There are many variables in the creation of a profitable detailing business, including proper training, efficient and effective procedures, appropriate pricing and packaging, and effective marketing. A relatively simple way to increase activity in your operation is to "think outside the box." That "box" for many of us limits our prospective market to owners of standard passenger vehicles. Yet, when you sit down, open up your mind, and start making a list of all the things upon which you can actually perform detail services, there's really no reason not to have enough work.
With this in mind, I've been discussing creative ways to open up your market to new detailing opportunities in the last couple of months. In April, we talked about new vehicle premium protection packages, thus capturing some of the market of which the new-car dealerships are taking advantage. In May, we discussed the opportunity of detailing used vehicles in preparation for private sale, thus providing the service of increasing the potential selling price by improving the appearance of the used vehicle. My goal in these discussions is to open up your mind to the many ways that you can make money in the detailing business.
This month, I would like to broaden the scope of detailing opportunities to include oversized vehicles.
As a professional detailer, you probably already have most of what you need. Virtually all of the surfaces on oversized vehicles like trucks, boats, airplanes, and recreational vehicles (RVs) can be treated like the surfaces on standard passenger vehicles. If you are looking to fill up your schedule or expand your operation, working on oversized vehicles provides an excellent opportunity.
There is a whole list of vehicles that can and need to be detailed. Use the ideas presented here to launch your own compilation of potentials.
Privately-owned trucks of all types are plentiful. Many career truck drivers take a lot of pride in their expensive semi-tractors (sometimes including the trailer), and some of these drivers are willing to pay quite a bit for high-quality detailing on a regular basis. Plus, you can provide special services like wheel and tank polishing.
Additionally, commercial truck fleets offer another opportunity. Often, with these types of accounts, it's a matter of regular washing. But there are some companies that have rather flashy trucks as part of their marketing, so it's reasonable to approach these companies with regular detailing packages as well. Don't forget municipal vehicles - those used by city, county, and state departments.
Truck and equipment washing can be a great bread-and-butter income generator - from the private truck owner who wants the rig cleaned and dressed after a cross-country, bug-filled tour, to the local construction company that just wants the mud and dirt blasted off every week. You need high-volume, high-pressure washing equipment and long-handled truck brushes to take care of these big beasts.
Recreational Vehicles (RVs)
You have campers, trailers, toy haulers, and motor homes of all sizes from which to choose. The car owner who cares enough to invest in regular detailing for his car will likely want the same treatment for his RV. It's simply a matter of asking and promoting your availability to do so.
Detailing the outside of an RV is pretty much the same as detailing a car, except you will likely need good ladders or rolling scaffolds. Detailing the inside of an RV is similar to a car, but you will also be providing services to areas (e.g., kitchen, bathroom) that are more like housecleaning. You may also need a floor wand for your extractor if you are cleaning the carpeting.
Like other vehicles, RVs also need to be washed. Some customers will want regular washing while others will want you to clean off all of the road grime from the last trip. De-ionized water will be handy for the final rinse so that you don't have to physically dry off the entire rig.
I use the term "watercraft" here not to sound intelligent, but to include all of the vehicles that travel on water. That is, it's not just about boats. You can clean and detail anything from wave-jumpers and jet skis to mammoth yachts. (I recently spoke with a detailing technician who worked with a team of six on an 80-foot yacht from bow to stern; cost for the five-day exterior-only detail was $60,000!) Most smaller boats can be detailed while out of the water. The exterior detail is a matter of polishing and waxing the hull and top, polishing the handles and railings, and cleaning the inside of the boat like you would a car. You may need some exterior detailing chemicals designed just for boats.
Airplane owners can be just as particular about the appearance of their "vehicles" as those we have already discussed. And most plane owners don't have the time, energy, equipment, or knowledge to properly detail their craft. This is where you come in. Most of your exterior detailing chemicals will work just fine on an airplane. You probably already have the polisher that will be needed to do the work. Of course, you will need ladders and scaffolds for working on planes.
In addition to trucks, RVs, boats, and planes, you can probably think of other conveyances that can benefit from detailing services.
You don't have to have a large marketing budget or hire a marketing and public relations firm to start detailing oversize vehicles. A simple place to start is with your current customer base. It is likely that, of those customers who currently seek your service on their passenger vehicles, a certain percentage also own some kind of recreational vehicle. So, it pays to get the word out to your current customer base that you are also available to detail other vehicles besides passenger cars.
There are many, inexpensive ways to do this. Start by creating a simple flyer announcing your capabilities. The header on such a flyer might be something like "We do more than cars!" or "Did you know we can also detail your truck/RV/boat?" List on the flyer all of the vehicles that you are able to detail, especially those that are popular in your area. Display this flyer in your lobby or have it blown up at a print shop and hang it in the window or on the wall. Also, hand these out to each customer upon completion of service.
You probably have a mailing list of previously serviced customers (or at least you should have such a list!), to which you could mail this same flyer. Encourage your customers to spread the word as well, and offer them an incentive, like "a coupon for $25 off your next service for each paying customer that you refer to our new "Oversize Vehicle Detail Program.'"
For trucks, post a flyer at the local truck stop and local garage providing mechanical truck repair. Call commercial companies and municipal organizations that have truck fleets and ask to speak with the "fleet manager." For boats, post a flyer at the local marina and marina supply store. For RVs, post a flyer at the local RV supply store, repair facility, and storage lot. You can also post flyers at local RV parks. For airplanes, it's simply a matter of going down to the municipal or private airport, posting flyers on the bulletin board, and talking with small-craft pilots in the coffee shop.
It's tricky to price oversize-vehicle detailing if you don't have much experience in it. Realize that any oversize work will take considerably longer than a passenger sedan. For example, a full-sized semi-tractor (cab only) can take up to 16 man-hours to fully detail. The important thing to remember when pricing oversize detailing is to make sure that your are being paid well for your time and for your knowledge and equipment.
A relatively easy way to price unusually-sized vehicles is to charge by the foot. I recommend charging at least $10 per foot for the exterior.
A 22-foot speedboat, for example, would cost $220 for an exterior detail. Add $5 per foot for detailing the interior. Add one or two dollars for extra-tall vehicles, like large motor homes or tractor-trailers.
If you are at all in doubt about prices, make sure your initial estimate is high. You can always bring down the price should the job be a lot easier than you expected. It's much harder to continue working on a job when you realize halfway through that you have grossly underestimated the price!
Oversized-vehicle detailing is a great opportunity for most detailing operators. There are so many different kinds of vehicles other than passenger cars that can be detailed using virtually the same equipment, chemicals, and techniques. With a minimum of specialized equipment, you can make a great profit cleaning and protecting unusually-sized vehicles.
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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