Interior Detailing Part 3
Clear out Customer Belongings and the Three Ds
This is the third in a multi-part series dedicated to the cleaning and care of the interior of the vehicle. In last month's column, we discussed the importance of the customer interview and vehicle inspection. The customer interview helps you gather information and determine the customer's expectations, as well as evaluate the condition of the vehicle. With this information, you can educate the customer on the needs of the vehicle as well as the range of services that you offer. Ultimately, you come to an agreement with the customer as to what services will be performed, the cost of those services, and the outcomes to be expected.
The customer interview and vehicle inspection are important steps in the process, as they help you to avoid misunderstandings and allow you to upsell and cross-sell other interior services. Once the customer has been interviewed, you are ready to get to work.
During the vehicle inspection, you probably already noted any valuable items. Ask the customer to take these with him or her, reducing your liability for losing - or even being accused of losing - an important item.
Speaking of which, I strongly recommend that before the client leaves the car with you, ask if there is anything that the client needs to take with him or her. Provide the customer with a verbal recitation of the following list: wallet, purse, cell phone, cell phone accessories, sunglasses, appointment book, gym bag, parking pass, and ID badge. This is a quick way to prevent unnecessary inconvenience to the customer. Of course, if the customer does forget something, be ready and willing to deliver it.
CLEAR THE AREA!
Before you can even get to work on the interior, you need to get rid of all of the stuff that may be in the car. Some customers "clean the house before the housekeeper gets there" and politely remove all of their belongings before bringing the car to you. This is not to say, however, that the customer who brings in the vehicle fully loaded with their stuff is rude. Some people simply do not have the time to unload. If a customer asks me ahead of time, "should I empty out all my stuff?" I respond, "Yes, if you have time." If they bring the car in still full, I do my best to keep them from feeling bad. "Hey, don't worry about it, we'll take care of it for you. It's part of the job anyway."
There are several steps in the interior detailing process. In keeping with the notion of performing detailing in a systematic fashion, I like to start each step in the same spot on the car, which, for me, is the front passenger compartment. From there, I go clockwise around the vehicle, one passenger compartment at a time, including the trunk or rear compartment.
Back at the front passenger compartment, I start with three items - a couple of gallon-size resealable plastic bags, a small garbage can, and a laundry basket or similar-sized crate of some sort. What you will end up with at the end of this detail step is one or more resealable bags with the small stuff and a crate full of larger stuff. At the end of the detail, the large stuff gets placed neatly into the trunk or rear compartment of the vehicle and the resealable bags are placed on the passenger seat.
My experience has been that most customers appreciate having all of the "car junk" in one place so that they can sort through it and clean out the unnecessary items. Others never get around to it - I've had annual and semi-annual clients in whose cars I have found the same resealable bags that I filled the last time the car was detailed!
So, back to the process: I sit right down in the passenger seat with the plastic bags in hand and the garbage can and crate sitting next to me just outside the door. Grab the customer's stuff from the center console area (pens, cell phone charger, coins) and place it in the resealable bag.
Check any center console pockets or bins - if it looks like they need to be cleaned, empty the contents into a bag. A nice touch is to label the contents of the resealable bag with the name of the location from which the contents came. Some customers carry a lot of stuff in their cars, but have it well organized and deliberately stored in the various compartments of the vehicle. So later, when the job is done, you can either place the bags on the passenger seat, or, if they fit, back into the pocket where the stuff belongs.
Obvious trash gets thrown in the trashcan. If in doubt, save it! Let the customer make the decision. Larger items like books, blankets, umbrellas, et cetera, are placed in the crate.
Basically, I am looking for anything that is not part of the vehicle that will get in the way of the interior detail, for example, beads or other items hanging off the rearview mirror.
Now, as far as the glove box is concerned, I usually leave that alone, because most people keep "private" stuff in the glove box. (Nonetheless, the glove box must get cleared and cleaned for vehicles that are being prepped for sale. In this case, place the contents of the glove box in a resealable bag and label it "GLOVE BOX.") Now, turn to the door and check the door pocket. Then, step out of the car and check the floor of the passenger area, removing large trash items and debris that is too big for the vacuum.
