Auto Detailing - December 2002

Nuthin' New Don't Let Winter's
Gloom Cloud Opportunity

By John Lamade

The last month of the year is so dull. Nobody wants to start anything new. In many parts of the country, the prospect of snow grows more real with each passing day, and unless you are a body shop, the snow seems more like a threat than a promise. All the things you tried during the year succeeded, failed, or really did not get started. January's optimism yielded to Deceptember's skepticism.

Deceptember? What's that? No, my spell checker didn't choke or die. After writing about winter's doldrums, I realized that December gets a bad wrap. It's not really a bad month; it's our attitude. Last month I mentioned the "Give the bad dog a good name" hazard, and I believe that we should consider the deceptive ways our attitudes affect our behavior and outlook on the future. So, perhaps we should call the last quarter of the year Deceptember because our pessimism deceives us and keeps us from looking forward to the opportunities offered by the New Year.

Curiosity got the better of me this month and the title and Deceptember theme arose from last month's article. Several days after I e-mailed the article, I began to wonder about what manufacturers were doing for their customers. Automechanika, Industry Week, and NACE will be long gone by the time you read this and I wondered "what's happening?" As hard as I looked, I could not find anything new or exciting in detailing. The detailing forums seemed to be stuck on the same old subjects (removing ink from leather, etc.) and nothing seemed to be moving the art and craft of detailing forward. The only hot news in detailing that I could find was the opening of a state-accredited detailing school in Cleveland. Well, what do you expect in Deceptember?

The best way to beat Deceptember's doldrums is with positive attitude. Think about all the good things that are coming (even if little is happening now) and then make sure that the New Year's opportunities will strengthen your business. Work at making things good! The rest of this month's article will deal with how schemes intended to appeal to the darker side of our natures can actually bring light to your businesses. I guess this is the silver lining in Deceptember's black clouds.

"Never give a sucker an even break." W.C. Fields said that, and we know that it is true. One of the disadvantages of living in the e-age is the preponderance of junk e-mails or spam. In addition to those dealing with low, low-interest-rate second mortgages, weight-loss products, male-enhancement drugs, and porn, my favorites are the multi-level marketing schemes. Each scheme sounds like a sure-fire way to earn over $10,000 per week working in your pajamas (or not) at home.

These at-home businesses are seductive. After all, why should you work when you can reap the benefits of the Internet with next to no effort? Why not, indeed? Of course, you do have to have a sophisticated name for these schemes, and the current name is MLM or multi-level marketing. You have seen variants of the approaches many times over the years. When you were in school, you received the promises of riches by chain letters: You send five dollars each to five people for a total investment of $25 and you will receive $100,000 in thirty days. Where does this money originate?

Well, they find suckers who want to earn $100,000 without working for it. Another name for this scheme is a pyramid scheme. Here's how it works: One person recruits 10 people (11 people in first two levels); The 10 people each recruit 10 more (level 3); there are now 111. The 100 people in level 3 each recruit 10 for level 4. There are 1000 people in level 4; they each recruit 10 for level 5. There are 10,000 in level 5, and they each recruit 10 for level 6. There are 100,000 in level 6, and they each recruit 10. There are 1,000,000 in level 7.


In reality, multi-level marketing is not 100 percent efficient. People come and go. The result is gaps in the pyramid, and its potential is unfulfilled. Before the Internet, creating and maintaining a pyramid was extremely difficult through the mail. With the Internet, one person can communicate with millions of potential accounts everyday through e-mails. Thus, building and maintaining a pyramid should be much simpler.

What makes MLM so popular? Greed. The only problem with MLM is that to succeed you must take advantage of the suckers, or gullible people, beneath you in the pyramid. Get them to send money up while you send products down. The problem is that soon the pyramid becomes more than seven layers deep and the product line becomes over-distributed. The people at the bottom have no way to obtain the riches as those at the top. They become deceived by the dream of fast wealth. As a result, it is not hard to imagine why legal authorities frown on MLM and pyramid schemes.

At this point, you could suspect that I am skeptical about the merits of MLM and you are doubtlessly curious about how I am going to tie this into car care and the month's Deceptember theme. Please bear with me.

When you really think about MLM, your conscience - or at least my conscience - tells me it's wrong because it exploits the people on the bottom of the pyramid. I imagine that there are some "good" schemes that limit the size of the pyramid and place its recruiting efforts to filling open slots in the pyramid by promoting people from the lower levels to higher positions. I also imagine that compensation structures could be arranged so that the people on the bottom can make a decent income selling the products. Moreover, there is a whole school of business consultants and advisors who work to help MLM people find good pyramids and develop the potential of their network.

Wait a second! Something interesting just happened. I said that there are experts who advise on how to select pyramids and staff. That doesn't sound like "easy money." That sounds like business. Is there more to MLM than the shallow interpretations of those decrying the exploits of unscrupulous promoters? Could there be more to MLM than get rich quick hustlers? And what about detailers? Is there something here for you as well?

