Inc., Part I:
After all, it is a Business
Prentice St. Clair
I have been privileged with writing this column for almost three
years now. In that time, we have discussed various topics in automotive
detailing, both on the operational side and also on the administrative
side. We just
finished up a long series on interior detailing (for a wrap-up,
see the July 2006 issue of Auto Laundry News) and back in 2004,
we did a series on automotive paint technology and care (since
this series dates a little further back, we offer an outline at
the end of this article). The editors of this publication and I
thought it would be a good idea at this point
to switch modes and have a series
on more of the “business” of automotive detailing.
Automotive detailing attracts many entrepreneurs and sole proprietors
because it seems — at least on the face of it — that
detailing is a relatively simple business to start.
This statement contains two words of concern — “simple” and “business.”
A SIMPLE BUSINESS?
First, there is the word “simple.” Yes,
automotive detailing is “simple” when you consider
that it is mostly about cleaning and protecting vehicle surfaces.
Nonetheless, if you have read this column for any length of time,
you would have realized that there is a lot to that process.
the technical side of automotive detailing involves understanding
the professional equipment, chemicals, and techniques that are
used. The equipment helps to get the job done faster and better.
There is a range of chemicals that are specifically designed for
the dozen or so automotive surfaces that we are trying to clean
and protect. And there are generally-accepted techniques that help
us best combine the equipment and chemicals with knowledge of the
vehicle surfaces to make the car look its best and keep it that
way as long as possible.
Unfortunately, many who dabble in detailing
as a “business” think
that throwing a hose, bucket, vacuum, and a bottle of wax in the
trunk makes them a “professional detailer.” Those of
us who have been doing this for a while know that this can’t
be farther from the truth. Truly professional automotive detailing
requires a surprisingly large amount of knowledge and practice.
For years, I have strongly recommended formal training and education,
either on-site from a recognized trainer or at a detail school.
At a minimum, one should be reading recognized detailing manuals
viewing demonstration videos. Otherwise, it takes months and years
to slowly acquire all of the information from hit-and-miss experiences
out in the field.
The biggest problem with learning through experience
alone is that you are basically using your customers’ vehicles
as a classroom. The results will not always be the best possible,
so your early customers may not be as delighted as they could be.
If, on the other hand, you get yourself properly trained from the
beginning, you can offer excellent results from the beginning,
and your customers will sing your praises, leading to more and
more customer referrals. Additionally, providing the best results
right from the start allows you to charge the highest prices right
from the start, which makes your business more profitable — right
from the start!
MAKING BUSINESS SIMPLE
So, you might be able to detect that I am
not one of those who believes that detailing is truly “simple.” And,
at this point, we have only discussed the actual work, or, the “operational” considerations
of a detailing business. Now it’s time to discuss that
second word of concern from the first paragraph above — “business.”
detailing is not just washing and waxing cars. It is also a business
that, like any other business, can succeed or fail based upon
how it is run. As mentioned earlier, the actual work performed
in the business (i.e., the service provided to the customer)
is referred to as the “operational” aspects of the
business. Everything else that is involved in running the business
is referred to as “administrative” activities,
which include the following.
These include where to find good employees,
how to train them, how much to pay them, how to keep them motivated,
and what to do about turnover and retention.
What kind of insurance does a detailing operation need? Do I need
to be bonded? What about my equipment?
Marketing, Advertising, and Sales
The business cannot survive if there are not enough paying customers.
How do you attract the right kind of customer and how do you
then convert them into paying and returning clients?
Bookkeeping and Accounting
Taxes are inevitable. How do you make sure you only pay what you
actually owe? Also, how can you tell if your business is doing
Supply and Maintenance
Your detailing operation needs certain things to keep it going.
Chemicals run out and equipment can break down. How can you simplify
the supply process, avoid down time, and provide the best results
for your customer?
Training and Education
As I mentioned earlier, you have to know what you’re doing
while you work. This involves a commitment to up-front training.
It also involves a commitment to continuing education so that you
can keep abreast of the latest and greatest ideas, products, and
services in our industry.
These are the general categories of issues that every business
owner has to deal with while operating a business. Within these
categories, there are imbedded many subtopics, each of which can
merit its own discussion, including:
- Avoiding business failure
- Keeping expenses down while still
projecting a legitimate image
- Financing your detail operation
- How to survive the lean startup
- Cultivating a professional image
- Dealing with city hall
- Playing by the rules (compliance)
- Hiring, training, and
- Pricing that makes sense
Automotive detailing is a business. The difference between
failure, just getting by, and fantastic success is often a matter
of how that business is operated. (And, as you can see by the discussion
at the beginning of this article, I am a strong believer that
part of running the business correctly is obtaining — at
the outset — the proper training on how to do the work
correctly.) In the upcoming months, I hope to share with you
some ideas, considerations, and information that will help you
to create a successful business.
Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based
automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail
Prentice@DetailinProgress.com or call (619) 701-1100.