Auto Detailing - September 2002

Mold Your Market Need Shaping Involves Services Customers Never Considered
By John Lamade

This month we will start with a bit of imagination. Imagine that there were 10 vehicles that were completely identical: same number of miles, same paint scratches, same interior stains, identical stale cigarette odors, and same wear and tear. Now, give these vehicles to 10 detailers and tell them to completely detail these vehicles. In addition, assume that appointments were made for 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday and that the vehicles arrived at the shops at the appointed time. The people making the appointments and dropping off the vehicles would provide the same instructions - "make it look as good as new."

With the detailing complete, the following questions are obvious: Would the detailing jobs be the same? Would the charges be the same? Could you tell the difference between jobs?

These are curious questions, and I believe that the answers you give can tell you volumes about your business and your approach to detailing.

One would hope that there would be a superficial similarity in jobs. You would expect shiny paint, clean wheels and tires, and a clean, fresh-smelling interior, right? But would there be other differences? How about these:

• Was the customer offered a "ride"?
• Length of time required to detail the vehicle?
• Were personal belongings bagged and returned to customer?
• Thoroughness of engine and trunk detailing?
• Appearance of fender liners?
• Absence of swirls in paint?
• Level of gloss?

As you can imagine, there could be many differences in both the vehicles' appearance and the way the service is delivered. This leads to another question and also calls for more imagination: How would you have detailed this vehicle? What would you have done, and what services would you have offered the customer?

Can you imagine how the owners of these vehicles would respond to the 10 "different" detailing jobs? Would each vehicle meet each owner's expectations if all 10 were parked next to each other? Do you think owners would prefer the work of some shops over the work of others?

These are powerful and hopefully thought-provoking questions. What would you do to ensure that your shop would be favored with repeat business from this customer?

Before I move on, I have some other questions and comments, which I hope will make subsequent points clearer. Much - probably too much - has been written about the definition of detailing and my goal is not to provide either a technical or practical definition. Detailing is what you and your customers expect from your work. Your passion for detailing shapes what you do. As a result, define detailing to suit both you and your customers' needs.

Another question, and this one really bugs me: How permanent is a detail job? Over the years, I have pondered this question, and I really haven't discovered an answer. Yet, I believe that this is a crucial question that too few have asked. Perhaps it is similar to asking, "Why is there air?" And while we all know the answer to that one is "to inflate basketballs," I believe that each detailer should find an answer to the question of how long a detail should last. One more question: Is this why you never see small stickers on a window, bumper, or doorjamb that looks like the illustration below?

Can detailing last? How long should a vehicle "remain" detailed? Sometimes I suspect that for many detailing is not much more than a really thorough cleaning and a coat of wax. How many detailers hide swirls with wax and mask odors with air freshener? Does detailing end with the first rain or snowfall? What does the customer get for his investment in your skills? Will he come back for more?


This month's theme is marketing, and one of the critical elements of marketing is branding. A brand is more than a name - it has meaning. Companies spend billions of dollars annually building and reinforcing their brands, because they realize that customers attach meaning to those brands. For example, imagine two large black Doberman Pinchers, one named Fang, and the other Muffin. Would you expect Fang to be somewhat more ferocious than Muffin? Your expectations can often be summarized in a name. The
products you use in your shop are all branded, and you associate performance with a brand.

In his book, Kotler on Marketing: How to Create, Win, and Dominate Markets, Phillip Kotler states (from Business Book Review, Vol. 16): "Successful brands have vitality and stature. Vitality exists when a brand is differentiated in the consumer's mind from other brands and when the differentiation is relevant to the consumer's needs. A brand has stature when it commands high esteem and high familiarity in its target market... Thus, it is important to manage the quality of every contact (via employees, distributors, and dealers) the customer might have with the brand."

How does this apply to you? The strength of your brand - that is, your shop - is related to how well you meet your customers' expectations. That means that everybody in your shop must contribute to building your shop's reputation in the community.

How do you differentiate your business from competitors? I asked you to imagine the results in our 10-identical-vehicle exercise above. Would they be the same? Your own observations would indicate that they would not be identical. The 10 jobs would differ in level of service, quality, and appearance. That is how you start to differentiate your business from others. You must give your customers superior value. The best way to promote value is to provide customers more for less.


Finding ways to deliver increased value is a continual challenge and the solution may lie in how you approach marketing rather than how you deliver services. There are three ways to respond to markets:

1. Reactive or Responsive Marketing
In this form of marketing you try to find and fulfill needs. In short, you look for people who want their cars detailed.

2. Anticipative Marketing
This approach differs from responsive marketing because you are looking for customer needs that are unmet by others. Odor removal and paintless dent repair are good examples of added services that customers want but don't necessarily know where to find.

3. Need-Shaping Marketing.
Unlike anticipative marketing, need shaping involves services that the customer never considered possible or available. While this is often the most risky form of marketing, it provides a way for you to change the way people think about your business. If you meet these new expectations, you will be able to establish new price points and deliver amazing levels of service. One example of need-shaping marketing is to offer windshield resurfacing. That is: if you can remove scratches and dulling from clear coats, why not glass?

Need shaping is the most exciting form of marketing because you are entering into uncharted territory. In the process of shaping needs, you may reshape the format of your business as well.


Several days ago I received an e-mail from Gary Kouba of Perfect Auto Finish in Illinois:

"I came up with an idea of hosting detail classes for the general public. I approached libraries and park districts near me with this concept and many were intrigued. I soon was able to set up two classes. When the local newspaper heard about it, they printed an article featuring it in the car section. My first class had over 50 people attend. The feedback was unreal. I broke a record for a first-run class at this library. I have hosted over 10 classes so far, with another 12 on the books. I believe the public has a huge desire to learn how to properly take care of their car. With the many products on the market, it is easy to be confused. I take the complexity out of it, and people love it. Now here the nice part, I also get business out of it. Some people understand they can't get their [vehicle] to look great without a professional to work on it first. After I do their car, they will understand how to care for it. I'm booked three weeks in advance. I also have gone to golf clubs to present my services, which has also been successful."

The above is a great example of questioning the way things are done and then finding a new way to do it. Have you considered ways of breaking new ground? Two new products fit this mold.

Glass Technology, a Durango, CO-based company, is offering a product called Glass Hog 2. This is a system for removing scratches and surface dulling from auto glass. In some European countries, glass must be perfectly smooth because nighttime visibility decreases (and glare increases) as oncoming light is reflected rather than transmitted through the glass. As a result, when the surface becomes sufficiently bad, the windshield must be replaced. Products like the Glass Hog 2 eliminate the need
for replacement (except where safety becomes a concern). This sounds exciting and could be an opportunity worth exploring. For information, call (800) 441-4527 or (970) 247-9374; write to 434 Turner Dr., Durango, CO 81301, USA; or e-mail

Another opportunity is glued-on dent pulling technology. You are all familiar with paintless dent repair, but a technique used in body shops for years has now been modified for detailers (and, if you can
believe what you see on TV, for DIYers). This approach involves gluing a disk to a dent and then pulling the disk up with a bridging device. It is a great way to remove small dents caused by errant doors in parking lots or even hail damage. You can learn more about this device at
Opportunities exist. You must learn to recognize opportunity and then find ways to realize its potential. In this way you will be able to shape your market as you work with your customers to find solutions to their problems.

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

AUTO LAUNDRY NEWS is published by EW Williams Publications Company
2125 Center Avenue, Suite 305, Fort Lee, NJ 07024-5898, USA Phone: 1-201- 592-7007 Fax: 1-201-592-7171