The Learning Never Stops
If you remember nothing else from this month's article, remember
this: learning never stops!
When you stop learning, you stop earning. The focus of this column
is on training. When I first considered this theme, I thought of
training as obtaining the basic skills of detailing. This was, I
realized, just the beginning. Obtaining knowledge is a continual
process. While you cannot know everything, you should know where
to go to get the information you need to meet your training and
process-improvement requirements. This month's article will provide,
I hope, some training resources that you will find useful.
Most of this magazine's readers have three basic concerns:\
* Training new employees
* Improving performance and processes
* Staying current with changes in vehicles, vehicle paint systems,
and customer preferences.
OBTAINING AND IMPROVING SKILLS
Finding and keeping competent employees is a challenge. A mechanic
once explained that the reason toolboxes have wheels is that they
are easy to roll into a garage and often easier to roll out. Before
you consider hiring staff for your shop, you must consider who you
will recruit, what skills and attitudes you
seek, and the pay and benefits you will offer. In addition, you
should also determine performance and productivity standards as
well as the objective means for both you and your employees to evaluate
Detailing is both an art and a craft. Some shop owners prefer to
hire budding professionals from community colleges and tech schools.
They realize that these fresh students are familiar with techniques,
but have not attained a full mastery of all techniques and the "art"
portion of detailing.
One of the benefits of hiring students is their lack of "habits"
- either good or bad. They possess many of the basic skills you
require, but their expectations and aesthetic sensibilities have
Experience in your shop can help these young professionals gain
an appreciation for quality work, detailing, and customer service.
In the past, apprentice programs handled both art and craft aspects.
The master's role was to teach the student and by giving both work
and examples. The apprentice would learn much more than a set of
skills. Apprentice programs are rare in the US. Consequently, if
you are considering introducing a person to professional detailing,
you should consider the benefits of additional training performed
within your shop. Some schools do offer off-site training at shops
to supplement class work. Work with the schools in your area to
develop training programs and help students find positions once
they have graduated.
Experience is the best teacher. Proficiency comes from practice.
Being knowledgeable about skills and techniques is usually not enough
to guarantee quality work. Performing a task under a variety
of circumstances assures that skills and techniques become routine
behavior. When you have a new employee you must work with the employee
by reinforcing good behaviors and by changing
non-productive, inappropriate behaviors.
An important aspect of training is customer service. This is a
skill that is rarely taught at school, and this knowledge is vital
to your business. As a result, you must make sure that everybody
in your shop is trained to pay attention to customers and their
needs. Make sure that everybody strives to
exceed customer expectations.
The question arises, then, where does one obtain the basic detailing
skills? As I mentioned earlier, many community colleges, tech schools,
and trade schools offer basic detailing programs. The Inter-Industry
Conference On Auto Collision Repair or I-CAR sponsors detail training
programs across the country. For locations and dates, you can check
the I-CAR web site at www.i-car.com.
Of course, there is the Inter-national Car Wash Association (ICA)
The ICA is an extremely useful organization that sponsors the annual
Car Care World Expo. The Expo is an excellent opportunity to meet
other detailers, manufacturers, and trainers from around the world.
In the past, the ICA has developed training programs for detailers;
two years ago, the ICA created a program for Express Detailing.
Detailing product manufacturers offer detailer training programs.
Car Brite (www.carbrite.com),
Automotive International (the Valugard people at www.autoint.com),
Detail Plus (www.detailplus.com),
and many others offer multi-day, hands-on training sessions for
both detailers and shop owners/managers. The best way to learn about
company programs is to talk to your chemical suppliers. Just remember
that company programs are somewhat biased toward the products they
The Automotive Service Association (www.asashop.org)
is a great place to start looking for training information. Because
the ASA is a very large organization, you will have to do some exploring.
Pay attention to the member companies. In particular, look at the
body shop/collision repair division. Every year ASA sponsors the
National Autobody Congress and Exhibition, or NACE, which features
hundreds of appearance restoration suppliers ranging from paint,
chemical, to equipment companies. One way to find potential training
sources is to visit the NACE exhibitor section and find web addresses
and contacts from individual companies.
Another source of training is books and videos. Perusing the books
available at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble can be a good start.
An excellent video program called "Detailing for Profit"
is available at www.automotivedetailing.com
Franchise companies often offer training programs. For example,
Details in Motion (www.details-in-motion.com),
Appearance Plus (www.appearanceplus.com),
Detail King (www.detailking.com),
and Auto Guard International (www.innova.net)
offer training programs for franchisees.
