Auto Laundry News - May 2013

New-Vehicle Protection — A Fast and Profitable Service

By Prentice St. Clair

We are all familiar with the common automotive dealership practice of offering vehicle protection packages to their customers purchasing new vehicles. They make it sound like a very important service: “You know, this is a brand-new vehicle, and our protection package will help your car look new for years to come.” Many dealers sell their protection packages with multi-year warranties, often three-to-five years. I have heard these packages going for $500 all the way up to $1,500.

Certainly, the dealer has a right to make a profit just like anyone else in business. I am not here to bash dealer practices. My point in this month’s column is to remind professional detailers that we, too, can compete for the business of the customer who has purchased a new vehicle.

WHAT IS NEW VEHICLE PROTECTION?

An exterior vehicle protection package usually includes an application of a polymer paint sealant. This service is sometimes referred to by the DuPont registered trademark name of Teflon, since some paint sealants contain this ingredient. Whether or not Teflon is an important ingredient is not central to our discussion. Paint sealants work great with or without it. But be aware that your customers may use the “T” word in reference to a chemical that can be referred to generically as “premium paint protection.”

Another up-and-coming exterior service is the application of convertible top protection. This is a relatively easy sell, considering the fact that a non-protected convertible top will fade in the sunlight over time and costs thousands to replace. There are currently great products available to clean and protect convertible top material on a regular basis, helping to prevent such wear-and-tear and ultraviolet damage.

Interior protection includes application of a conditioner to leather seats, as well as dressing plastic and vinyl panels with a premium grade dressing containing ultraviolet blockers. Another common interior service is the application of liquid repellant to mats, carpeting, and fabric seats.

WHAT IS REALLY BEING SOLD?

We know from experience that there is no exterior or interior product that provides protection for more than a few months. So what’s really being sold by the dealer is the warranty paper and the perception that the vehicle will be protected for years to come.

Have you ever read one of these warranties? The front often says, “application of our product protects your vehicle’s paint from tree sap, bird droppings, UV rays, oxidation, et cetera, and this warranty is good for X number of years.” The funny thing is, you turn over the paper and read the fine print on the back and it says something like, “This warranty does not include damage cause by bird droppings, tree sap, et cetera.” That is, the warranty doesn’t even cover the things it implies as being covered.

Another interesting fact is that many of the vehicle owners’ manuals now include recommendations for exterior maintenance that often have language like, “Your car should be waxed or sealed once a month for best protection.” (I recommend that you look for yourself at the owner’s manual of every vehicle that comes through your shop. You will be pleasantly surprised at what you find.)

SO WHAT’S GOING ON?

Basically, a new-vehicle protection package from the dealership is like purchasing an extended warranty on electronic equipment purchased from your favorite big-box electronics store. The store is simply banking on the fact that the vast majority of people purchasing such warranties will never actually bring back the equipment if it breaks.

Likewise, the dealership is banking on the fact that, by the time the paint really starts looking bad, the warranty is over, the customer has forgotten about the warranty, the customer has lost the warranty, or the customer just does not feel like dealing with the hassle of fighting with the dealer over the terms of the warranty.

HOW DO WE FIT IN?

If you are in business for any length of time, you will encounter active customers who purchase new vehicles. It is important, then, to educate your current customer base on the benefits and drawbacks of dealer-applied protection packages. We have nothing against the applied chemicals — they perform well. What we object to is the price that’s usually charged, the promises that are made, and the manner in which the products are applied.

If your customer already got the protection from the dealer, be careful to help educate the customer without making him or her feel bad about paying an exorbitant price. Instead, gently inform the customer that the protection will probably wear out over the course of the first year and that the protection will require “re-application” or “re-activation” on a regular basis to really hold up. Also help the customer understand that the interior of the vehicle will get dirty despite the application of leather protectant and liquid repellant. You can reassure your customer by quickly adding something like, “It’s not a big deal, though, because I can refresh the look of your car anytime you want and re-apply all of those products.”

Also, make sure that your advertising and promotion includes language about your ability to apply new vehicle protection, because there is an increasing percentage of new-vehicle purchasers who understand that new-vehicle protection application can be “shopped.”

Unfortunately, too many dealers rely on low-wage, poorly trained employees to apply professional detail products. The job can be sloppy and incomplete. We, as professional detailers, on the other hand, will professionally treat the new vehicle. We do things like use detailer’s clay or surface prep towels before applying the sealant. Often, those vehicles are coated with all kinds of surface junk that accumulates during transport and while sitting in the lot. This stuff does not come off with a car wash or while wiping on a sealant.

Make sure that your customers understand the difference in results that they will get when the vehicle protection is applied by a trained detailing professional versus a dealer’s “wash guy.” I have often had customers say, “Wow, the car looks better than when we drove it off the lot the other day. How did you do that?” My answer is, “I use professional chemicals, equipment, and techniques. And I can help you keep the car looking this way for as long as you have it. Just keep bringing it back on a regular basis.”

PRICING AND PACKAGING

There are at least a couple of ways that you can price and package new-vehicle protection. The first is to simply offer the application for a one-time price. The price should reflect the fact that you are applying premium protection, in a professional and thorough manner, at a price that is significantly less than the dealer typically charges. Make sure that the customer understands the duration of your service and that the vehicle will require regular detailing to maintain the protection. If the customer compares your service to the multi-year warranty offered by the dealership, educate the customer on the truth about the duration of protection, regardless of where it is applied or what warranty comes with it.

Another way to package the new vehicle protection is a one-time pre-payment of several years of regular applications. Essentially, what you are selling is the same thing that the dealer is selling except that you are providing the customer with an authentic level of protection. One example of how to calculate the price of this package is to include two details per year. Then multiply this by the number of years in your package. Then take ten percent off to reflect the fact that the customer is pre-paying.

In essence, you are selling the fact that this is true long-lasting protection, including an initial application and a “re-activation” application every six months that basically makes the car look new again. The dealer sells a one-time application that we all know is gone within 12 months (often much sooner), leaving the car’s paint unprotected.

Additionally, the paint collects fallout and washing scratches over the years. So the car looks great off the lot but it’s appearance slowly deteriorates. With your “re-activation” package, the car looks great for several years to come while being protected from the elements. With your service, the look of the car is refreshed every six months instead of slowly deteriorating.

Hey, here’s a great idea: Why don’t you contract with your local dealers to be the professional that applies the protection packages for the dealer’s customers? You get a piece of this market and the dealers can promote the fact that their packages are applied by professionals. By making an arrangement like this, you can also make sure that the vehicle is regularly detailed and protected, either as a part of the package cost, or by working directly with the new vehicle customer.

SUMMARY

Professional detail operations should be offering new-vehicle protection packages, just like the dealers. In general, we can provide better service for a better price. This is an opportunity to perform a service that takes a very short amount of time and has a substantial profit margin.

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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