Auto Detailing - July 2002

Winter's Woes: Turn Your
Winter Blues Green!

By John Lamade

Writing about winter in early June seems strange - especially after a long, cold, and wet spring. But if you need time to prepare for winter's opportunities, now is a great time to plan to succeed.

Most people do not think of New Year's resolutions until December 31, which is really too late. This month we will consider some things that you could do to bring customers into your shop in November and December. Some of the ideas might help in the dreary months of January through March. Of course, some of you in permanently warm climates may scoff at these suggestions, but the ideas - rather than specific application - may help. I guess you could say that these are pre-New Year's plans.

One of the key elements in this month's article is to encourage you to think about different services you can offer. I do not want you to think of yourself as just a detailer. Rather, think of yourself as a car care professional. When you jump out of your detailing box, you may discover that there are many opportunities waiting for you.

Understanding your customers' needs and wants remains a key to success. If you serve individual vehicle owners, then you really ought to spend more time considering what you can do to link your services to customers' lifestyles and the vehicles that serve those lifestyles.

ADD SOME IMAGINATION

In previous articles, I spoke of passion and its importance. I believe that passion and the desire for perfection is a key differentiating factor between an ordinary clean-up technician and a detailer. While this is true, identifying and satisfying customer needs is the fuel for passion. And you need customers to provide the vehicles for art's expression. So, looking for peripheral opportunities and expanding your scope brings more challenges. With more challenges, you also gain the opportunity for
increased sales and profitability.

Expanding service options is a great way to build your business. Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with the son of the owner of a company called Auto Interiors. This company repairs auto interiors for car dealerships. Their services include plastic, carpet and upholstery repair, stain removal, glass repair, and replacing pin striping. In short, they offer some of the services that many detailers provide their dealer accounts. However, when you think about the nature of their business, many detailers could provide these services to their retail customers as well. Are there customers in your market that could use these services? Think of the customers that you have now. OK, perhaps there are not many, but are there people that you have not served that could use these services? Perhaps you should serve these people, too. Expand your base.

By "expand your base," I mean find new customers that want detailing-like services. For example, if you offered paintless dent or upholstery repair, you would attract people who might not come to your shop for detailing. Once you provide the repair service, you can then sell the benefits of your primary detailing services. A satisfied customer then starts a referral chain, and you gain more new business.
Services are the key to reach a broader market. Do more and obtain the benefit. This is an over-simplification, of course, because you must offer the "right" services. The "right" services are either the services customers want or those that you can educate your customers to want. And how do you find out what customers want? Ask them!

Finding out what people want is a two-step proposition. First, find out what services your customers want in addition to those you already offer. By understanding your customer's expectations, you can plan to improve your service offerings. The second way to find out about customer needs is by encouraging customer contact. For example, car care seminars at public events are a great way to meet and talk with customers. Look for ways to make contact and gain PR exposure.

Another way to gain business is to find ways to keep your customers coming back. In previous articles I mentioned that you should minimize inconveniences by offering extended hours, pick up and delivery, and similar hassle-reduction techniques. These are crucial elements, but you should also give your customers reasons to come to you. Wouldn't you like to see a customer's vehicle four times per year rather than once or twice?

FREQUENCY - MORE IS BETTER

Car care is more than a once-a-year event. The quick lube people have done well with establishing a 3,000-mile oil change mentality. Many operators also have added services. Several years ago, the only services available at a quick lube were wiper blades and, occasionally, additives. Now quick lubes offer a wide variety of services ranging from engine/transmission/radiator flushes to tire rotations. They understand that every customer is an opportunity for additional services and profit. Valvoline has done well with its service database. They understand the importance of being a car care center.

One of the key tenets of marketing is the importance of gaining prominence in the customer's mind. If you want to provide periodic services to your customer, you must help your customer associate you with the needed services. And to do that you must communicate and build a link between the customer and you.

The practical application of the foregoing is to provide a problem and a solution. Certainly, you can think of at least two occasions for detailing: before winter and after winter. The after-winter detailing and cleanup is obvious, but you can show your customers that preparing for winter will reduce the damage to the vehicle.

Winter preparation is something of a ritual in the snowy parts of the country, but many people do not think of vehicle preventative maintenance until after the first snowfall. Now, you can say that this is all unfortunate, you might even admit to procrastinating, but you can think of these people who either fail to have the maintenance done or who do not know where to go for the necessary services as an opportunity.

Okay, most of you will agree that winter preventative detailing is a given, but you also need to think of ways to ensure that the customer will come back in the spring for an after-winter restoration. As you might imagine, there are numerous ways to provide reminders, but one of the most powerful methods is to provide incentives to return.

PACKAGES WORK

Packages help you provide greater value to your customers. In the above example, I offered some additional items. Certainly, you would expect a detailer to offer interior & exterior cleaning and paint sealant, but what about the radiator flush and car wash package? That is different.

When you create a package, you must create both value and perceived value. People like getting deals. The percentage discount - in this case 30 percent off regular price - signals that the consumer is getting a deal. The list of services provided represents many of the things that the consumer needs to protect the vehicle during the winter - hence the fabric protection and floor mats. In addition, you can provide a discount on a springtime after-winter detailing, which also increases the value of the package.

Remember that packages must reflect consumer needs. If you load up the package with useless items, then the package becomes less desirable. When you hear people say, "I don't need that!" you should revise the package. Notice that I did not include a price; this is something that you must research and create specifically for your market. What are all these good things worth to your customers, and will they want to pay the amount asked?

All the services might be offered by a detailer - or at least a detailer with access to a car wash that features an undercarriage cleaner. The car washes are important because they help remove salt deposits from underneath the vehicle. In addition, a clean, attractive vehicle reinforces the perception that detailing is a good idea. The car wash also benefits by this program because it can offer additional cleaning services. Consequently, it is a win-win-win situation. This brings up an important consideration: collaboration.

COLLABORATION - IT'S A GOOD DEAL FOR ALL

The foregoing is a good example of how, by working with other related businesses, you can increase your market penetration without a major investment in equipment, people, and space. For example, the radiator flush and fill is not a common service offered by detailers, and unless there is a strong demand for it, I do not believe that the service is appropriate. Similarly, if you do not provide car washing services, this is not an opportunity for you. However, there are multiple service outlets in your area that do offer these services, and they, too, are looking for ways to increase the number of their customers and sales. By creating a joint package, you can increase services, and help package participants grow their businesses as you grow yours. Everybody benefits.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS

When you consider the many options available to you, it all becomes somewhat confusing. This is why planning is important. When you create your business plan, you must consider the different possibilities and the most effective ways for you to satisfy your customers.

One of the big challenges you will face is how you communicate your packages and services. Too many
detailers neglect to plan for advertising and communicating their services to their current and potential customers. This is the main reason that many really good programs never succeed: Nobody knows about them! Whatever you do, make sure that you communicated your services and that customers understand the value of your services. In this way, you will be able to create profitable services.

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 john.lamade@gte.net.

By creating a joint package, you can increase services, and help package participants grow their businessess as you grow yours.

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