Auto Laundry News - March 2013

Mobile Tech Expo — Abundance of Detail Education

By Prentice St. Clair

This year’s Mobile Tech Expo and Detailer’s Forum (MTE) took place January 17-19 on the grounds of the WorldGate Resort in Orlando, FL. This was the 12th annual MTE, which is targeted toward automotive reconditioning businesses and technicians who offer services such as automotive detailing, paintless dent removal, minor auto body paint repair, windshield repair, interior surface repair, and vehicle accessories. Although many attendees operate on a mobile basis, most of the exhibitors and educational sessions appeal to both mobile and fixed operations.

There has been grumbling around the detailing industry in recent years regarding the perceived absence of
detailing education and attendance. However, if this year’s Expo is any indication, I can assure you that this is no longer the case. I was pleasantly surprised at the quantity and quality of educational offerings, detailing attendees, and attendee participation and enthusiasm. Let me say this right now: If you have had any doubts as to whether or not to return to MTE, start making your plans now for next year. If you have not yet attended MTE, start making your plans now for next year.

It was the most crowded MTE I’ve ever seen. The classroom sessions were well-attended and the tradeshow floor was packed. In fact, there were times when it was difficult to move about the isles. Admission to the Expo floor and to all of the seminars was a measly $20. There were so many great presentations that I couldn’t physically attend all of the ones that were on my must-see list. The tradeshow floor was decidedly mostly PDR-related. Nonetheless, there were several high-quality detail exhibitors and a few more industry-related booths.

Among the notable awards presented at MTE this year, International Detailing Association (IDA) member Jim Goguen of Jim’s Auto Installations and Detailing Center in Ipswich, MA was crowned “Detailer of the Year.” Renny Doyle of Attention to Details was awarded MTE’s “Lifetime Achievement Award,” and IDA’s newest Certified Detailer Lou Spellos of Squeeky Clean Mobile Car Wash & Detailing of Virginia Beach, VA won Third Place for his mobile detailing rig.


As mentioned before, there was an abundance of education available for detailers. From the program, I counted no less than 21 educational offerings that applied directly or indirectly to the detailing industry. Of these, there were seven how-to seminars; three demonstrations; three classes on detailing profit centers and service ideas; five seminars on marketing and administrative topics; and four seminars discussing non-detailing additional profit centers that could be added to a detailing operation.

The bulk of the how-to sessions were led by Mike Phillips of and Darin Pereira of Mequiar’s Inc. Mike offered a no-nonsense approach to the multi-step process of detailing a vehicle by outlining his preferred order of steps. He also led several seminars on paint perfection, including information and demonstrations of traditional and newer tools and pads, how to properly use a rotary buffer, how to renew exterior trim, and how to remove isolated small areas of paint damage.

Darin Pereira also provided great information on choosing pads, products, and equipment for paint defect
removal. In other sessions, he discussed and demonstrated potentially profitable express detailing options for professional detailers as well as alternatives to traditional water-intensive car washing techniques.

The information about paint perfection was the most I have ever seen in one place (other than a formal training school, that is). It was almost like a movie titled “Everything you always wanted to know about buffing but were afraid to ask.” Had one attended all the seminars on paint perfection, one would have a grasp of the difference between random-orbit polishers, fixed-orbit polishers, and rotary buffers.

Topics covered in the administrative and marketing seminars included Internet marketing strategies, energizing your business success, and mobile business management software. Other seminars were offered on potential non-detailing additional service ideas, including windshield repair, interior surface restoration, deodorization, headlight restoration, and, of course, paintless dent removal.


Perhaps the most important benefit of attendance at MTE is the numerous opportunities that it affords to network with detailing operators from around the country and beyond. There are all kinds of operators in attendance, including fixed locations, mobile operators, sole proprietors, those who offer only detailing, and those who offer multiple reconditioning services. It is easy to meet these people during and after seminars, on the trade-show floor, and at the numerous informal gathering spots around the resort premises.

The informal discussions that ensue include those about the challenges and potential solutions regarding detailing procedures, marketing, customer-interaction, specific techniques, equipment, chemicals, and “the competition.” Some of the connections that are made at MTE are maintained for years through e-mail and phone contact. I still talk with fellow operators that I met as many as seven years ago at the first MTE that I attended.

