Auto Laundry News - May 2013

Express Detailing — Every Car Wash Should Offer the Service

By Sharie Sipowicz

Express detailing has been around for over 30 years, generating revenues for operators all over North America, yet there are many operators who do not offer the service.

As long as I have been around the industry, I have seen a lot of diversification ideas come and go. This one is a winner. It has proven its viability.


If you have been in the business for a few years, you will remember the Waxcoa “Quick Wax Program” of the early ‘70s, introduced to the industry by Los Angeles car wash operators Bob Burglin and Sam Itaya. It was a hot concept but did not have the longevity express detailing has had. It was quick on the scene and then it faded.

Also in the 1970s, Hanna introduced the “Foam Carpet Shampoo System.” This system created a moist foam shampoo that was sprayed on carpets and mats, scrubbed with a brush, and then vacuumed up. The service was done at either the entrance or exit of the wash. It was “hot” for a while, and then faded. The “why” is not important. What is important is that a viable service was offered by the car washes and then faded away.

Some thought express detailing would fade, but it has not because operators are making too much money offering the services.

Why aren’t all operators offering the service? The reason is simple: most do not understand the concept and what it takes to offer the service.

If you talk to several car wash operators and/or suppliers you will get differences of opinion as to what constitutes express detailing, creating confusion for operators trying to decide if they want to offer that service.

Some call it “express detailing,” some “express wax” and “express carpet shampoo,” and some “express polishing.” Some include the wash others do not. Prices vary from $19.95 to over $49.95 for the same service. Trying to get an idea of what equipment and chemicals to use is also not an easy task for an operator new to express detailing.

If you talk to suppliers, you will understand some of the reasons for the inconsistency among operators because suppliers also exhibit no consistency with regard to the express detailing concept.

You can see the problem; maybe it has caused you not to offer the service. There is no consistency, no standard presentation of what the service includes, or how it is performed.


If you agree that neither suppliers nor operators have a clear perspective with regard to the nature of express detailing, then the obvious solution is to establish some kind of consistent standard.

Standards would help the motorist better understand the service and make sales easier. Motorists would know exactly what they are being offered when a service writer at a car wash approaches them about express detailing services.

Look at the car wash business and the quick lube industry. Whether franchise stores, regional chains, or under independent ownership, these businesses offer clear cut, consistent services to the motorist the same way, at about the same price, anywhere in the country.

Unfortunately, this cannot be said about express detailing. There is not consistency in terms of name, services offered, prices charged, personnel, equipment, or chemicals used.

However, in spite of this, car wash operators are generating a lot of revenue.


As you read the following recommended standard, keep in mind that several other impulse-driven auto service industries are beginning to offer “express detailing services.”

For example, in a recent survey, conducted by a leading trade publication for the lube and oil industry, it was reported that 11 percent of quick lubes offer detailing.

Gasoline station operators are also starting to offer quick waxes and shampoos to their gasoline customers. How long do you think it will be before “Big Oil” locks onto this business as it did with car washing?

When these majors enter the express detailing business, you can bet they will establish some consistency that will become the standard. Since the car wash industry initiated the concept, don’t you think it should set the standard?
Here are my thoughts for a consistent standard for what the car wash industry calls express detailing.

1. Name
There needs to be a consistent, definable name the motorist can understand. Express detailing only says, “it is detailing done fast.” For many detail customers, the idea of “fast” could be a negative if not clarified.
Is it express detailing because it is fast, or because it is low priced? Which is it? You see, the name does not clearly state what you do.

Use the name “Maintenance Detailing Services,” to which we might add the line: “Completed in 30 minutes or less.” Even if the customer is not entirely sure of the nature of the services, the term “maintenance” clarifies them as services that maintain the vehicle, nothing more.

2. Services
Two basic services are often enough: a quick wax/sealant applied and removed with a tool or by hand on a new, relatively new, or well-maintained vehicle; and a carpet shampoo of slightly dirty carpets (this includes floor mats). Slightly dirty excludes severely stained carpets/mats or those with ground-in dirt and sand, which could take you the better part of an hour to do.

You can offer a seat shampoo, but once you include this, it is hard to stop short of doing the whole interior, which is difficult to complete in 30 minutes or less. However, if you have the space, equipment, and personnel, you can offer more services.

If you want to keep it simple: wax/sealant on the paint and a carpet shampoo.