While I believe that there are some good MLM programs (definitely not schemes), there are many bad programs. However, I believe that there are some valuable lessons that can be learned from the better MLM programs. Here are the points that we should consider:

• Know your customer (downstream)
• Know your supplier (upstream)
• Training propels the business
• Service is the glue that holds the organization together
• Quality is assumed (It's the least of your problems!)

You're all wet if you don't know your customer. One thing that MLMs know is that you make money when you tend to the welfare of your downstream members. Your downstream is your individual customers. Even if you were extremely predatory, you do have to take care of your suckers to ensure that they pay you. Don't you have to take care of your customers? The key to MLM success is selling consumable items rather than long-lasting hard goods. Detailing is consumable; the customer comes back. As a result, taking care of the customer ensures future business. Similarly, your customer is a source of referrals, and a referral is like adding more customers downstream in MLM. Thus, you must strive to meet the needs of your customers.

Before you drink from the stream, know what's upstream. Your suppliers are critical to your success. Knowing the products and services that are available to you can make providing your customers with the appropriate service much easier. MLM people have learned this. You must keep your downstream people happy to maintain the pyramid (remember, the payoff is larger if all the layers are intact). As a result, MLM marketers look to their upstream partners for advice and assistance in addition to products. Certainly, you can see the parallel? You should be able to go to your suppliers for support whenever you need it. There should be no Deceptember blues when you deal with your suppliers.

Education and expectations are linked. In the previous paragraph, I mentioned that you should be able to look to your suppliers for support. You should expect stellar service. For many products that you use in your shop, the differentiating factor is the distributor and the service provided. Value and service are almost synonymous. MLM pros realize that frustrated salespeople downstream can sink an organization. Participants will have a greater level of confidence if they have access to the tools that will help them succeed. Training is one of the most important tools. As you think of all the things that your distributor should be doing for you, I have a question. Do your customers (your downstream) have questions?

I started this month's article by introducing the concept of Deceptember, but one of the largest causes of dissatisfaction is customers with unsatisfied expectations. One of your key responsibilities is to teach your customers what to expect. By doing so, you can recommend products and services that will satisfy their needs. There are many ways to accomplish this objective. Seminars and demonstrations are common ways a detailer can teach the community - including potential customers - about the benefits of detailing a vehicle and what the customer should expect from a detailer.

Of course, you can always educate your customer during the initial inspection when both you and your customer inspect the vehicle and discuss what can and cannot be done for the vehicle. Don't forget to explain why you are performing tasks. Many times, customers become dissatisfied because they do not understand why services are being performed on a vehicle. Not understanding why a task is done can lead to inappropriate expectations. Consequently, you should always invest time to help customers understand both the what's and the why's of a job.

Deliver What You Promised.
Remember that our goal in this section is to consider the things that promote satisfaction. One of the easiest ways to anger a customer is to fail to deliver what you promised. In addition to ensuring the quality of the "what," be sure that you deliver on the "when" as well. This is often a difficult point to learn and live by. Good intentions and outstanding performance will not help you much if a customer doesn't feel comfortable with your ability to deliver what you promised, when you promised. Your success depends on referrals, and you cannot afford bad referrals. Don't promise what you can't deliver.

Customers assume quality; they'll recognize it when they see it. This is a weird point, but experience has taught me that while you can be skeptical - perhaps you must always be skeptical - there is a baseline expectation that products and services should perform as indicated. Car wash soaps will clean cars; whitewall cleaners will make whitewalls clean, white, and bright. This is delivering on the promise, but I believe that when you have built a business and relationship with suppliers, you have also built a level of trust that assures that you will not be deceived by the vendor. Similarly, your customers expect a level of competence from you.

One of the truths about detailing is that the business is about improving - or at least restoring - appearance. As a result, if the vehicle doesn't look better, as you promised, then you may have a challenge. Your customers judge your work by how the vehicle looks and the expectation you placed in their mind. If the two do not match, then there is dissonance between expectations and reality. Make sure that customers can see the benefit of your work.

Earlier in this article I did mention that I would spend more time with the "Deceptember" name, and I will keep my word. I proposed the name for the fourth quarter because events and the outcomes of our attitudes often deceive us. The deception is accepting the apparent gloominess of winter rather than the excitement of New Year's opportunity. December is more like the original intent of January. Janus was the two-headed god of mythology who had the distinct honor of being able to look forward and backward simultaneously. December is that way. It is the last month of a year that we may
wish was over, but it is also the gateway to the New Year. So we must decide in December which direction to face: forwards or backwards.

I favor looking forward to the possibilities and promise of the New Year. Make the best of every opportunity that comes your way!

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

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