Auto Detailing - December 2010

Promises — Long-term
Protection Products, Part II
By Prentice St. Clair

In last month’s column, I began a discussion about long-term exterior protection programs that come with extended warranties promising to protect the vehicle’s paint for several years. I pointed out that these programs have common themes in the claims that they make.

Among these is the assertion that the product need only be applied one time and that the vehicle requires
no further application of protection of any kind. As most professional detailers know, however, the paint on these “protected” cars does not look very good after a couple of years. Furthermore, the validity of such protection programs is called into question by the fact that they are often pushed on the customer during the financing discussion at the car dealer.

Many of the protection products claim to have a “special formulation” that differentiates it from all others, when in fact, more often than not, the active ingredient is merely a polymer-based resin. Thus, you can offer virtually the same level of protection to your customers by using your favorite polymer paint sealant.

Another common theme is that the product offers “ultimate protection” from all kinds of environmental hazards. Yet many written warranties, through the use of clever wording, create loopholes that allow the company to excuse itself from the liability of damage caused by quite common hazards. Moreover, the “benefit” of thoroughly protected paint seems irrelevant if it looks ratty after a couple of years.

The written warranty that accompanies such a long-term protection package is sometimes not worth the paper on which it is printed. First, despite any warranty claims, the vehicle will not always look like the day it rolled off the showroom floor. Second, the warranty often has a list of “not covered” damage that includes many environmental elements to which a vehicle’s paint is exposed. Third, the warranting company may be defunct by the time a claim is made. Finally, it will probably be difficult to file an actual claim.

A final common element among long-term protection package offerings is that they often involve a rather expensive one-time payment. At dealerships, this payment is often rolled into the payment plan and
thus the protection package is pitched during the finance discussions. To the consumer, it seems like a rather small additional amount to the monthly payment, and the lure of a long-term warranty makes it much more palatable.

The cost for such programs (at least what I have heard) ranges from $600 to $1,800. Think about how many individual exterior details you could perform for these prices. At the high end, the customer could have a twice-a-year exterior detail for several years instead of just one time.

Then there is the entire issue of the actual service delivery. Who’s going to be applying the protection? Many dealership “detail departments” are not professionally run and staffed operations. There’s not much incentive for the detail technicians to do a good job. Will detailer’s clay be used before application? Will the technician bother to apply the product to the entire vehicle? What product is being used?

So what do we, as detailing professionals, do about these kinds of programs? Let’s move forward with the discussion.

EDUCATE YOUR CUSTOMERS

The first line of defense is the preemptive move of informing your customers about the potential pitfalls of many long-term protection packages. This can be done in your promotional literature and on your website. You might even consider occasionally sending out to your customer base a postcard or e-mail blast specifically on the subject. Additionally, include a mention of your alternative to warranted protection packages anytime you are in front of an audience.

In chatting with your customers face-to-face or on the phone, pay attention to any cues or direct mention that the customer may be contemplating purchasing a new vehicle. Make sure to mention that there may be a pitch about warranted protection at the dealership and that you can offer a better protection plan at a significantly lower price.

The bottom line here is to constantly get the word out. Keep in mind that it’s not so much about bashing dealer-applied protection. Speaking negatively about your competition is not very endearing to your customer. On the other hand, you can simply offer an alternative, and try to present your case in a positive vein by listing the benefits of your service.

YOU ARE THE ALTERNATIVE

Basically it boils down to this: The consumer can pay a lot of money for a one-time application of a product that will evaporate and wash off the vehicle surface within 12 months, and for a piece of paper that, in reality, does not offer the consumer much recourse as the appearance of the vehicle paint slowly deteriorates over the next several years.

The alternative is for the consumer to utilize your service on a regular basis, through which several benefits will be derived, including:

  • Consistent great appearance instead of slow deterioration
  • Multiple, relatively inexpensive service charges instead of a large one-time payment, and no interest
  • Application superiority
  • High-quality products that offer superior protection
  • True long-term protection via regular applications across the life of the vehicle

Explain to the customer that protective products, regardless of the claims that accompany them, typically do not last more than 12 months under the best conditions. Thus, for true protection, a polymer paint sealant should be applied no less than once a year, and most manufacturers recommend every six months.

The best part about this regular application is that, in addition to the protection, the vehicle paint will look almost new after each application. So the sales point here is that the customer’s vehicle can consistently have a new appearance versus a slowly deteriorating one.

Additionally, you, as a trained professional detailer, are going to carefully and thoroughly apply the protection through a multi-step process that includes a thorough wash, removal of all surface contamination using detailer’s clay, an optional polishing step to bring back the vehicle’s shine, and a thorough and complete application of a high-quality protective product. For this service, the consumer will pay you a modest fee at the time of each application, instead of a huge onerous one-time payment at the dealer.

Actually, you could offer your own “long-term protection package” with a one-time fee that includes several applications across a certain number of years. This could be incentivized by offering a modest discount on the pre-purchase total of the individual application charges. This type of program would still be superior to the dealer in that, assuming the customer actually schedules the follow-up applications, the vehicle will be detailed on a regular basis instead of one time when purchased.

For those customers who have already purchased a new vehicle but without any protection, you certainly want to attempt to get them to allow you to apply a paint sealant. Some may resist this idea thinking that the paint is brand new and needs no protection.

It is interesting to open the owner’s manual that comes with the vehicle. At least half the time, the manufacturer recommends regular waxing. There is some variability in the recommendations, but typically there is some language that is supportive of our cause. It’s worth a shot. This is also a great sales technique for those customers who have been misled to think that the vehicle paint needs no attention.

Sometimes there is confusion: a belief that since the vehicle has a clear coat it never needs wax. We of course know that clear coat is simply non-pigmented paint that is subject to all the environmental hazards just as is single-stage paint. I am sure you have all seen a vehicle with clear coat that is either fogging up or actually peeling off of the hood. If only that car had received an annual paint sealant application, the paint would probably still be intact.

Also, don’t be swayed by the argument that the paint is brand new and needs nothing. From the time the vehicle leaves the factory to the time it is handed over to the purchaser, the car is exposed to numerous environmental hazards. Many vehicles sit in large storage lots for weeks or months, where they are exposed to fallout. It is not uncommon for my customers to react to a professional protection application by saying, “it looks better than the day I picked it up from the dealer.”

SUMMARY

We cannot convert the entire driving world to our way of thinking. We can, however, help more and more vehicle owners enjoy beautiful paint for many years through continuous educational efforts. Remind your customers, new and old, that you are the vehicle-appearance expert, able to make neglected vehicles look great again, and, more importantly, help newer vehicles stay that way with regular application of protective products.

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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