Auto Laundry News - December 2011

WCA — Wrap-up

By Prentice St. Clair

The Western Carwash Association (WCA) held its annual Convention and Tradeshow on October 17-19 at the San Diego Convention Center here in California.

Now, admittedly, I am just a bit biased because I live here in San Diego. In fact, I live close enough to the Convention Center that it’s about fifteen minutes from driveway to parking lot. Nonetheless, having attended WCA conventions since 1998, experiencing all kinds of configurations of hotel-convention hall combinations, I think that most would agree that, compared to Las Vegas, it is relatively easy to get to the San Diego Convention Center.

If you were driving in, you just parked in the Convention Center’s underground parking for 10 bucks and you were on the tradeshow floor after a five-minute walk. If you were in a nearby hotel, you could easily walk a few blocks to the entrance of the convention, and we’re not talking the infamous “Vegas blocks,” which are more like a mile between intersections. If you were staying beyond walking distance, a $10-$15 cab ride (with tip) puts you literally at the entrance closest to the tradeshow floor.

The San Diego Convention Center is a clean, modern venue that is set next to the San Diego bay-front that offers miles of interesting scenery, shopping, and dining for both the casual and serious stroller. It is just south of our famous Gaslamp Quarter with its myriad of eateries and bars, and across from Coronado Island, the birthplace of Naval Aviation, and a shining example of San Diego’s rich history as a military town. The weather was okay, by our standards, even though we did have a heavy fog on the third day of the show. (Next year it will be better, I promise.)

My observation over the years is that WCA is always generous toward attendees, offering several opportunities for free eats and beverages, both on the trade show floor and during receptions. This makes it so much more enjoyable for everyone. The “Midway Extravaganza” was a wonderful way for WCA members to experience San Diego’s connection with the military by enjoying drinks, a meal, beautiful vistas on the flight deck, and a tour aboard the USS Midway CV-41. (Did you know that the Midway served as the command center for the Gulf War in 1991?)

As a long-time San Diegan, I am happy and proud that the WCA convention was here this year. And WCA did a great job. Moreover, I am excited that WCA will be here again next year!

EDUCATION

Okay, I’ll now take off my “visitor’s bureau” hat and put on my “detail columnist” hat. Once again, the International Detailing Association (IDA) was the leading force representing the detailing industry at the convention. Many thanks to the WCA for its generosity and cooperation in allowing the IDA to put on this program. Without it, there would have been virtually no discussion of full-service detailing at the entire convention.

The feature event for the detailing community was the IDA’s latest installment of “IDA University,” which consisted of a day-long educational program on Monday October 17. Included were four seminars, followed by an “ask-the-expert” question-and-answer forum.

The day started with a presentation on the process and profitability of headlight lens restoration by Ed Terwilliger, who teaches a college-level, semester-long class on automotive detailing at Cypress College in Southern California. Ed told us about the reasons why headlamps become yellow or foggy, followed by discussion and video on step-by-step procedures for clarifying such lenses. He then discussed marketing strategies for this service.

It was generally agreed among the experts in attendance that there are two approaches to headlight restoration. The first is the quick-fix, hit-it-with-a-buffer, and charge a minimal price. The second is a much more thorough, multi-step process that completely removes the failing original factory coating, followed by several steps to bring back the clarity of the lens, and finally re-coating the lens to protect it from further deterioration.

The price of this service should be many times that of the “quick-fix,” and the higher price can be made more palatable by offering a multi-year or perhaps lifetime warranty. Even with the higher price, it is likely to be at least half the price of replacing the headlights. Further, there is no guarantee that those replacements won’t also fade quickly.

Renny Doyle with Attention to Details followed with a rousing presentation on marketing detailing services. Renny discussed the pros and cons of some of the newer Internet-based marketing trends. A common theme was the importance of personal contact and the establishment and nurturing of relationships, regardless of how the person came to know you or your business. Follow-up is key, and this goes for customers you haven’t seen in a while; active current customers, each person that does business with you; and potential customers that you have recently met.

Bob Phillips of P&S Sales gave a rather thorough presentation on an often-neglected aspect of business administration — chemical management. Bob emphasized the importance of having a close and quality relationship with your chemical supplier. Your supplier should be able to work with you on maximizing your purchasing power through monitoring your monthly purchases as well as working out a monthly pre-set inventory. He also reminded us of the importance of some of the basics like systematizing detailing procedures, training employees, and organizing the shop (ah! it warms my heart to hear these words).

Aaron Reis of Detail Addiction in Costa Mesa, CA was true to his “I’m Addicted” T-shirt when he gave us an in-depth presentation on the art of interior detailing. Aaron went over basic techniques, equipment, and chemicals necessary to complete a professional detail. He also dropped some great tips and tricks, and discussed some more advanced techniques like stain removal, deodorization, and a treatment of newer interior materials such as the suede-like material known as Alcantara that is found in some higher-end vehicles.

The full day of detailing education was topped off by a question-and-answer period during which members of the audience could ask specific questions of a panel of detailing experts that was assembled by the IDA. The panel included John Bell of Pro Products, Renny Doyle, Keith Duplessie of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Clint Hintz of Auto Wax Company, Aaron Reis, Prentice St. Clair of Detail in Progress, Inc., and Ed Terwilliger. Audience participants asked some great questions and received balanced answers about such topics as the direction of the IDA and specific technical questions about modern paint systems.

The room was packed for most of the day with upwards of 50 people at times. There was a mix of car wash operators as well as professional detailers. The IDA will continue to provide educational and networking opportunities like this as long as our membership continues to grow. If you have not joined, please consider doing so by going to the website, www.the-ida.com.

ON THE FLOOR

The tradeshow floor seemed more filled in with exhibitors than last year’s show. And although I don’t have official numbers, there seemed to be a larger crowd as well. And there were even a few booths specializing in automotive detailing supplies, equipment, chemicals, and training (including yours truly). It was clear in my discussions with passing car wash owners that express detailing is still more popular than full-service detailing, despite my belief that full-service detailing can be as profitable if not more, if done correctly.

Those car wash owners who did offer full-service detailing expressed the common pitfalls of such an operation — the jobs are taking too long, the results are not that great, and the income is not that great. My pitch, of course, was that proper training can greatly reduce these problems.

One of the best opportunities at the convention for the professional detailer was that of networking with other
professionals. Rubbing elbows with the list of presenters above would be enough, but there were many other professionals and respected industry experts in attendance. The conversations were fast and furious, sharing funny stories, getting answers to specific technical questions, and discussing market trends in the detailing industry.

A DETAILER RECOGNIZED

One of the highlights of the entire convention was the award of “Most Valuable Carwasher” going to a detailer. Chad Cornell of Crystal Clear Automotive Detailing in Grand Rapids, Michigan won this annual award that was presented during the “Midway Extravaganza.” It was especially encouraging to see the award going to someone in the detailing industry when it usually is awarded to someone working at a car wash.

SUMMARY

Keep close to the IDA website for announcements on upcoming events. And you might as well put it on your calendar now, as the IDA is very likely to be involved again at next year’s WCA Convention, being held again in San Diego, September 18-20. With increased members and member-participation in this association will come more frequent and bigger educational events.

Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail Prentice@DetailinProgress.com or call (619) 701-1100.

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