Detailing - June 2008

Operator Forum

Three experienced detail operators have agreed to share their opinions on equipment, products, marketing, going “green,” and other topics.

The participants are:

  • Greg Swett — Owner of two Classic Appreciation free-standing detailing centers located in Birmingham and Rochester, MI. Swett has been in business for over 23 years.
  • Buster LaFauvre — Owner of B & W Mobile Auto Detailing based out of Orlando, FL. Buster and his wife Wanda have owned and operated B & W for over four years.
  • Mark Mueller — Owner of A Auto Detail Service located in Federal Heights, CO. Mueller has 28 years of experience in the industry.


What sort of new equipment have you been using lately?

Something that has changed the way we detail cars is the random orbital polisher. We have always used both high-speed and random orbit polishing, but we have been using the random machine much more lately.

The rotary wheel is great for getting scratches and scuffs out and making the surface smooth and shinny, but it uses a lot of friction and there is a high chance of damaging the vehicle, especially if you are not experienced with it.

Going to the orbital polisher hasn’t really saved time, but our work is much safer.

How do you market your stand-alone shop?

The things we have tried in the past aren’t working like they used to. Advertisements in the newspapers and the yellow pages don’t get a good response any more.

One new thing we are trying is alliances with local restaurants. We send out a letter and a $20 gift card to the restaurant to every one on our customer list. What intrigued me about the idea is that the customers don’t have to make a purchase to get the card.

The restaurant owners get increased business and the opportunity to win a new customer and we make our customers happy. I have never got so many thank you cards and phone calls like we did with the restaurant promotion. Throughout the year, when people called to make appointments they would say “thanks for sending the gift card, we used it.”

I also host car care clinics for car clubs when we are slow in the winter. The members come in on a Saturday morning and I show them how to clay and polish their own cars and all kinds of stuff that they can do themselves.

It is kind of weird to teach someone else how to do what you do. I went into this thinking that we weren’t going to get a lot of business out of it. I was just doing it for awareness, but we ended up doing quite a few of their cars anyway. The biggest benefit has been the word of mouth we get from these people. They are the authorities on car care in their social circles, so when they recommend us it holds a lot of weight.

Is there any piece of equipment you are considering purchasing?

One of the things I am intrigued with, but not totally sold on is a steamer. A lot of detailers use them and love them, but it is an investment. Anything that saves labor is a beautiful thing — labor is 50 percent of our cost.

How do you deal with the growing “green” movement?

We use citrus-based biodegradable cleaners, and buy all our supplies in bulk, which saves on packaging. We recycle what cans and bottles we do use.

All of our wastewater goes into a sewer line, like it is supposed to.


Are you using any new products that have helped you detail cars more efficiently?

We use an all-in-one advanced polishing system. We don’t use glaze or compound anymore which has cut down on time, and the finished product has been a lot better. It also does a good job taking out minor scratches and imperfections.

What kind of marketing tactics do you use as a mobile detailer?

We rely primarily on word of mouth and sight. Our truck has our name and number on it, which helps get the word out.

Sometimes it is hard for mobile detailers to stay environmental conscious, what do you do to stay as “green” as possible?

As a mobile detailer you are supposed to wash the car on a wash pad that collects the water. We use environmentally safe, biodegradable soap in our operation.

Are there any services that customers are asking for more frequently?

Cleaning up the oxidation on headlights is very popular. We take off the oxidation without taking the lenses off the car by polishing them with our all-in-one polish.

Another increasingly popular service is odor elimination. We use an ozone machine to permanently eliminate bad odors. Simply spraying air fresheners in the car is just putting a band aid on the problem; once the air freshener wears off the bad smell is back

Is there any new equipment on the market that you would like to have?

A steamer for the inside. It does a great job on leather, cloth, and carpets. You are not leaving anything wet and not using any chemicals.

Do you have any advice to someone just starting out in the detailing business?

I would suggest going to a training school and getting certified. We went to a training school two years after we started the business. We wanted to move up to another level, and it has paid off. I thought I knew how to do some things the right way, but I didn’t.

Also, if you really want to get your name out there you need to join your local chamber of commerce. That is the quickest way to make contacts in the community.


How do you market your detail center?

We rely on referral, the phone book, and our website to bring in new customers.

Most of the new customers that come to me are from the phone book or the online version of the book. Our website has all of the information that most people are looking for. I get compliments all the time about the wealth of information that is on there. I also have coupons and discounts on there that helps draw people in.

How do you deal with rising environmental concerns?

My opinion has always been that if we pick up our own trash the whole world would be a lot better.

I dispose of things properly, and all my cleaners are organic, and have been way before it was in vogue.

What kind of services have you added in the past few years to increase the bottom line?

I have added window tint and clear bra, which have been lucrative additions.

The clear bra is hugely popular. We have a lot of sand and gravel on the road in the winter months from the snow and it chips up the front end of cars. The clear bra helps to protect the paint from chips and scratches.

Is there any piece of equipment you would like to have in your shop but haven’t bought yet?

I would like an all-in-one detailing caddy that holds the air hoses, vacuum, buffer, blower, air brush, steam cleaner, all the tool that you need.


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