Auto Detailing - March 2002

Passion: Its Connection to Detailing
By John Lamade

Passion in a car wash magazine? Could this be a piece about the tunnel of love with a shouted warning, "Keep your mitters off!"?

Well, no. So, don't look for an article about the romance of detailing. The February issue has already passed. Consequently, a Valentine's Day theme can't be used. What then, do passion and detailing have in common? And why is passion so important? This month we will consider these questions. This exploration may explain why you have chosen detailing - or whatever you do - and how others succeed in supplying detailers with products the detailers need. In addition, helping your employees to develop a passion for detailing will increase work quality and potentially reduce turnover.

What Is Passion?
Passion is rooted in suffering. From describing the experience of psychic and physical pain, the concept evolved to include intense emotional experiences ranging from romantic/sexual emotions through intense appreciation of an object or action. Pain and romance are somewhat pale emotions compared to the satisfaction of succeeding at the activities you enjoy. When you can obtain your goals by doing as you choose, the satisfaction makes the activity worthwhile.

For example, Mario Andretti is credited with saying, "If everything is under control, you're going too slow." Andretti was one of the greatest racers in history with wins at both the Indianapolis 500 in 1968
and the World Grand Prix in 1978. His passion for driving and winning is legendary. He lived to race. His goal was victory, but more than raw emotion propelled Mario. He used his head as well: "Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it counts."

Where do passion and detailing meet? Detailing, as you know, is both a craft an art. The craft portion entails the techniques and procedures used to solve specific problems encountered on a job. It is possible to reduce detailing to pure process. This might occur, for example, at an auction where throughput and lowest cost are paramount concerns. There is not much time for art. In many auctions,
detailing is the procedure used to make a vehicle more attractive, i.e., more saleable at a higher price.

The level of "art" increases as the prominence of the owner increases. Usually this means that you work to meet the expectations of the person who actually drives the vehicle. When the owner has an intimate involvement with the vehicle, the desire for "art" increases.

By art, I mean seeking ways to perfect - and improve - the vehicle's appearance. This entails more than just cleaning and applying wax. The detailer sees each vehicle as a canvas upon which he or she can work his or her particular magic. The art and passion are linked. When you have a passion for detailing, you are keenly aware of the challenges you face, and you look forward to meeting those challenges.

If you view detailing as a job and have a dispassionate attitude, you treat each vehicle the same. You have a procedure; you follow it. Your attitude toward products is probably the same. Products must enhance productivity and give predictable results - all the time. The problem is that many detailers burn out because they can't handle the repetitiveness of the work.

A passionate detailer often sees things differently. Products are the tools needed to meet a particular challenge. As a result, this kind of detailer looks for new products that will help the detailer achieve
better work. Of course, you have to balance passion with practicality (unless you can charge and make money on your artistic endeavors). You do have to profit and meet your financial objectives or your passion for detailing might not find an outlet. So, be warned: Unless you temper your passion for detailing you may find other, unanticipated challenges along the way.

Why Is Passion Important?
The first reason for passion is personal enjoyment. If detailing is your passion, you will view each vehicle you do as a challenge. You will look forward to each vehicle that passes under your hands. Some vehicles will pose greater challenges and require more of your skills, experience, and art. These cars will make you feel good when you step back and admire your work. And when your customer appreciates what you have done and when you are paid for what you do. Well, perhaps you know the sublime feeling. Reaching this level, I'm sure you will agree, is what it is all about. It's more than just money; you have added beauty to a usually drab world! Congratulations!

The second reason why passion is important is because it is infectious. When you enjoy what you do, you communicate your enthusiasm to both your employees and customers. For new employees the search for excellence can make you a bit of a pain, because the employee does not have a complete
appreciation of the art. However, if your employees are to stay with you and grow as detailers, they must develop their own passion and artistic sense that they can apply to their work. This is not something that can be learned in a detailing class; it must be learned from you. Similarly, your customers will recognize your dedication. If you meet their expectations, you will gain the customer's respect. This can translate directly to your shop's bottom line because you will gain referrals from your customers, because you have a business that routinely exceeds customer expectations.

Passion produces progress. This is the third reason why passion is important. Many of the innovations in detailing are the result of professionals seeking a better way to resolve problems encountered while working to improve a vehicle's appearance. This becomes a search for products, tools, and techniques that satisfy the passionate detailer's desire for improved quality and appearance. One of the reasons why there is no truly dominant supplier of detailing products is that many companies have been formed to provide specific solutions to detailing problems. Also, I suspect that many manufacturers don't have a complete understanding of detailers' needs. This results in a proliferation of products that try to approximate a need. If people buy it, then it must be right. Hmm, I'm skeptical about that. There are companies that are passionate about detailing. You can recognize them by their willingness to partner with a shop to help realize its ambition for better work and increased profitability. (Remember I
told you that you must temper passion with profitability.)

The fourth aspect of passion is value. Passion is a source of value. It is that something extra that makes a difference. In past articles, we have discussed value and how it relates to your business. One of the sources of value is your ability to exceed your customers' expectations. When your passion motivates you to excel, everybody - including your customers - will see the results.

Finding the Passion
Certainly, you can have a wealth of knowledge and a paucity of passion. Many detailers are technically brilliant, but fail to inspire their employees, customers, or themselves. Detailers must be passionate, because the artistic aspect of detailing demands an intensity of expression realized in beautiful gloss-renewed beauty.

The challenge is finding the passion not only for yourself but also for your customer. The most important question you can ask is: Is this what you want? Do you want to be a detailer? If you answer yes, then you are on your way to discovering your passion for detailing. If your ardor is focused on technique rather than art, perhaps your focus should shift toward wholesale detailing (for example, working closely with dealerships) where value-oriented work is favored.

Earlier, I stated that passion is contagious. Associate with others who share your passion for detailing. You can find others who wish to share their ardor at trade shows and on detailing forums.

It Starts with You
Passions are personal and should never be second-hand. You can't use someone else's boundless enthusiasm. The passion must start within you. The positive reinforcement you receive from your co-workers and customers must not be your goal; that is a reward for what you do. Don't just seek praise, let recognition be just that. People will recognize your dedication to the detailing art. As a result, your personal involvement is always crucial.

Passion must be real and not a pose. Some "artists" affect passion; they are to be treated with skepticism. When you have worked with those who are driven by their desire to excel, those who pose can be recognized. When you display your passion (and you should strive to be a part of your community) by sharing your dedication to detailing with others, you will find more customers who seek your expertise.

Detailing is an exciting art and business, and it truly is what you make of it. Your passion or desire to restore or improve vehicle appearance is a valuable and needed service. When you realize the value of your contribution, your passion for detailing will grow.

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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