Auto Detailing - February 2002

The Learning Never Stops
By John Lamade

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.


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 attainment.

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 not solidified.
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

Of course, there is the Inter-national Car Wash Association (ICA) at 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 (, Pro (, Automotive International (the Valugard people at, Detail Plus (, 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 manufacture.

The Automotive Service Association ( 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 or Barnes and Noble can be a good start. An excellent video program called "Detailing for Profit" is available at and

Franchise companies often offer training programs. For example, Details in Motion (, Appearance Plus (, Detail King (, and Auto Guard International ( 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

* Rightlook

* 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 ( and Rightlook ( 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 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

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