customer thinks he needs (for example, indicate that the paint is scratched, water-spotted, and/or oxidized), and ask relevant questions.

These questions help the customer recognize the needs of his vehicle and to look at it as you, a detail expert, do.

For instance: Are you going to keep the car or sell it? Has it ever been detailed? How long ago? When was the last time it was waxed? Do you garage it? How often is it washed? At home, or at the car wash? If at home, what is used? (Most use dishwashing detergent, which contains a degreaser that removes wax/sealant.) Did the carpet or upholstery ever have a fabric-protectant treatment?

There may be a number of other questions you can ask, but you can see how enquiries of this type reinforce the already-perceived need, create new needs, and give the customer confidence in the salesperson.


No matter what the vehicle requires, if you do not establish need as well as the value of the work you do and what you charge, the price-conscious customer will be hard to sell. Often, this customer buys just one service when the vehicle requires several others.

Price-conscious customers are easily identified. They always ask what the price is first. How strongly they ask determines just how price-conscious they are.

For example, a customer expresses a need for a wax job. Go to the vehicle, ask the relevant questions about the exterior, then open the driver’s door, and ask if they would like the interior done.

Generally, the answers will be one of the following: yes; no; how much? and/or yes, how much?

If they say “yes,” proceed to the engine and trunk to determine additional needs. Should they say “no,” don’t go any further and finalize the exterior detail sale.

If they ask about price, indicate that it would be part of a package, and you would like to see the engine and trunk to determine the full needs of the vehicle.

For the customer that replies, “Yes, but how much?” continue toward the engine and trunk.

Often, the customer will resist the up-sell, so you must then determine what they will actually purchase.


Adding value, rather than simply discounting is critical to higher per-car revenues. For example, if you are trying to sell an exterior/interior package and you sense the customer is hesitating, you might include a fabric protectant or engine cleaning at no extra charge.

Many times, after the price had been quoted, a client would ask us if we could touch-up a few chips. Before we offered the paint touch-up system, we agreed to do it at no charge, if the customer supplied the paint.

There are numerous other closing techniques you can use to add value and finalize the sale. Nevertheless, you can see that selling detailing services is a time-consuming process of showing need, adding value, and closing the sale. In some instances, it can take as much as 10 to 15 minutes to finalize, but this is how you close a $150 to $200 sale.

It has been my experience that you just cannot do this kind of selling at the car wash entrance by the vacuums. That is why detailing should be handled separately from the car wash service.


To the consumer, detailing is detailing. Whether we call it full service or express, the consumer still sees it as detailing, and generally is not informed enough, or does not care enough, to differentiate between the two.

Whether you charge $19.95 or $59.95 for a wax, $19.95 or $39.95 for a carpet shampoo, the customer still expects quality and value. In the customer’s view, you can’t do any less of a job for $19.95 than you would for $59.95.

Price is only an issue when you have not convinced the customer that your service is worth what you charge.
Therefore, the principles remain the same for selling express detailing; you must show need and add value.


Many operators sell express detailing services as a part of their car wash sales, but remember what has been said about not confusing the customer by trying to sell car wash packages and detailing services at the same time. Would you try to sell oil changes at the vacuum islands?

Whichever program you offer, do not lose sight of the fact that your services must be sold based on need and value.

The better you are at demonstrating need and value, the more money you are likely to make with detailing at your car wash.

Keith Duplessie is technical services manager for Portland, OR-based Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems. You can reach Keith at

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