Auto Laundry News - November 2011

Buddy System Turn Competitor to Partner

By Sharie Sipowicz

The ability to identify and collaborate with other automotive businesses to generate more business can be as important as your detail service itself. The somewhat intangible “word-of-mouth” marketing phenomenon is an experience that is hard to crack. It results, in large part, from the perception of customer service and customer satisfaction. Customers who see their cosmetic car care needs handled by two businesses working together and demonstrating dedication to the satisfactory completion of their needs will feed the “word-of-mouth” pool. One-stop shopping for all cosmetic car care needs is rare in this industry, yet the public is conditioned to seek a one-stop experience. Simplifying the steps to providing for a client’s cosmetic car care needs by completing the project at your shop or by accurately directing the client to another partnered shop to cohesively continue/complete the project can make the difference between a true customer and a tire kicker.


As an example, consider two businesses — one a detail operation, the other a window-tint shop — both exercising a complementary business relationship. A client indicates interest in a custom tint package. Good window tinters are hard to find, but using an established relationship with a detail business they know and trust helps the motorist make a decision to have the windows tinted when the vehicle is in for detailing. This speeds the way toward a completed job, a satisfied customer (with word-of-mouth potential) and revenue for both shops.

Without a symbiotic business-to-business relationship, the detail business might have lost the tint business, and the tint shop might never have picked up another job — and both shops would have lost the profit.

In this example, two different businesses used their individual strengths as a team to meet the goal of any successful shop: making the sale and creating a satisfied customer. If I were to modify my example a bit and instead use the scenario of two detail businesses, this might beg the questions, “Why should I work with the competition?” Again, if one shop has better equipment, or wet sands and the other shop doesn’t, both shops can still benefit from the same outcome.

Cooperation with a business offering similar products and services can serve as a relief valve in times of heavy business flow.

There is another element to complementary referral relationships that deserves comment: paid or commissioned referrals. There is a clear distinction between a complementary business relationship and a purchased referral arrangement. While there is definitely a time and a place for paid “bird dogging,” clients acquired as a result of a commission put them in a different context. These types of clients should, of course, receive no less a degree of customer service than those who come to your detail business directly on their own or from a referring partner company; but recognize that they are more expensive to get in your door, and in addition to the commission, there also is the time (and therefore, cost) of managing referral programs and commissions. Paid referrals are valuable to the bottom line to be sure, but rarely are they as strategically important as cooperative business relationships.


Looking beyond fellow businesses, complementary relationships can be found among many different types of service providers and your detail business. Consider the connections between the primary vehicle you detail for a client and what, for example, it tows or is towed by, how and where that vehicle is serviced, and what unique products already are installed on the vehicle. Follow these connections between the customer’s vehicle and the broader world to illuminate untapped cooperative resources.

Many detailers are frequently asked about a wide variety of car care services. Paint touch-up, invisible paint protection, and vinyl/leather repair are a few examples of services most detail businesses do not offer.

Body shops are another great relationship opportunity for the detailer. If one of your clients is in need of body or paint work, they may seek help or recommendations from you. Give the body shop a reason to refer you or use you for detailing, and a partnership where both businesses win is formed.

Fleet-department managers and commercial truck resellers can be lucrative contacts to have in your address book. Servicing commercial clients is often a cornerstone of a detail business’ success. As a trusted service provider, customers may ask where to buy vehicles. That referral can become a valuable sale to the dealership. Presumably, your client (say, the dealer) also will utilize you for detail work. Another positive aspect of detail sales at the dealership level is the opportunity for the client to finance or bundle your product/services with a purchase, presenting an attractive financial benefit, as well. This favorable exchange may generate a new client for your shop and/or the fleet seller while reinforcing and sustaining the relationship between businesses.


In nature and the sciences there is the concept of a symbiotic relationship. Business symbiosis is a cooperative relationship between or among groups that is mutually beneficial. This complementary business relationship does not, however, prohibit each detail operation from thriving on its own.

Such an arrangement is not simply a technique to employ during difficult economic conditions; complementary relationships should be a standard part of your formula for business success. Explore and develop complementary relationships as a natural extension of the services you provide your clients. Customers will use you and your company as a base of support for their greater needs as a result of their positive experience with your company, and because they respect your integrity and expertise.

Revising the term “competitor” to “partner” improves your professional im-age and broadens your market. Time and again, you and your partners will realize a profitable residual from a satisfactory referral and an act of cooperation on behalf of the client.

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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