Networking does not stop with fellow operators. It includes the opportunity to have actual face-time with some of the detailing industry’s experts. There is unquantifiable value in the capability to ask questions of experts in the industry as well as of representatives of several of the companies that supply the detailing industry.


The International Detailing Association had a strong presence at the Expo as well. IDA offered detail education, as well as a one-day certification program. Additionally, the IDA held its annual face-to-face board of directors meeting.
The “Certification-in-a-Day” program provided attendees with basic detailing knowledge in a classroom environment, after which the written IDA Certified Detailer tests were administered and evaluated. Six attending detailers were certified and awarded their IDA-CD patch.

Keith Duplessie of Big Man Washes of Irving, TX, as one of his final duties as last year’s IDA president, delivered a “State of the Detail Industry” address. Keith began his talk with a look back at our 50-year-old industry, which started as an outgrowth of automotive dealership used-car reconditioning. Dealer detailing is still the largest single source of detailing today. Retail detailing became more popular in the ‘80s. More currently, “express” detailing as well as do-it-yourself home detailing have become popular and well-recognized in the motoring public.

Keith identified some impacts to the growth of our industry, including the economy in the last few years, although he was also quick to point out that we have survived with similar conditions for several years now. It is not likely to change quickly, so it is important for us to continue to educate the customer on the vehicle value maintenance that detailing can provide.

Keith identified other issues in our industry, including prevailing detailer stereotypes, lack of detailing technician education, greater government regulation, and changing vehicle materials. Keith pointed out that the IDA is young, yet has been around surprisingly now for five years. He emphasized the things that IDA has and continues to accomplish, including the Certified Detailer program, educational offerings, and trade show involvement. He finished by stressing that the IDA is of, by, and for detailers and they need to get involved.

Jim Lafeber, owner of Simon’s Shine Shop in Chicago, IL, provided an insightful seminar in which he shared tips and tricks on transforming a business into a brand. He began by suggesting that the traditional methods of marketing are inadequate, especially the common practice of chasing customers. Instead, we should position ourselves as the leading authority so that our “brand” of detailing becomes a strong one that people seek out.

Jim went on to point out the importance of providing two types of value: the true value of the service and the perceived value of the service. He suggested that the visual appearance of a business can actually be more important than the actual capability of the business. Part of your “brand” is to consistently offer an extraordinary experience for the customer.

Additionally, Josh McCooey of Glass Mechanix provided IDA University with a seminar discussing how to connect with insurance companies as a new source of detailing revenue.

The IDA welcomes new directors Tim Floyd, national sales manager for Stinger Chemical; Tim Jones, owner of Double J Detailing out of Mt. Vernon/Evansville, IN; and the above-mentioned Lou Spellos. These three gentlemen offer great enthusiasm and diverse experience that will assist the IDA board in improving the association.

The IDA board is lead this year by a great set of officers, including President Jim Lafeber; Vice President (Non-Operator) Stephen Romero of Ashland Industries (representing Valvoline, Car Brite, and Eagle One brands)
in California; Vice President (Operator) Greg Swett, owner of Classic Appreciation World Class Auto Detailing in Rochester, MI; and Treasurer John Lakkis of C.A.R. Products Inc. out of Holyoke, MA.

The IDA board held its annual face-to-face board meeting on Sunday, January 21 at the WorldGate Resort. As a result of the planning that occurred during this meeting, you can expect, among an ever-growing list of member-benefits, an increased IDA presence at regional trade shows around the country, more “Certification-in-a-Day” opportunities, and improvements to the Certified Detailer program. The board is a group of dedicated volunteers who are ready for another year of service to IDA members and the detailing industry as a whole.

More information about the International Detailing Association, including how to become a member, how to become an IDA Certified Detailer, and how to get involved, can be found at or by calling IDA headquarters at (651) 925-5526


Did I mention that it would be wise to start making your plans to attend next year’s Mobile Tech Expo? I can virtually guarantee that it will be worth the investment. You are likely to see another large offering of seminars and demonstrations just for detailers. You are also likely to see the expo well attended by fellow detailers from around the country, especially as the IDA increases its presence and educational offerings. Remember this: The more of us that show up, the bigger the show will get over the years.

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

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