Auto Laundry News - June 2011

A Primer on Marketing, Selling vs. Marketing — A Big Difference

By Sharie Sipowicz

Not a month goes by that you do not read in trade journals that small business operations like detailing have a need to “market” their services rather than simply try to “sell” them. Unfortunately, it is apparent that there continues to be a lack of understanding, or belief in the need for marketing on the part of small businesses. Too many detailers approach detailing with the belief that the customer knows what they are selling. They have a service; they want someone to buy it; and they are ready to sell it — but most are not willing to market it, or maybe they do not know how to market their service.


The approach followed by most detailers is to offer their detail services for sale — generally by word of mouth or with flyers — and then wait for someone to call or come in. In most cases, the flyers are poorly constructed and provide little meaningful information about the service other than indicating the availability and price. Rarely is there any information about the company or individual selling the service, or the company’s reliability and reputation. No effort is made to create serious buyer interest by spotlighting buyer benefits or stressing sales points.

In most cases, detail services are offered for sale, as is — no mention being made of chemicals being used and no indication that the detailer wants to build on-going business by creating a positive, favorable reputation with the customer. It is as though the detailer is only interested in making a one-time deal. The tragedy of this kind of selling effort is that it fails to develop the long-term customers detailers need and want. Too many motorists buy strictly based on price and will shift from one detailer to another if they can get a lower price for the same service. Under these conditions, a detailer who is willing to reduce price may make an immediate sale, but must realize that there may not be any repeat business, as another detailer will in the future offer the buyer the same service at a lower price.


Detailers, who are truly serious about wanting to grow their business, must demonstrate their belief in their services by marketing them as aggressively as possible. This is especially true for consumer services. Most consumers are very name-conscious and prefer to buy a service they recognize by name; it gives them confidence. Bottom line: they buy from a business they know and respect. Therefore, a new detailer trying to break into a market has to
create buyer recognition and develop respect for both themselves and the detail service itself.

To achieve the goal, detailers have to actively promote their services and demonstrate that they are reliable and respected in the market. Detailers need to convince buyers that they are interested in long-term customers and are not simply attempting to get a one-time sale. The detailer has to be prepared to make this kind of investment — regardless.


By making a commitment to marketing, the detailer can assess the market potential (determine the sales he expects or will seek) and then establish a budget (based upon a percentage of these expected sales) to carry out a sales-promotion program. While the financial resources available to each detailer will obviously determine just how large a promotional budget can be established, even the smallest operator can and should set aside some money for this purpose. If you have a service and want to sell it, you have to promote the service and must therefore be ready to spend the money needed to accomplish this. Simply offering a detail service for sale is not sufficient in today’s highly competitive marketplace where there are detailers all over your area fighting for business.

The time, money, and effort spent attempting to market your services should not be wasted; know what you are doing. If there was only one message I could get across to detailers — particularly smaller operators — it is the following: Put yourself in the motorist’s shoes. Would you want to buy a service you knew nothing about from a business you never heard of and have no idea about its experience or reputation? If you believe in your detail service, you have to demonstrate this belief to your prospects by marketing it and not simply hoping someone will buy it if you offer it for sale. If you do not think you can afford to make this kind of marketing commitment, perhaps you should not even be in business because your chances of achieving success will be very limited.


Many detailers, particularly the smaller operators, get in business by accident. They loose their job and are faced with unemployment, or are working at McDonald’s. Rarely do detailers have a purposeful plan to become a detail-business owner with a pre-determined business and/or marketing plan. Even after being actively engaged in the business for a while, few have given serious thought to their situation and have never developed a comprehensive plan. They just show up every day to work and hope for the best.

Although a number of these detail businesses do operate with some degree of success without a business and marketing plan — and may continue to do so for some time — many have problems simply because their current methods of operation, based on following practices of the past, are no longer adequate in today’s dramatically competitive marketplace.

Spell out Your Objectives
The basic aim of any business owner should be to develop a permanent business. Those who seek to achieve this goal have to recognize that it takes years of patient development and cannot be accomplished through a short-term approach of “let’s make a quick deal.” While one-time sales should never be overlooked, any detailer, regardless of size, needs a marketing plan to build a successful on-going business.

Just how extensive and elaborate the marketing plan should be depends on many things: company size, resources, and services offered. Such a plan should spell out your objectives and provide guidelines for achieving these objectives within a specific period.

A detail business trying to sell services on a random basis needs a marketing plan to help it improve its performance. They need to establish specific objectives, and then seek to achieve them in an orderly fashion. They have to determine where they want to go, and then find out which is the right path to follow to get there.

No matter how simple the plan may be, it can help you to focus your attention on particular questions about your goals and current operations. It can assist you in making decisions on future action.

Base Plan on Facts
For example, one of the elements of a marketing plan should involve market coverage — how many markets should you attempt to attract. In drawing up your marketing plan, you should examine your services to determine their suitability for particular markets, and then identify which markets offer the greatest potential. As a result of this examination you can then establish a key market list based upon a priority system with the markets of greatest potential at the top of the list.

Marketing strategies covering sales promotion (advertising, direct mail, website, sales calls, etc.) can be drawn up on a market-by-market basis and undertaken within the framework of a specific timetable in accordance with the resources you have. Rather than trying to sell everyone at once, use of a marketing plan allows you to center your effort on key markets first, and then as you build a solid position in these markets, expand into the next group of promising markets. In this way, on a step-by-step basis, you can broaden your market penetration and do so in a way most conducive to success.

Think of the Future
Developing a marketing plan will force you to look ahead and consider the future of your business. It will require you to study the changes taking place in your market. It will encourage you to give serious thought to new services to increase your salability and/or simply to retain market share. It will also serve to direct attention to the efficiency of your present operations and can lead to decisions and actions designed to improve your operation.

If you hope to be in business in the next five or 10 years, you need to start thinking now about how you are going to make this come true.

A marketing plan covering a given period in the future will help you make the right decisions and take the correct actions to improve your chances of achieving your objectives.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at

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