Auto Detailing - May 2008

Wrap-Up: Mobile Tech Expo 2008
By Prentice St. Clair

This year’s Mobile Tech Expo (MTE) took place January 17-19 in Clearwater, FL. As usual, there were a number of value-packed informational and educational sessions, as well as a plethora of exhibitors showing many of the latest equipment, chemicals, and techniques for the mobile technician. MTE is the closest I’ve seen to a show that is designed specifically for the automotive reconditioning industries, including detailing, minor paint repairs, paintless dent removal, windshield repair, interior surface repair, and much more.

Several of the industry’s trade associations were also present, including, for the second year in a row, the National Association of Professional Detailing and Reconditioning (NAPDR). The organization, which is a reincarnation of the Professional Detailing Technician Association, provided much-needed additional educational seminars throughout the expo.

I know that it is sometimes difficult for some of us to travel and take time away from our businesses to go to something like MTE, so I thought it would be nice to give a quick overview of some of the topics that were discussed. As a caveat, I am not intending for this to be a complete regurgitation of everything that was presented. Indeed, I was not able to attend every educational offering.

Nonetheless, there were some real nuggets that I think will help many of you. If you need more information on any of the topics I cover here, please feel free to call me or contact the original presenter, whose information I will provide when possible.


I have long espoused the importance of word-of-mouth marketing in building a detail business, especially one that caters to a retail clientele. Cindy Stevens-Pino, who owns Washed in the Light, Inc. Mobile Detail Services in Terra Verde, FL, reinforced this idea with a great talk on network marketing.

Stevens-Pino told us about the principles and benefits of membership in a business networking group, which is typically comprised of a collection of local business owners, one from each category, who meet on a regular basis for the purpose of exchanging business leads. She stressed the importance of several principles that really help to make such a group work. Those principles include:

  • Generously supporting the other members of the group
  • Committing to support those members by sending the most appropriate potential customers
  • Investing time to understand the business needs of the other members in your network
  • Following up on the leads you receive from other members
  • Making an effort to be professional

Among the benefits of networking-group membership Stevens-Pino noted the following:

  • Introduction to like-minded professionals interested in developing referrals
  • Access to professional resources
  • Generating and growing your business through leads and referrals

The most important benefit of membership in a networking group is the potential return on investment. If you invest the time, effort, and generosity, and are committed to the group, it is possible to achieve a several thousand percent return on the cost of the membership. Both Stevens-Pino, myself, and others that I know have experienced this kind of return.


Doug Snow and Kian Amirkhizi of Matri-X (Mobile Aesthetic Technical Repair Institute) never cease to amaze me with their knowledge of the care and repair of vehicle interior surfaces. I have attended several of their presentations and learn much from them — and I am supposed to be one of the interior repair experts!

They spoke of the “Law of Mass Cleaning,” which states that effective and efficient cleaning is achieved by a combination of four elements:

  • Time (i.e., dwell time)
  • Concentration (the potency of the chemical being used)
  • Action (agitation or scrubbing)
  • Heat

The key to the law of mass cleaning is that when one of the elements is increased, the need for the other three elements is decreased. An example of this is in the cleaning of wheels with heavy concentrations of brake dust. If you use your favorite all-purpose cleaner, it will probably be necessary to extensively scrub the area in order to remove the brake dust. However, increasing the potency of the chemical by using an acid-based wheel cleaner may completely eliminate the need for scrubbing the same areas. (Remember, please, that I am not a big fan of using acid for wheels, except in the most extreme cases, and then only with all precautions for personal and vehicle protection.)

Another great example of the law of mass cleaning is the use of a dry vapor steamer in the cleaning of various vehicle interior surfaces. The 240° vapor of a quality steamer can loosen many types of soil from several types of surfaces without the use of any chemicals. In this case, the “heat” component is so high that the chemical is no longer necessary, eliminating the “time” and “concentration” components completely. Some scrubbing with the head of the steam unit or a terry towel may still be necessary.

This last example points out the obvious advantage of having a dry vapor steamer in your arsenal of detailing equipment. I have been using one since January of 2007 and have found it to be indispensable. It’s one of those situations in which I say to myself, “what did I ever do before I had this machine?” Well, the truth is that my cleaning of certain interior surfaces, especially leather, was not nearly as effective as it now is. Moreover, everyone to whom I have introduced the steamer is “sold” on it after the first use. Please put it on your list of “things to investigate for 2008.”

In situations where chemicals are necessary, or if you are not yet prepared to purchase a dry vapor steamer, Snow and Amirkhizi reminded us of the importance of using chemicals that have a pH that is compatible with the material being cleaned. The pH scale measures the acidity or alkalinity of a chemical. The scale goes from 0-14, “0” being the most acidic, “7” being neutral, and “14” being the most alkaline.

Remember that extreme alkalinity can be just as harmful to humans (and automotive materials) as extreme acidity. The trucks that have the hazardous warning diamond that say “corrosive” are likely carrying a chemical that is high-alkaline in content.

The relevance of pH for us in the automotive detailing business is twofold. First, we must be aware that organic (i.e., made of natural material) surfaces such as leather must be cleaned with relatively pH neutral chemicals. To test your favorite cleaning chemicals, use a litmus paper test kit that is available at your local drug store.

Snow and Amirkhizi also spoke on the types of stains that require special chemicals. They gave a great analogy that emphasizes the importance of using the right chemical for the job. Think of a stain as being a “lock” that can only be opened using the correct chemical “key.” This analogy can work against you, however; if you use the wrong chemical key, it may “break in the lock,” permanently locking in the stain.

It is important to learn the correct chemical to use on each type of stain, hence the reason we see such items as “coffee-stain” and “red-stain” removers advertised. Specialized stain removers is another item worth investigating. Remember that you can market yourself as a stain removal specialist and charge accordingly.

In very general terms, organic stains respond to high-pH cleaners (i.e., alkaline) like many all-purpose cleaners. Petroleum stains are best removed with solvent-based cleaners. Inorganic stains — those that are from synthetic or manufactured (e.g., never “alive”) sources — are best treated with low-pH (or slightly acidic) cleaners. But remember that the type of product used also depends on the material upon which the stain resides. For example, using any of these cleaners on leather can potentially damage the leather or its protective coating.

Ever wonder how those seemingly magical stain-removing products that are sold on television work? Well, first of all, they never work nearly as well as they do in the commercials. Second, most of them belong to a class of stain remover known as “oxidizers.” What these chemicals do is change the way light reflects off the stain. The stain actually remains on the surface, but its color is essentially erased from view. And, by the way, there are legitimate professional oxidizers available that can deliver greater than 95 percent results.


Hopefully, these notes from Mobile Tech Expo 2008 will help you in your business. More ramblings to follow in next month’s column. I also hope that this information whets your appetite for the benefits of attending conferences like MTE and joining organizations like the National Association of Professional Detailing and Reconditioning.

Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail or call (619) 701-1100.


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