Once the front passenger area is done, move to the right rear passenger area and repeat the clean-out process. After that, move to the rear compartment (or trunk, as the case may be). Most people are pretty reasonable with the amount of stuff that they carry. However, you will find that a few customers have everything but the kitchen sink in their trunk. Ideally, this was noted and discussed during the vehicle inspection. My experience has been that most customers who have a trunk filled to the brim are reasonable and suggest that it is not necessary for you to remove everything to clean the area. If the customer offers this compromise, take it! After all, vacuuming and cleaning a stuffed trunk is not going to make much difference, since it will simply be filled up again with the same junk!
One important note about working on the interior of a vehicle -never reach into an area without first looking. You never know what people have in their cars. I have heard stories about detailing technicians getting poked by syringes or cut by razors while reaching underneath a seat or into a seat pocket. If this happens, you are faced with 6 to 12 months of nervous waiting for the test results to make sure you did not pick up a serious disease from such exposure. Yes, it is highly unlikely that this will happen to any of us, but a couple of simple precautions will make sure it never happens - wear gloves while you work, and check all areas with a flashlight before reaching in.
THE THREE Ds
Once you have removed all of the customer's belongings and obvious trash, you can start to clean the inside of the car in earnest. This begins with removing the three Ds - excess Dust, Debris, and Dirt. Typically, this is done with a vacuum. I recommend using a powerful shop vac with an appropriate set of attachments. There is a myriad of available vacuums on the market.
If your budget is exceedingly tight and you are mobile, check out some of the small, portable vacuums designed for the consumer. You can get a fairly light, powerful, and compact unit for about $120. Just keep in mind that this is probably just a starter unit that will help you get the job done while you save for a more appropriate unit. They are not designed for commercial use and will eventually break down after several months of heavy daily detailing use.
If you are operating out of a shop, you probably have more room for a standard-sized, traditional "shop vac." Many units are available, ranging in price from $80 to $200. The problem with the typical consumer wet-dry vac is that they are noisy, bulky, and have short, oversized hoses that are hard to use.
Therefore, the best bet is the high-end shop vac. You will pay $200-$500 for such a unit, but the improved efficiency will make up for it over the years. I recommend getting a unit that has a long vacuum hose - one that's long enough so that you don't have to move the base unit while you vacuum the entire vehicle. You will find that the higher-end units have plenty of power, yet are relatively quiet. The good units are quiet enough so that you can actually talk over the unit while it's on - you can't do that without shouting when using the traditional consumer shop vac.
Along with the vacuum, you need a good set of attachments. There are three must-haves. The upholstery brush, which is a 4- to 6-inch wide attachment with bristles around the opening, is designed for vacuuming the seats and the carpeting. The duster brush, which is a circular attachment with a ring of 1-inch hog-hair bristles surrounding the intake hole, is designed for "dusting" surfaces in the car like the dashboard, center console, and door panels. The bristles help to loosen dust from nooks and crannies as you gently run the attachment across the contoured surfaces. Finally, the crevice tool, which is the long, thin "wand," can be used to reach in between and under seats and into door pockets.
Another important tool for vacuuming is the detail brush or paint brush. You can use this to loosen dust from air vents while holding the crevice tool next to it to suck up the particles as they come loose.
Start again in the right front passenger compartment. Sit in the seat, and carefully run the upholstery brush across the headliner. (If the headliner is at all loose or sagging, do not vacuum it.) Then work from top-to-bottom, vacuuming up the excess dust, debris, and dirt from the dash, center console, door panel, and between the seats. Then, step out of the car, turn around and vacuum under the seat, and the mat and carpeting. Move the seat to its extreme back and highest positions so that you can fully access under the seat. Use the combination of the detail brush and crevice tool to work in hard-to-reach areas like door pockets and cup holders.
Continue this vacuuming process in each passenger compartment, working clockwise from the right front passenger area all the way to the driver area. Remember, when working in the rear passenger compartments, to lift movable seats so that you can get the debris that collects under them.
The idea behind the initial clean-out of the vehicle is to get rid of all of the stuff that will get in the way of the next few detailing steps. This includes customer belongings, trash, and excess debris, dirt, and dust.
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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