Detail, Inc., Part VI — Create a Supply
and Maintenance Process
By Prentice St. Clair
This is the sixth in a multi-part series dedicated to the “business” of detailing. In last month’s column, the topic was marketing. I started by defining marketing in simple terms as “the things you do to get people to buy your stuff.” Then
I suggested that marketing is a multi-step process through which you guide your customer.
The steps in the process include:
- Promotional activities that solicit or encourage people from your target market to “visit your store”
- Salesmanship that convinces the potential customer that he or she should conduct business with you
- A customer interview that determines the customer’s expectations
- Delivery of excellent service that exceeds those expectations
- Follow-up and follow-through activities to thank the customer and encourage repeat business
This marketing process — engaged in consistently and persistently — should bring in and retain plenty of customers. The delivery of service for the resulting thriving business requires, among other things, an ongoing supply of chemicals as well as a battery of equipment in excellent working condition. So let’s discuss some ideas that will assist in the creation of a supply and maintenance process that helps keep the operation running smoothly and efficiently.
Entering into a detail business will require some initial expenses, including chemicals, equipment, and tools. Seek out a supplier that will provide a full range of detailing supplies along with training on how to use those supplies, an easy re-supply process, as well as follow-up technical support.
The importance of using professional-grade supplies cannot be over-emphasized. These products are designed just for use on automobile surfaces. Their proper use yields the utmost efficiency (speed of delivery) and effectiveness (quality of final result). So, with high-quality supplies, you or your technicians will be able to deliver better results faster. Additionally, your customers will be impressed by the consistency of labels across the different bottles. Your customers will not be impressed if they see you using products that are available at the local discount store.
The same goes for equipment. There are a number of pieces of equipment that most professional detailers will agree are necessary or even essential for the operation of a high-quality, efficient detail shop. Such things as a pressure washer, high-speed polisher, random-orbit polisher, shop vacuum, and hot-water extractor are on that list. Choosing high-quality models of this equipment will help you get the job done faster and better, and reduce the possibility of equipment breakdowns that lead to downtime.
Each day, during the operation of a detail business, equipment and supplies are used and chemicals are depleted. Hence, it is necessary to clean and re-supply the operation on a daily basis. I recommend allowing time at the end of each workday to tidy up the shop or mobile vehicle.
During this “regrouping” period, trash is discarded, used towels and pads are placed in separate bins (or washed if the bin is full), dispenser bottles are topped off, carts are cleaned and organized, equipment is prepared for the next day, and everything gets put back into its proper place.
If you have multiple stations, I recommend having a labeling system —like colored electrical tape — to indicate “cart ownership” of each item. At the end of the day, it’s easy to then determine which equipment, tools, and bottles go with which stations.
An important — but often overlooked — part of the daily maintenance is caring for the hot-water extractor. Pour an ounce or less of odor neutralizer into the remaining water in the solution tank, and suck it out using the extractor nozzle. This will rinse out the inside of the hose with clean water and remove the excess solution from the clean tank at the same time. Leave the vacuum on for a minute or two so that the vacuum tube can dry. Then empty and rinse the recovery tank. Finally, leave all tanks open so that they can air out overnight. If you perform thissimple task faithfully everyday, you will never have odor problems with your extractor.
An easy way to top off liquid chemicals is to have a pouring station, which consists of a five-shelf unit with five-gallon containers on each shelf. Each container has a pour spout that fits right into the top of the open trigger sprayers. The pouring station concept makes pre-dilution easy. For example, if you have a product that should be diluted 4:1, you simply pour a gallon of the product into the container, then fill the remaining five-gallon capacity with water.
Other chemicals will probably be topped off from a cabinet containing the back-up supplies. Have a clipboard hanging on the inside of the cabinet with a list of chemicals and supplies. When a technician uses the last of a product or notices that a product is getting low, he or she can make a check mark next to the item on the list. Then, once a week or month, you can check the list and order noted supplies.
For larger operations, you may want to designate one person in charge of supply. The responsibilities of this person will be to check the cabinets on a daily or weekly basis for supplies that are low, and then place orders with suppliers. Having one person in charge reduces confusion and the classic “I thought you ordered it.”
For high-use items such as multi-purpose cleaner or dressings, you may want to order in larger quantities like a five-gallon or fifty-five gallon drum. Also, establish a “cut-off/order-now” point on each container. For example, order a new gallon of wax when the current supply drops to one-quarter full. To reduce the possibility of running out, you could even draw a permanent ink line at the cut-off/order-now point on each bottle.
Create a laundry system for all of your towels and applicators. I recommend having stackable bins that arelabeled to keep the different towels separate. Once a particular bin is full, it can be dumped into the washer for cleaning. Thus all towels are kept separate according to application (e.g., body towels, window towels) through the entire laundry process. This requires having a supply of towels that is large enough so that a load can be washing while all technicians still have a plentiful supply of clean towels.
For mobile operators, daily upkeep also includes topping off fuel tanks, topping off water tanks, and emptying recovery tanks as necessary.
MONTHLY EQUIPMENT REVIEW
High-quality equipment tends to be reliable and durable. Sometimes we take this for granted and ignore equipment maintenance until it breaks down.
Successful manufacturing operations around the world subscribe to the notion of preventative maintenance for their equipment. Likewise, a detail shop can be thought of as a “factory” of sorts, with the “assembly” equipment being our polishers, extractors, and the like. Thus, we can take a lesson from large manufacturing successes and create a “preventative maintenance program” to keep our equipment up-and-running all the time.
For most operations, this might be a monthly task. For larger operations, it may be necessary to increase frequency to weekly. A supervisor, manager, or owner type should be involved in this activity as an outside observer. The technicians use the equipment on a daily basis and may not notice (conveniently or otherwise) that a piece of equipment is falling into disrepair.
Plug in and turn on each piece of equipment to check for normal functionality. Check the entire length of
the power cord for damage or worn insulation. Lubricate appropriate moving parts, such as wheels on extractors. “Detail” the equipment — for example, the plastic body of an extractor can be cleaned with multi-purpose cleaner and then dressed with your favorite plastic/vinyl dressing.
For some high-use equipment, you may want to consider having a back-up. For example, it would be wise to have an extra unit of a random-orbit polisher that is used to apply wax on almost every car.
MAINTENANCE AND SUPPLY OFFICER
Remember in grade school, at the beginning of the year the teacher would assign specific tasks to individuals in the classroom? There was the window monitor, the trash monitor, and the chalkboard monitor, for example. This concept of designating an individual to have specific responsibilities is a sound one that is practiced in efficiently-run operations of all types. We can reduce problems with supply and maintenance by designating a responsible individual to monitor these areas.
In smaller operations, this individual might be the supervisor or manager. In larger operations, it might be a technician who not only works on cars, but also is allowed time to perform maintenance and supply activities.
At the same time, I believe it is important for individual technicians to be responsible for their own areas. Thus, those in charge should allow time at the end of the workday for technicians to
perform daily maintenance activities and “clean up their station.”
It is frustrating to be in the middle of a job and run out of a key chemical or discover that a piece of equipment is not operating correctly. The resulting downtime is costly to the business. To avoid these problems, set up daily
and monthly supply and maintenance procedures that will help to keep your operation running smoothly.
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.