Something’s happening in the detailing industry. Something wonderful. It started in the late ‘90s with an influx of professional detailing schools. Detailers were finally receiving formal training in the craft. They were being encouraged to invest in several days of intense hands-on training as a means to be able to provide superior results almost instantly instead of spending one to three years or more gaining experience and gleaning bits and pieces of information from trade magazines and local seminars and tech nights.
But so much more has happened since then. People in our industry are talking with one another like never before. People are learning more about detailing than ever before. People are taking this industry more seriously than ever before. Consumers are seeking out detailing professionals.
COOPERATION VERSUS COMPETITION
If you are tuned into the professional detailing world even a little bit, you will notice that there is an increased sense of cooperation in the industry.
A great example was a recent “Detailer’s Meet and Greet” put together by Ed Terwilliger of Cypress College in Orange County, CA. It was hosted at the headquarters of a well-known major detail chemical manufacturer in Irvine, CA and emceed by Claude Harris of Final Appearance Auto Detailing out of Long Beach, CA.
The thing that really struck me about this gathering of like-minded professionals is that “competitor” detail chemical manufacturers were represented in the room. John Bell, whose company headquarters resides in the same community, walked in wearing his company shirt. As well, Renny Doyle of Attention to Details walked in with still another detail manufacturer’s name emblazoned all over his typically highly-embroidered jacket.
This admittedly long description is to make a very important point: many of the suppliers in our industry who might, at one time, have been secretive and standoffish with each other are now co-mingling, with a spirit of cooperation, and with a common goal of uplifting the automotive detailing industry to new heights.
The detailing operator community has enjoyed two main benefits from an invigorated detailing supplier community. The first is a number of innovative detailing chemicals that is making our job easier and more profitable. These innovations include the advent of no-rinse and waterless vehicle washing systems, hydrophobic polymer spray-and-wipe formulations, one-step paint-perfection chemicals, ceramic and other related long-term coatings, products designed to clean and protect specific vehicle surfaces (e.g., convertible top material), and semi-permanent trim restoration products.
The second benefit is the ever-improving versions of our favorite detailing staple chemicals like polishes, compounds, waxes, and cleaners.
This should be a shining (get it?) example of how we detailing business operators can treat each other. Respect, openness, and encouragement have replaced disdain, secrecy, and bad-mouthing.
If you spend a few minutes glancing through the posts on the various detailing Facebook groups (especially the International Detailing Association’s members-only Facebook group), you will see all levels of detailing professionals posting both questions and answers to technical, business, and customer relations questions. This spirit of cooperation is helping raise the level of professionalism for all detailers who are participating in this new movement.
Moreover, detailers are coming together more than ever at trade shows and other events like Mobile Tech Expo in Florida every January, SEMA in Las Vegas every November, and other smaller regional events. We chat; laugh over shared horror stories; exchange ideas, tips, and tricks; and talk about our families and goals. There is a new camaraderie, both between old friends that only see each other online and at the annual event, and between weathered long-timers and newbees.
THE DETAILER AS A “PROFESSIONAL”
I attribute the new era of detail-ing professionalism to three main sources: great industry educators and leaders, industry technical innovators, and the International Detailing Association
Industry Educators and Leaders
The level of knowledge in our industry has been increased many fold through the promotion of the importance of education and training in our industry by people like Bud Abraham, Renny Doyle, Todd Helm, Mike Phillips, Jason Rose, Michael Stoops, and Ed Terwilliger, just to name a few.
Additionally, the industry has benefitted by the leadership activities of many dedicated individuals, working both independently and within their professional roles — people like Bud Abraham, Keith Duplessie, Rick Goldstein, Kevin Halewood, Bob Phillips, and Rob Schruefer. (I have most certainly inadvertently left out some very important names as I rush to complete this article — if you think of someone I have failed to mention, please e-mail me so I can correct the oversight in a future column.)
Industry Technical Innovations
Innovations in our industry have also “led” a revolution of increased knowledge, improved techniques, and improved customer satisfaction through better results. We have seen the mass introduction of the use of steam. Innovations in the removal of paint surface contamination and fallout have made this job easier and increased consumer awareness of the importance of this service.
Of course, there is the amazing explosion of polisher/buffer technology that has evened the playing field of paint perfection capability. No longer is “making a car shine” the purview of a select few “experts.” With the swirl-free machines, chemicals, and pads that are available to virtually every detailing professional, we can all become paint perfection specialists with a modest amount of training and experience. I personally commend all of those individuals who have participated in the paint perfection revolution through educational offerings like online videos, seminars, and hands-on training. (Once again, if I have left out an important recent innovation, please send me an e-mail.)
Stay tuned into the industry, as we are sure to see more innovations. Just when you think you’ve seen everything this industry can offer, something new happens.
The International Detailing Association
There can be no doubt that one of the major factors in the recent explosion of detailing professionalism is through the efforts of the IDA. Yes, as a founding board member, I am certainly biased in this assessment. But anyone who has watched the growth of our industry trade association will agree that we have come a long way. We are now in multiple countries with hundreds of members and more coming on each week.
The IDA has helped to boost our industry in several ways. It has increased the awareness of the concept of professionalism. It has increased the awareness of the importance of education and training. It has helped to break down walls between detailers and instill an understanding of the idea that “we are all in this together.”
As the association continues to thrive, we will soon see more efforts to educate and connect with our consumer — the motoring public. This is already starting to happen, as I am sure many members have experienced an ever-increasing number of incoming cold calls from customers who found them on the IDA website’s directory of professional detailers.
A huge contribution to the industry is the IDA’s Detailer Certification Program, which has brought the only independent certification available to our industry. Through this program, we are now seeing an organic move toward standardization of our industry that was once full of “lone cowboy” operators. We now see detailers from around the world clamoring for the opportunity to become IDA-Certified and “Skills Validated.” The IDA’s efforts in the future will no doubt both directly and indirectly promote the establishment of standards for our industry.
OUR BELOVED CUSTOMERS
One thing I have noticed in my retail operation is that new customers are increasingly better educated on the subject of proper vehicle care and protection. They already know about the importance of “detailer’s clay.” They know about sealants versus wax. They know about swirl marks and washing scratches. And they ask about ceramic coatings. No doubt the Internet is a big reason for this, but I also think it’s a grass-roots phenomenon as each of us individuals educate our own customer base, one person at a time, and through advertising pieces.
As the motoring public gains increasing awareness of the importance of vehicle appearance care, professional automotive detailers will see an increase in requests for service. It will be important for operators to continue the trend toward a high level of professionalism. This will help the consumer understand that there is a difference between the true detailing professional and the wanna-be. The consumer will see that our industry is standardizing and that it is okay to expect superior service and results.
The detailing industry is in somewhat of a renaissance. Increasing education, innovative technology, and the coming together of detailing professionals are the reason and the result. The increased professionalism that detailers expect from themselves and encourage in others is the driving force. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “a rising tide lifts all ships.”
Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.