Auto Detailing - April 2002

Arrested Development:
What Happens When Nothing Changes

By John Lamade

What happens when the passion goes stale? If passion makes detailing an art, what happens when it is no longer fun? This month we will consider ways to keep the fun in detailing. After all, fun fuels passion.

Just what is fun? While "fun" is personal in nature, we can identify some of its elements. One of the fun elements of detailing is the excitement about getting results. Those of you familiar with TV's long-gone but hopefully not-forgotten "A-Team" may recall Hannibal Smith's satisfaction when a job was done - all the parts came together to produce the desired result. Certainly, one hopes that whenever you see brilliant, glossy paint, midnight-in-a-cave black tires
and spotless interiors there is a thrill, an appreciation of the vehicle's beauty. And this goes double, if you are the one that created the "look."

Another aspect of fun is the mastery of the mechanical and chemical tools needed to detail vehicles. One of the signs of a craftsman is the ability to use tools from selection and use to its care and maintenance. Hmm, that sounds like professionalism, but there is a difference: the passionate pro enjoys the work because he/she appreciates the result: beauty, recognition, and/or payment.

Well, tools can be great, but too often good detailers forget the chemicals. Without chemicals, tools would have limited value (but I bet many people couldn't avoid holding a rotary polisher from time to time). As a result, professionals can have fun when they understand how to use a chemical to get the best results. There is more, too.

One of the things people forget is that a great deal of fun can be had just by learning about a product and what it can do. Many people enjoy taking a difficult-to-use product and figuring it out. This often results in unusual loyalty after the product is mastered. This loyalty is often difficult to explain when many easier-to-use (and often better) products are available. This is why understanding product preferences is often challenging and why manufacturers offer a bewildering array of products. After all, this is an industry of individuals with strong opinions that are based in both fact and emotion. We can say with confidence that the passionate detailer chooses products and tools with similar intensity. Passionately held beliefs, however, can cause problems for both the detailer and vehicle owners.

But what happens when nothing changes? You know what I mean. The artist becomes locked into using certain products and procedures without questioning why they are doing their work in a particular way. Clearly, the detailer has fallen into a rut either because he has blinded himself to alternatives or has failed to understand his objectives. Perhaps we are seeing a case of arrested development.

One of the truths of life is that change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same for long. The value you provide today will diminish with time because others will find better ways to accomplish today's tasks. These ways can be better products and tools, improved techniques, and changes in the vehicles we seek to restore or improve. If you wonder about the truth of these assertions, then consider how the world changed when clear-coat paint replaced single-stage coatings. Next, consider how clear-coat finishes have evolved from materials that peeled off after a year or two to the coatings on current vehicles. With these changes came new products and techniques that produced the results that your customers want without compromising the integrity of the vehicle.

Here are some indications that you may be suffering from arrested development:

• You do not bother to discuss problems with other detailers and suppliers.
• New products mean new problems, so you avoid trying other solutions.
• You tell customers that some things cannot be fixed and let it go at that.
• You avoid offering additional services because it would slow you down.
• When an employee suggests an
alternate approach, you become angry or frustrated rather than considering or trying the alternative.
• You apply the same solutions to every vehicle.
• The trade magazines you receive are largely unread because you notice that the advertising rarely changes.
• You cannot remember when last you attended an industry trade show or a seminar.
• Your customer base seems to be
consistent with relatively few new customers.
• You find it increasingly difficult to get the products you "like."

If you have experienced any of these things, then perhaps you are suffering from arrested development. The problem is not terminal. Your growth can be in a paused mode rather than a full stop. The challenge, then, is realizing that you and your business are not progressing and making a decision to move forward.
To understand why you might resist change and acquiesce to comfortable mediocrity, the best place to start is by understanding yourself.

Passion may not be enough to ensure your survival. Just as artists need patrons and buyers, you need customer vehicles in your shop. The challenge, then, is finding a way to manage your passion for detailing. This means that you should understand your values, goals, and skills as they relate to satisfying the needs of your customers.

