Auto Detailing - December 2009

Up Profits — By Adding New Services
By Prentice St. Clair

A common challenge for the typical automotive detailing operation is lack of revenue. Even for those operations that are quite profitable, it may be advantageous to look at new ways of bringing in even more profit. In previous columns, I have shared some common ways to increase profit, including increasing or changing the pricing structure, adjusting the target market, increasing the efficiency of the operation, and lowering expenses.

I have also previously suggested adding new services to increase profit. With due consideration for the current economic climate we all find ourselves in, I believe it is a subject worthy of being revisited. There are a number of services that can be performed on a vehicle besides detailing. I have divided these into three main categories:

  • Things you can do immediately
  • Easy add-ons that require minimal product expense or training
  • New systems, which will require moderate initial training and expense

REASONS TO ADD ON

There are several reasons why adding on services makes sense. For example, additional services typically bring in more per hour than standard detailing. Standard detailing should generate an average of about $50 per hour per technician. Several of the services that we will discuss in this column can bring in as much as $200 per hour.

Another common effect of offering multiple services is increasing revenue per vehicle. For example, a single detailing technician may be able to perform three $150 details in a day, yielding total revenue of $450 for the day. By performing several services on a single vehicle, it’s possible for the same technician to bring in the same total on a single vehicle.

An operation that offers multiple services becomes a “one-stop” resource center for its customers, which creates customer convenience. You can educate your customers to think of you first for any need that involves the appearance of the vehicle, keeping the money in your operation instead of letting it go elsewhere.

IMMEDIATE

There are some services that are very easy to perform and require little or no investment in time or money. All detailers should offer these services to their customers. These include paint sealant application, fabric protection, and premium leather conditioning.

Paint Sealant
Applying a polymer paint sealant takes about as long as applying wax. Yet, because of the extended protection that a sealant provides, application of a paint sealant commands a significantly higher price than that of a standard exterior detail. You can mark up your standard exterior detail by as much as $500 with the application of a sealant instead of wax. Dealerships get hundreds of dollars for such a service every day. Why can’t we?

Fabric Protection
Fabric protection (or liquid repellant) takes only a few minutes to spray onto fabric seats and carpeting. Yet you can charge $25 to $100 above the price of your standard interior detail for the application. Normal interior detailing removes existing fabric protection, so check with each customer because you may be able to easily sell a “reapplication.”

Leather Conditioning
Many high-end vehicles come equipped with leather-trimmed seating. Typically, it takes less than 30 minutes to clean and recondition all the leather seating in even the largest SUV. The customer paid extra for the comfort of leather, so it makes sense that the customer might want to pay extra to keep the leather soft and supple for years to come through regular professional cleaning and conditioning.

How to Sell It
These three items — paint sealant application, fabric protection application, and leather conditioning — are easy to provide and easy to sell. In fact, every customer should be offered these services. For example, if you have a customer who requests an exterior detail, he or she should be sold on the extra protection and durability that a paint sealant provides. The worst that can happen is that the customer says “no.” If the same customer’s vehicle has leather seats, you could quickly ask if the customer wants the leather conditioned: “You are obviously concerned about maintaining the paint on your vehicle, why not do the same for the expensive leather seats that you have?”

Work with your current detailing chemical supplier regarding the chemicals you need to add to your collection to provide paint sealant, fabric protection, and leather conditioning.

EASY ADD-ONS

There are a number of relatively simple additional services that can be provided with minimal product expense and training. These include black-trim painting, window polishing, lens clarification, and wheel polishing.

Black Trim Paint
There are aerosol black-trim sprays available that make re-painting of black trim very easy. We’ve all seen the older car with faded or chipped wiper arms. Sometimes painted-black door and window frames can fade as well. The black trim piece on the bumpers of some older vehicles is
also susceptible to scuffing or fading. Adding a bit of spray-on black trim paint to these surfaces can greatly enhance the appearance of the vehicle with a few minutes’ work. The best part is that you can charge from $30 to $125 for the service.

Window Polish
Windows that are stained or have water spots can often be polished back to intense clarity using a random-orbit polisher (or by hand) and glass polish available from your favorite detail supplier. For even more profit, follow-up with an application of sheeting agent. You can combine these two services and call it a “winter prep” for your customer’s windows.

Lens Clarification
Many plastic headlamp lenses become faded or yellowed with time and extensive exposure to direct sunlight. Some of the detailing chemicals that you already have for the paint surfaces (e.g., compound, polish, wax) work rather well on plastic lenses. There are also special “reclarification” kits available that do an even better job. The bottom line is that you can make most lenses look almost new at a fraction of the cost of replacement, and still make a great profit.

Wheel Polishing
Wheels are an important part of the appearance of the vehicle. Some people pay thousands of dollars for a set of chrome or aluminum aftermarket wheels. Ninety-five percent of factory wheels are actually painted (usually with a clear coat). On these, you can simply use the same detailing chemicals that you use on the painted surfaces of the car. Remember to charge extra if you have to spend a significant amount of time to make the wheels look right.

Chrome wheels can be polished with chrome polish, of course. Use aluminum polish on bare (i.e., without clear coat) aluminum wheels. There are a number of polishing kits and appliances that will help you polish wheels to amazing brilliance. Such polishing efforts can fetch as much as $100 per wheel, depending on the amount of time needed to make it shine.

How to Sell It
To sell these “easy add-on” services, it’s mostly a matter of walking around each new vehicle that comes in and checking for the need for such services. If there is a need, then it’s simply a matter of asking the customer. Again, the worst that can happen is the customer says “no.” The best that can happen is that you make twice as much as you would have without offering the extra service.

NEW SYSTEMS

Significant increases in detailing profit are possible with the addition of other reconditioning systems, such as paint touch-up, spot-blending, windshield repair, interior surface repair, and paintless dent removal. Of course, with that increased profit potential comes some upfront investment in equipment and training, which could run into several thousand dollars. But with good marketing and practice, it is possible to pay for that investment many times over within the first year of offering the new services. These services offer the customer excellent value by repairing the vehicle at a savings of between 50 percent and 75 percent over traditional replacement practices.

If you have a thriving detailing business with hundreds of regular customers, your marketing is virtually built in because almost every car out there has at least one malady that goes beyond standard detailing. It’s not uncommon to see one car that has a windshield chip, a bumper scuff, and worn leather all in one. Actually, any of these services could be (and are) successfully operated as a standalone business. However, combining several services with detailing allows the operator to offer the customer the greatest convenience (it’s all done at one location) and the best overall price.

Until you are ready to jump into other reconditioning systems, find some local operators that provide excellent work and sub-contract with them so that you can provide your customers with that “one-stop” shopping experience.

SUMMARY

If your detailing operation is not bringing in the money you want, consider offering additional services to your customers. Even if you have a thriving detailing business, you can take your income to the next level with add-on services. The initial investment will pay for itself many times over if you price and market the service correctly. You don’t have to do it all at once, however. Try selling your current customers on some of the “easy add-ons” discussed. These alone can generate the extra income needed to make larger investments in new reconditioning services down the line.

Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail Prentice@DetaiIinProgress.com or call (619) 701-1100.

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