Auto Detailing - May 2003

Wants or Needs:
The Tao of Decision Making

By John Lamade

It's May. Flowers are in bloom; baseball's back; and the snow's gone. What could be better? Oh yes, it's time for the ICA's moment in the sun. This month I won't be a cloud.

Since it seems entirely appropriate to think about buying new things, I want to consider wants and needs. The terms are not synonymous. You can lack a want and survive, but you will experience great difficulty if you fail to satisfy a need. If you picked up this magazine for the first time, I need to explain that we sometimes deal with murky ideas in this column; you need to know that if I seem overly vague you can always send me an e-mail at and we can discuss any point at greater leisure.

Every year that I have written this column, I have written a piece that focuses on getting the most out of the show. And this year is probably not going to be an exception, but I think that I will approach the piece differently. The angle this time is exploring success at the show by understanding your needs and wants. The really great thing about this article will be that you don't have to be in Las Vegas to benefit from the shared wisdom. Through the magic of print you can increase your knowledge without wandering through the aisles of the Convention Center. Yes, you can thank us later.


The object to the right is yin-yang. It is a symbol of balance between opposing forces. Most often, the examples used for the symbol are good-bad, male-female, and other opposites. As I was thinking about this month's piece, I realized that there are many other instances of balanced concepts.

Keeping Car Care World Expo in mind, I was looking for some eternal truth with greater depth than "you need water to wash cars." As I considered the various trade shows I have seen over the years, I realized that one of the great functions of trade shows is to make the transition from "I want one of those" to "I need that one." As I pondered the possibilities, I realized that wants and needs exist in a balance - or at least a case of suspended animation, because "I can't afford everything I want."

Well, this doesn't really answer many questions or supply much excitement. One of the really cool
things about trade shows is how they can throw everything out of balance. You've heard the line "I've gotta have one of those." You can see poor victims standing at booths positively lusting for the newest and latest piece of equipment. Years ago, the humorist Jean Shepherd wrote a story titled "Abercrombie's Bitch" in The Ferrari in the Bedroom, in which he told of men who owned warehouses
of stuff because they were attracted by the size or complexity of really big machines, or by the cool way they worked. Come on, admit it: We all like cool stuff. How many laser pens do you own? Do you own a lawn/leaf blower-vac? Have you ever looked at a polisher and thought "Wow! Nine amps! Just think of the torque!" Or, if you own a tunnel wash, did you get all excited when you saw four colors of foaming soap? Gotta have it!

This year as you wander the aisles at the ICA's Car Care World Expo or read about the new products here in ALN, think about it: "What do you gotta have?"


Somewhere there is a point of balance between the things you want and the things you need. When you are thinking about all the things you would like to have and how much you "need" them, consider that there might be a more in-balance way to have the things you want - or the way you want them to be - and the things you really need to succeed.

Does this sound like vague ramblings? Perhaps it is. My point is, however, that while we want many things, our best efforts are made when we understand our needs and act to ensure their satisfaction.
If needs are so important to our success, then where do we find them, and how can we learn to understand them?

Businesses are often like people. There are certain basic needs that are common to both man and service marketer. You can understand the need for shelter or the need for a place of business; the need for capital or food; the necessity of customers, etc. As you can see there are many parallels, but where can you find the necessities and the expression of the means of ensuring their satisfaction?

The Business Plan
Yes, your business and marketing plan contains the identification of your business' needs and the strategies/tactics you plan to take - plus the necessary resources required - to produce the desired results.

Having a plan helps ensure a balance between needs and wants. Sometimes a compromise can be reached by satisfying needs in terms of wants. For example, if you really want to be high tech, then you should approach your business from a high-tech perspective. Satisfy your needs in a high-tech manner.
Here's another way to express this thought: address need satisfaction in terms of your wants. In this way, you can maintain balance and achieve your goals. Hmmm, I sense some doubt. Here's a story that should illustrate the point.

