Auto Detailing - August 2007

Join:
Membership Matters
By Prentice St. Clair

We finished the 12-part series on the administrative issues involved in running an automotive detailing operation last month. As we saw, there are many issues that go into operating a successful business, which has the potential to be a complicated endeavor. One of the ways to make that endeavor a bit easier is through membership in the various organizations that are available to the business professional.

There are two categories of professional organizations: networking groups and trade associations.

BUSINESS NETWORKING GROUPS

Often, members of the local business community will refer customers to their friends who offer different services. For example, while picking up my dry cleaning, I might have a casual conversation with Joe, the owner. During this conversation, he mentions that his car recently broke down and asks me if I know a good mechanic. Naturally, if I have a friend in the neighborhood who I know does good work, I will gladly offer his number to Joe. I might even call my friend later and mention that Joe needs some work done and give my friend Joe’s number. This is called a business “lead” or “tip.”

When you think about it, we do this all the time, both giving and receiving business leads. This type of informal business networking has been going on since the beginning of “business.” It makes sense; most customers would prefer to patronize a business that has been referred by a friend or trusted business owner. Community business owners have recognized the importance of networking, and brought it to the next level, by creating informal business networking groups in which member businesses gather occasionally to share leads.

Some groups are rather informal and amount to not much more than social groups. Others are designed to act as supporters of the community through charity work (e.g., Masons, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.). These can be great sources of referrals but their primary purpose is civic improvement.

Other groups are designed specifically for the business owner. The best example is the typical Chamber of Commerce, which is usually designed to foster the growth of business in general. There might be other groups in your area that are similar to the Chamber, but with a slightly more focused purpose. For example, there might be a “Downtown Business District Association,” or a “Neighborhood Merchants Association.” Typically these organizations are open to any business in the area.

Then there are groups whose primary purpose is to exchange business leads among members. Examples are “breakfast clubs” or “lunch bunches” in which members meet on a regular basis for a meal and to discuss how to promote each other’s businesses to each other’s customers. Although this type of group has a rather informal structure, it is typical for membership to be limited to one person from each category.

One of the pioneers of the modern business-networking group is Ken Peterson, who recognized the need to formalize the networking concept. In 1978, he established the first well-recognized formalized networking group, called “LeTip.” The idea behind this effort was to take the informal business-gathering concept and infuse it with a formal schedule and procedures to ensure an efficient and effective meeting.

Since its inception, LeTip has grown to thousands of chapters throughout the United States and abroad. Membership is by invitation only, and only one representative from each business category is included, to eliminate competition and conflicts of interest. Larger communities may contain several chapters to support the large population. For example, San Diego County has well over 30 thriving chapters. Meetings typically occur on a weekly basis (e.g., Friday morning breakfast or Tuesday lunch).

Although LeTip was the first formalized leads group, there are certainly other organizations that offer a similar experience. BNI, which was established in 1985 by Dr. Ivan Misner, boasts 4,600 worldwide chapters and offers, like LeTip, a formalized business networking experience. Another example is Ali Lassen’s Leads Clubs, which, like LeTip, was established in 1978 and boasts hundreds of groups around the country. There are numerous examples of other business networking groups nationwide. A quick search on the Internet, using keywords “business networking” or “leads” and the name of your community, is likely to result in dozens of listings.

So what’s the point of joining a business-networking group? Joining your Chamber of Commerce will help you meet and greet some of the bigger hitters in your area, and have the chance to talk with them face-to-face about your services. You will also meet business professionals with whom you can consult, both formally and informally, on the creation and growth of a successful business. The Chamber and similar organizations will also help you become more connected to the community through civic activities.

Joining a leads group (e.g., LeTip, BNI, Lassen’s, etc.) will help you grow your customer base. These groups are more focused on the exchange of leads among members. In fact, most of these groups require a minimum “quota” of passed leads. Detailers typically do well in these groups because it’s easier to pass leads to a detail business than to many other businesses. For example, it’s a lot more likely that a fellow member needs a detail than is ready to buy a new house.

As with most things in life, however, you get out of it what you put in. The main idea behind a leads group is that each member tries to keep as much of the group’s purchasing needs “in-house.” For example, if you need business cards, have them designed by the group’s graphic artist and printed by the group’s printer. Since membership is by invitation, you are likely to receive high-quality service — those who provide inferior service don’t last long in networking groups.

By joining a business leads group, you are accessing a “team of salespeople.” Each member of the group has a different sphere of influence (i.e., social network) in which he or she can expose your business. As a personal testament, business networking accounts for well over 50 percent of my operational business each year. The rest comes from former clients. Networking works!

TRADE ORGANIZATIONS

Business networking groups are great for building your customer base. They may also be a great avenue for general information on how to run your business. For example, your group may have a business attorney, bookkeeper, accountant, and marketing expert, all of whom can assist you in the administrative aspects of your business.

However, for more specific information about automotive detailing, you should join a trade organization. These organizations are composed of people in the same business or industry who gather on a regular basis to exchange ideas and information about the business.

Probably the most recognizable organization related to our industry is the International Carwash Association (ICA). The ICA is composed of car wash owners, suppliers, consultants, and others in the industry. The ICA also has a small contingent of detailing members, some of whom are independent detail operators. Additionally, ICA caters to the detailing industry due to the increasing prevalence of detailing at car washes.

Although the ICA caters mostly to the car wash industry, it typically offers a seminar or two, as well as an informational forum for detailers, at its annual convention, Car Care World Expo. Also, there are often several companies offering detailing supplies on the trade show floor.

At the most recent Car Care World Expo, held at the end of March in Las Vegas, ICA teamed up with the National Association for Professional Detailing and Reconditioning (NAPDR) to offer a dozen or so seminars specifically targeted to the automotive detailer. The program was well-received by those in attendance (myself included), and we all received valuable information on advanced detailing techniques as well as business administration guidance.

The NAPDR is a re-formed, improved version of the former Professional Detailing Technician’s Association, which has been around for a few years. The NAPDR is endeavoring to provide improved educational events at existing conventions including the ICA’s Car Care World Expo and the Mobile Tech Expo, which takes place every January in Florida. Additionally, NAPDR will have a program at the upcoming Western Carwash Association annual convention in October in Las Vegas.

Members of the NAPDR are mostly detail operators like you and I. We have a great time exchanging stories, business ideas, and answers to questions. We do this both at the NAPDR events as well as via e-mail and phone.

Membership in a trade organization that represents your industry can have obvious benefits, assuming you attend the sponsored meetings. You gain information about your industry, including tips and tricks, business ideas, and general education about how to do your work. Another benefit is marketing the fact that you belong to a trade organization; membership infers to your customers that you are serious about your business.

SUMMARY

If you want more out of your detailing business, maybe it’s time to get outside of your business and get involved in the community around you. To get more customers, consider joining a business-networking group. To get more exposure in your community, join a civic organization in your area. To learn more about your industry, join a trade organization.

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.

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