If you have made it this far in this month's piece, then you will
realize that there are, indeed, many basic training resources available
to provide skill, process, and business training. Before moving
on to continuing education, I do want to mention that it is possible
for local trade associations to sponsor training classes. Obtaining
quality staff is a common problem. One solution is for groups to
hold training seminars/classes on "neutral turf." You
can use a company's manuals and materials as the basis for the program.
Invite several distributors to participate in the program and contribute
products, materials, door prizes, etc. By getting the distributors
involved, both you and your detailers will have an opportunity to
learn about new products, techniques, and programs in a common location.
Currency with change and improvement are continuous challenges.
As vehicles and customer expectations change, you, too, must adapt.
Or perish. Staying aware of change and new products has never been
easier. Or more challenging. The Internet has made a wealth of information
readily available. When I was preparing this article I visited the
Google search site, entered "detailing products" and received
14,839 "hits." Luckily, there are ways to speed searches
and gain information. In particular, I am referring to detailing
forums. While there are probably many forums, I will mention five:
* Autopia Carport
* Auto Care Forum
* Automotive Detailing
* ICA Detailing Forum
The beauty of these forums is that any question is fair game.
In Figure 1, above, you can see a screenshot from the start page
of Autopia-Carport's main forum page.
As you can see, there are many topics of interest to detailers.
This is a very active forum. In the "Detailing" section
there have been over 1,075 issues raised (called Threads) which
have received over 11,000 posts or comments. The new products section
is an admittedly biased section regarding user experience with products.
If you wanted to know more about a product, say a Porter Cable 7424
Orbital Polisher, you could find David Bynon's lengthy review and
comments regarding this tool. Think of the time you could save if
you could do much of your product and tool research online at a
forum like this. If you have questions regarding specific marketing
or procedural issues, this is the kind of place you should visit.
David Bynon moderates this forum. Moderation is content editing
before posting. Not only does this minimize virus risks, but also
removes partisan or pro-manufacturer comments from making postings
advertisements for groups or products.
Forums are intended for sharing information and comments. Remember
that you should contribute to a forum if you can.
The ICA's detailing forum is also a great place to visit. Not only
do you have access to the professionals within the ICA but also
industry volunteers, such as Prentice St. Clair, help to maintain
a professional atmosphere and forum usefulness. This is a moderated
forum. As a result, the postings are professional and usually generic.
Do not expect to find sneaky or blatant references to products here.
Check the forum's comments on training.
One of the great car care forums is the Car Care Forum. William
Pitzer has done a great job assembling a web presence for car care
professionals - whatever their mode of service. This is a very useful
site to visit.
Automotive Detailing (www.automotivedetailing.com)
and Rightlook (www.rightlook.com)
are commercial sites with useful forums. Postings are moderated.
Both sites are quite useful if you are looking for a variety of
training and product offerings. These are great places to visit
if you want current information about products and techniques.
Forums are extremely useful tools. In an ideal world, the forum
should come to you, rather than the other way around. For about
two years, a trade publication ran a great on-line forum, but user
interest waned. The problem with e-mail forums is that the number
of current topics is limited, but it was great participating in
the conversations. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about
flex serve, but I imagine that much of the industry's thoughts on
the subject were shaped by the interaction on this topic. One would
hope that an interactive e-mail forum would be begun again. There
is a place.
Manufacturers provide a wealth of information. Frequently Asked
Questions (FAQs) sections are extremely useful. For example, CSI's
(Cleaning Systems Inc. at www.cleaningsystemsinc.com)
offers a wealth of information about cleaning chemicals, technical
terms, and concepts. If you ever want to know about the technology
of cleaning, this is a great site to visit.
The problem with commercial sites is that they are biased. Each
company's products are the most, least, newest, most user-friendly,
best value, etc., and a good site can be very persuasive. As a result,
there is a risk that you may develop an unbalanced perspective.
For example, you might believe a manufacturer's comments about paint
"breathing" and restoration of lost vital ingredients.
This could cause you to make an unfortunate (or it could be lucky)
decision regarding what products to use. Be skeptical and ask questions.
Either e-mail the company for more information regarding products
and techniques, or take your questions to a forum and seek advise/feedback
from forum members. Forum participants may have already used the
product and can provide you with more, unbiased information regarding
the product and its usefulness.
The Internet is also a great storage area for articles that have
been printed in trade magazines. You can visit publication web sites
and search previous months' issues and search for individual articles.
In this way you don't have to keep a huge stack of magazines in
the corner of your office for future reference. By having articles
on line, you can get the information you need immediately. Make
sure to bookmark sites you find useful!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.