Here are optional services you can offer that can be highly profitable and can be done in 30 minutes or less. They require very little in the way of skill, labor, or equipment:

  • Guaranteed paint sealant
  • Fabric protectant
  • Leather conditioning
  • Water spot removal
  • Windshield chip repair

3. Pricing
Since the car has to be washed before it can be sealed or waxed, charge no less than $39.95 for a maintenance wax/sealant and a car wash; no less than $39.95 for the carpet shampoo, including mats. You can also offer a package price for both services at a discount.

If you decide to offer some of the optional quick services, consider these prices:

  • Guaranteed paint sealant: $99.95 to $129.95
  • Fabric protectant: $29.95 (no guarantee), $69.95 (with guarantee)
  • Leather conditioner: $9.95
  • Water spot removal: $5.00 per window, $7.50 windshield or rear window
  • Windshield chip repair: $40.00 (This is what insurance companies will pay while waiving the deductible)

4. Facilities/Equipment
The most critical areas to consider in establishing a standard for express detail services are:

  • Consistent professional image for the consumer.
  • These are high-volume, impulse-purchased services like the car wash or quick lube, and need to be completed quickly to enable a volume business and make money.
  • If an operator makes no commitment to the business, it will never succeed. Remember the old adage: “You only get out of it what you put into it.”

Establish a separate, two-bay area in a building or under a canopy. If volume requires more space, you could add additional bays. Equip the facility as follows:

  • Vacuum(s).
  • Soil extractor(s).
  • Air-powered orbital waxer or dual-action tool(s).
  • Air-powered rotary shampooer(s).
  • Chemical. The number could vary; six is a good number.
  • Portable detail carts with towel and refuse bins.

Equipped like this, a wax/sealant could be completed by two people in less than 15 minutes, 30 minutes with one person. A shampoo can be wrapped up in the same time.

5. Chemicals
Working on vehicles with paint finishes in good condition and carpets/mats only slightly dirty, your chemical requirements are minimal:

  • Sealant – A sealant is a better product than a wax. It goes on easier, comes off faster, and leaves a much more durable finish — three to six months, in some cases.
  • The one step cleaner/sealant — A combination of light cleaners and sealants to provide some cleaning on paint finishes that have surface dirt, blemishes, etc.
  • Carpet shampoo — A foaming shampoo formulated for friction shampooing with a machine or hand brush.
  • Tar and grease remover — Most vehicles will have some tar on the rocker panels. This should be removed prior to waxing.
  • Dressing — For tires and interiors.
  • Glass cleaner — some exterior-only operations may want to clean the glass outside, inside, or both.

If you offer the optional services mentioned, you will need:

  • Fabric protectant — A Scotchgard-type stain repellant coating for carpet and fabric upholstery.
  • Leather conditioner — Unlike a dressing, a conditioner replaces oils in leather and moisturizes it.
  • Glass polish — Used with “00” or “000” steel wool, you can successfully remove water spots on glass in minutes.

6. Supplies
For maintenance services your supply needs are:

  • Towels — Three types: water and wax, chemical, window.
  • Nylon scrub brushes — For carpets and fabric upholstery.
  • Detail brushes — To remove wax residue.
  • Scrubby pads — To clean vinyl and leather.
  • Dressing applicator pads.

7. Marketing and Sales
Until express detailing services are understood by the motorist and purchased as a regular part of cosmetic maintenance, and until the motorist is able to differentiate them from full-service “restoration” detail services, all marketing and sales should be done exclusively to car wash customers only.

Certainly, you can take referrals and word-of-mouth customers, but save your dollars, and do not confuse the motorist by trying to advertise the services off premises. There is plenty of business at the car wash.

In a full-service car wash, the sale should be made by the service writer at the drive-in area. That way, all transactions are handled through the service writer and cashier.

In the case of an exterior-only or self-serve, the sale will have to be made where the express detailing services are being provided to avoid slowing down the cars on the conveyor.

Hand out a menu explanation sheet to customers and, if they are interested, they can be instructed to proceed to the detail facility. There will be variations to this depending on car wash layout and volume. A high-volume exterior-only wash, for example, does not want to tie up traffic selling detail services at the entrance to the car wash.

An attended self-serve can hand out menu/flyers to customers at the vacuums and in the bays. Signs can be placed
in each bay to promote the service.

8. Training
Actually, the services are so easy to perform that, once you have set up your facility and equipment and chosen the services and chemicals, you can learn to perform them from a manual or video. You can find companies able to provide training services. If I can be of any assistance in this regard, feel free to contact me.

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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