Brian Tracy, the noted motivational and business author, in an e-mail newsletter sent in early March 2002, stated the following regarding values:

"Your values lie at the very core of everything you are as a human being. Your values are the unifying principles and core beliefs of your personality and your character. The virtues and qualities that you stand for are what constitute the person you have become from the beginning of your life to this moment. Your values, virtues and inner beliefs are the axle around which the wheel of your life turns. All improvement in your life begins with your clarifying your true values and then committing yourself to live consistently with them."

Tracy's explanation of the role of personal values clearly illustrates the importance of knowing and being able to express the things you believe. Too often, we only have a vague concept of our values. We express our values only when challenged. For many, the values exist unrecognized and underutilized. Rather than using our values as a guide and foundation for our goals and objectives, we use the emotional variant, or passion, as a substitute for the underlying values.

Passion is good. Understanding the sources of the passion is even better. Tracy's assertion that values are the unifying themes of our lives means that by understanding our values or pursing the values that we find worthy will help us shape our lives more effectively. In short, know yourself and you shall know your passions.

As I write these monthly pieces, my goal is to share my experiences and to help you grow both professionally and personally. These articles are intended to provide insights into developing a viable detailing business. We have explored a wide variety of topics. In many cases, I have tried to provide starting places for additional exploration. This month's article is no exception. Soon after I completed last month's article on passion and detailing, I began to realize that the story was incomplete. I had not provided sufficient information. One of my concerns was stagnation: You can be passionate about something but you can reach a plateau and stop growing.

I believe that growth and evolution sustain passion. Because passion is a reflection of personal values, I discovered that one of the most important values that a person can have is the desire to provide the best possible service and quality. This is a common value, but I believe that it is one of the murkier, hard-to-define values that we acknowledge but do not really understand. Once we grasp the importance of this value, we can see that it should help us ensure that we continually look for better ways to accomplish both our own and customers' goals.

The first step
to understanding your values is to find a quiet place to reflect and to consider the things that are important to you. Make a list of the things that are important to you. At first, this list may seem very abstract and may not even make much sense as you write these things down. Some researchers suggest that you write your values down on slips of paper or file cards. This will help you organize your thoughts and later help you prioritize your values. As you express your values, consider the values that are yours. After all, if you use somebody else's values, will these values be you or will you be somebody else? As you consider your values, you may have difficulty identifying all the important things. One way of isolating your values is to think of the ways you react to everyday situations and people. What kind of people do you consider friends and why?

The second step in this value expression is to audit your list. In this case, an audit is an evaluation of your values. Ask yourself about the consistency of your values. Do they fit? Or do your core beliefs vary as situations demand? Then, take a big leap. Are these values consistent with your goals and objectives? Do the things you want to do - your passions - correspond to the things you believe are important?

The third step, is prioritization. What are your most important values and what values are less important? This may be the most challenging exercise because outside influences may indicate that some values are more important than others, and this may be contrary to your beliefs. Certainly, you can seek guidance and solicit suggestions, but ultimately the prioritization must be yours. Consider your list. Ask yourself: Is this the person I wish to be?

The fourth step is looking for gaps or missing values. As you review and consider your values, look for gaps or areas where you believe that you are missing "something." These gaps are often indicated by occasional confusion regarding what to do or not knowing how to respond to a situation. In the earlier stages of this exercise, when you could not find a value you felt was there, the reason for this inability to express a value may be that it was a value you did not hold. Once you have found gaps, you must look for the values that will provide completion. Naturally, once you realize that new values are needed and perhaps some should be discarded, reconstruct your list and priorities.

The fifth step is seeking ways to apply your values to your daily life. This includes your business. If you have a strategic business plan, compare your values to your plan's objectives. Do they match? Or is there a discrepancy between the person and the plan? This may be the root of Arrested Development. The disparity between the person and the plan may be so great that you defeat your efforts to move forward.

If you do not have a strategic business plan, now is the time to consider how your values relate to your business objectives. Your business objectives should be consistent with your values and provide a means for you to express your passion for whatever - in this case, detailing.

John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact John via e-mail at

AUTO LAUNDRY NEWS is published by EW Williams Publications Company
2125 Center Avenue, Suite 305, Fort Lee, NJ 07024-5898, USA Phone: 1-201- 592-7007 Fax: 1-201-592-7171