Auto Detailing - April 2003

Creativity Rebelling Against Mediocrity
By John Lamade

This month's theme is creativity. There is much to be said. Also, I will put in some plugs for Car Care World Expo because this ICA show will be here soon. In case you are wondering, I haven't been invited this year to speak to the assemblage of car wash operators and detailers. It probably was an oversight, and there's always next year.

Speaking of creativity, you have to hand it to the ICA and its Car Love campaign. If you haven't visited the campaign web site at, you're missing something. Apparently, 64 percent of the respondents to the ICA's research indicated that they hold conversations with their cars, and 90 percent of car owners sing in their cars. The apparent goal of the campaign is to encourage more trips to the car wash, but it sure makes you wonder about the "DIYers." Well, it's your dues at work.

From a detailer's perspective, there is little to like about Car Love. It's a cute idea but without the money to back it up, cute it will remain. Another question that arises is why anybody would think that Car Love and car washes go together. Could this be a case of creativity gone mad?


When I saw the logo (below) and the day, I was impressed. What a great idea! You can learn more about Creativity Day at this web site: When you receive this copy of ALN it will be Idea Week. One couldn't ask for better timing. Recognizing creativity and innovation is a worthy activity. There wouldn't be much to the detailing and car wash industries without invention. In a matter of weeks, Car Care World Expo will be upon us and any number of innovative products and inventive ideas will be available to those who take the time to attend.

As I looked at the exhibitor list, I noticed that some familiar chemical companies would not be present this year. There are many possible explanations, but the primary reason for not attending probably is money: Is the show a good investment? For many, it is rather like preaching to the choir when what they really want are new customers. This is a dilemma.

The question that manufacturers should ask is "Who are our customers?" From my experience and observations, I suspect that many manufacturers don't have a clue. If you ask, some might say that their distributors are their customers, but just because the distributors pay the invoices doesn't make them the customer.

Well, if the distributor isn't the customer, should we call the detailer the customer? And what about the vehicle owner? Is that the customer?

Ultimately, the vehicle owner is the customer, but there is a limit to what marketing and sales dollars can do. To reach a vehicle's paint surface, a bottle of wax must first be manufactured and sent to a distributor. A distributor then sells the bottle to the detailer who applies the product to the vehicle.

Certainly, these are many steps, and for some products and distribution schemes there are even more steps. At each step along the way, somebody must be convinced that the product is worth making, promoting, selling, buying, and using.

Creativity enters the picture somewhere around here. New product ideas - the innovation - are often the result of distributors complaining that they don't have a product that works like a competitor's which is sweeping the market. R&D frantically burns the midnight oil to create a product that looks like and then outperforms the competitor's product. The cycle goes round and round. Everybody copies competitors to keep the distributor happy.

And what makes the distributor happy? Sales!

Well, that's the way it often works. This is a pretty good example of a "push" philosophy of marketing. You push the products downstream.

Another approach is to pull the products downstream. You create demand from end-users and customers. Think about a product like Zymol. Whether you like it or not, you must admit that the product and its extensions are positioned beautifully. Vehicle owners "know" that Zymol is the "best." Anybody that uses the product must, by extension, also be dedicated to "best" performance. If you are a manufacturer, you can make a better product, but can you build a better brand?

Starting from the bottom and working your way up the distribution chain does make sense, but it takes time and resources. For some, a good place to start is at the shop level. 3M is famous for this approach because its products are so well distributed (after all, if everybody sells your full line of products, you can focus on pulling distribution down to the shop). There might not be any mystique for the vehicle owner, but the shop appreciates the quality and consistent performance.

The problem with pulling and shoving is this: You have to keep all the links in the distribution chain intact. If a link breaks or is missed, the customer will never be reached. This is the challenge of trade shows. Let's say you have a booth and talk to a shop owner about your line of products. Unless you have a distributor in the area, you are wasting your time because there is no way to reach the shop. Of course, there is the Internet and mail order, but detailing products are expensive to ship. Similarly, a potential distributor can face challenges if it does not have a customer base ready to receive the products.

Trade shows are expensive. When you go to a trade show, a small program can cost around $25,000. At a 5 percent margin before taxes, you would need to increase sales $500,000 to break even on the show. If you already have good distribution and a loyal customer base, is the expense of a show a good investment? Add to this the difficulty of obtaining a good booth space at a trade show. Unless you are a major exhibitor with top seniority, you are going to be on the fringes of the show. This makes recovery of trade show investments more difficult. Manymanufacturers, then, decline attendance.

Well, how do we find solutions or alternatives? How do we tap our creative skills?


New ideas and products drive business. When there are few innovations, newness comes to mean variations on older themes, improved packaging, or promotions. While these may not be innovative, finding the right program that produces profits and customer satisfaction does require a high level of creativity. How do you uncover opportunities?

As you can imagine, there are many creative systems available. One of the easiest to learn and to obtain results from is the SCAMPER System. For more detailed information on this approach, visit or the Ideas Unlimited(tm) web site.

SCAMPER is an acronym that encompasses a range of creative actions:

• S = Substitute something
• C = Combine something
• A = Adapt something
• M = Maximize or minimize something
• P = Put something to another use or to a new use
• E = Eliminate something
• R = Reverse or rearrange something

If you were a detailing-products manufacturer, you might use this approach in a wide variety of ways:

When you look at your product line, is there a new product that can replace several others? Is there an ingredient that improves performance and reduces cost? In short, look for things that result in an overall improvement. Detailers, don't feel neglected! What would happen if you could substitute a special paint sealant for compounding with the same results?

Combine Something
Products that do more than one thing often seem to be poor compromises. However, if you could create a product that would do more than one thing, you could deliver more value to your customers and increase their efficiency. A potential example would be a wheel cleaner/sealant and tire dressing. A manufacturer might also create a trade show strategy that combined efforts to expand into international markets with a domestic marketing program. You could kill two birds with one stone at one show.

Adapt Something
An example of a clever adaptation of something simple to a useful tool is a squeegee. Think about all the squeegees that are available that dry car bodies as well as glass. Many detailing product innovations have come from shops that have adapted products to suit new needs.

Maximize or Minimize
One example here would be developing packaging that would permit the most economical RTU (ready-to-use) cost. If you were a manufacturer, perhaps you would change your packaging strategy and develop attractive, but inexpensive containers and printed on-line labels. A good example of this approach is Paul Mitchell shampoos and conditioners. They demand top dollar at salons and their packaging is one- or two-color silk-screened HDPE rounds with flip tops. Compare this with the "wild" and highly creative packaging of other products like "Bed Head."

Put Something to Another Use
Many shops have accused manufacturers of selling the same products for different applications. A good example here would be a glass and hard surface cleaner. The aerosol people have done this, but how often have you seen a concentrated glass cleaner that can be used for more than one task?

Eliminate Something
One of the continuing challenges facing manufacturers is reducing the number or products. Shops also like small, compact lines, because choosing the correct product becomes much easier. The challenge is determining what stays and what goes. To stay competitive, detailers should look at their services and decide what should be included in basic services. To reduce costs, they might want to eliminate a service and charge extra for it as an optional add-on - especially it if is not a high-demand item.

Reverse or Rearrange Something
Look at the processes in your shop. Perhaps you can gain productivity improvements if you reverse or rearrange vehicle flow through your shop. Look at the creative things that have been done in detailing and car washes. Sometimes creativity starts with knowing where to begin!

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