Problem Resolution
So often, we recognize a need when we recognize a problem. Those of you who have followed this column over the years will know that I own a conversion van that has uncovered the shortcomings of many products and services. It also gets terrible gas mileage.

For years, when gas was around $1 per gallon, I groused about the cost but did nothing because the van's utility outweighed its fuel cost. However, as recent events in Iraq have provided an incentive for oil producers to gouge their customers, the van's utility as a commuting vehicle has become debatable. Is it reasonable to pay $200 per month for gas?

While there are many possible solutions, I believe that keeping the van or a large-family-and-camping-equipment-hauling vehicle is desirable. Well, if replacing the vehicle with a more fuel-efficient one is not a direct possibility, how about something indirect? Buy an economical third vehicle.

This is inherently attractive, but there are some limitations. Primarily, I do not want to increase vehicle
expenses. That places a rather big limitation on the equation. The cost of the third vehicle, its insurance, maintenance, and fuel must cost less than $200 per month. By the way, there is one more variable: a soon-to-be 15-year-old.

Now, is there some vehicle that will get three times the fuel economy as the van and handle up to two
passengers? The answer is yes. I'm home free if I can find a vehicle that averages 10 to 13 miles per gallon. That's easy.

Finding a used, fuel-efficient vehicle is easy, but can it be done for less than $130 per month (assuming a $70 fuel expenditure for the third vehicle). This poses a challenge because a fairly mature vehicle would be needed. A new vehicle would not be a viable option. What then are the choices and risks? What do I want and need?

My wants are fairly simple. I want a good-performing vehicle with a 5-speed manual transmission and good safety record (remember the 15-year-old?). Now, I know that I can find a vehicle that meets this description, but I also need a reliable, low-maintenance vehicle.

Earlier I mentioned that you can find balance by addressing a need by using a want as the formative agent. In short, I could consider a Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, or VW. Saabs and Volvos are out and no sane person would consider an Alfa, Fiat, MG, or other ancient performance car. American cars are out of the question because parts and service are ridiculous. Last Memorial Day the van's fuel pump died on a family trip, which cost more than $800 (repairs, replacement vehicle rental, and towing). Consequently, the third vehicle I'm looking for should exhibit extreme longevity, outstanding parts availability, and ease of repair.

After extensive research, I discovered that the Honda CRX Si would be a good choice. It offers outstanding reliability (a very high percentage of these vehicles being offered for sale have more than 200,000 miles on the odometer), good to excellent safety, high fun-to-drive coefficient, excellent fuel economy, and reasonable availability. Auto Trader magazine indicates that the Honda Civic and Accord are two of the most popular vehicles on their pages.

The CRX is also interesting from another point of view. It helped establish the performance sport coupe category in the aftermarket. Many of the vehicles offered for sale have been extensively modified. Vehicles offered on auction -eBay, for one - are free of rust and accident-free.

My hope is that the vehicle will last four years, and I am willing to consider $100 per month vehicle cost. Now, a good CRX Si with around 70,000 miles can be purchased for around $3800 to $4500. This leaves a small reserve for improvements or a repair. A large unexpected expense could push the vehicle out of budget.

Who knows how this will turn out? I'll keep you posted.


Balance, and working within your objectives, demands that you seek ways to ensure symmetry between wants and needs. Coloring needs with want pencils makes sense and offers a balanced compromise.

As you walk through the show, temper your wants with an understanding of your needs. Talk to others at the show about your wants/needs. You may discover that seductive features and appearance may be superficial and without the long-term benefits that a large investment demands. Don't assume you can perform miracles. If the best you can do in a market is $5 per exterior wash, a huge building with an expensive system may not be your best choice - no matter how much you want it.

Most reputable manufacturers want to work with you -they don't want a reputation for bankrupting their customers. Thus, you can discover that what you want and what you need may require moderate tweaking before they achieve a balance.

Until next month, Tao!

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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