In last month’s column, I used the word “hysteria” to describe my personal view of the state of our nation with regard to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Little did I know that after submitting that article for publication, it would be only a few days before San Diego was on lock-down and my business virtually shuttered. Early on, I was one of the doubters of the seriousness of the situation. It took only days for me to change my tune, and I apologize if I offended or misled anyone.
It’s kind of funny that I chose interior detailing as the subject for last month. This was done on the assumption that we would be offering vehicle interior “sanitizing” and killing it (pun intended) selling this service to the detailing market. Nothing could be further from the truth. The detailing discussion groups with which I participate have, for the most part, agreed that entering and exiting customer vehicles presents too much of a risk of transmitting COVID-19.
Now, if you think of all the years that you have provided care-free interior detailing while multiple flu and virus strains circulate about the globe, it seems unreasonable at first glance to be so overly concerned about one virus. Here’s the problem — there is no cure for this one and no vaccine. So, just as the nation and the world takes extraordinary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so must we.
NO CAN DO
It has been clearly shown that COVID-19 can stay alive on surfaces for 72 hours or more, and that those surfaces include many of the materials that exist within vehicle interiors. It can also be on your clothes, on your hands, on your breath, in your cough and sneeze sputum, and your dirty detailing towels. I think it’s clear that it is easy to transfer the COVID-19 virus from customer vehicle to customer vehicle, and there’s really no way of knowing if the virus is present.
The protocol that would be necessary to minimize transfer of the virus is too onerous and expensive for most detailers. It involves, at a minimum, donning full-body suit, gloves, booties, mask, and goggles (not just safety glasses). And most of those items have to be disposed after every vehicle. Additionally, all equipment and tools used within that vehicle must be sterilized before being used again. This is a lot of work and expense; it may not be possible to source all of those personal protection equipment (PPE) items. Moreover, even with the strictest of procedures, there is still no guarantee of 100 percent non-transmittal.
And then there’s this potential problem: When an individual is diagnosed with COVID-19, the authorities may elect to trace the source of the infection. If it turns out that you, the detailer, being inside that customer’s vehicle, was the source of the virus transmission, you’re in trouble. And so is the entire detailing industry — it will take only one well publicized lawsuit against a detail shop to significantly impact the motoring public’s perception of the safety of having professional detailing services performed. Just look at what happened with the rush on toilet tissue, which wasn’t even based on a factual event or need.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m writing this article in early April. I sincerely hope that, by the time the magazine hits your mailbox, the situation has gotten significantly better. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen because the solution is a cure and a vaccine, which will take months. So, it is likely that transmittal is still the big issue in our daily lives as you read this.
WHAT CAN I DO?
That being said, the question becomes, what can we do for customers? Until the “all-clear” is sounded for COVID-19 — and I’m not even sure what that “all-clear” will sound like — it is best that we detailers stay out of customer vehicles, even just for the purpose of re-positioning the vehicle for service. I believe it’s okay to provide exterior services. But realize that this means not even opening the doors, because studies have shown that viruses can last up to three hours in the air.
So the best practice procedure for offering exterior-only services seems to be something like this: 1. Have the customer drive the vehicle into the position that you need it to be to perform the service. 2. Ask the customer to close all the windows and sunroof. 3. As the customer exits the vehicle, have him or her drop the keys into an open resealable baggie. 4. The customer will then exit the premises, staying a minimum six feet from all other persons. 5. If there is a need to fill out paperwork or a work order, this would have to be done electronically from the customer’s phone, or on a tablet, which can be wiped down after the customer leaves. 6. Do not open the vehicle doors during the service. 7. Do not enter or move the vehicle during the service. 8. When the vehicle service is complete, leave the baggie containing keys on the windshield. 9. After the customer pays (ideally remotely by smartphone), he or she will remove the keys from the baggie, which can be thrown away into a nearby trashcan. 10. The customer removes the vehicle from the premises.Now is the time to Increase your technical knowledge.
Exterior service could include: • Exterior-only wash • Wax or sealant application • Paint correction • Application of curable ceramic coating • Headlight clarification • Whatever other exterior services your shop provides
Of course, you will not be able to move the vehicle from a wash bay to a detail bay, so you will have to be creative if this is typically how you perform exterior services. You could perform a “dry-wash,” rinse-less wash, or simple wipe-down in the detail bay. Or you could have the customer go through a car wash just before pulling into your detail bay. One of the things I learned from years of mobile washing is that there is always a way to get it done, regardless of the restrictions. In this case, the restriction is: “You can’t get in the car”.
If the customer must have the interior cleaned, it is recommended that you keep the car parked, preferably in the sun, for 72 hours, before you get into the vehicle. Once you do enter the vehicle, you must have all the PPE that you can find. Clean the vehicle thoroughly, then finish it off with one of the many chemicals/products/systems currently available from multiple suppliers for the disinfection of the vehicle interior. Then, when you’re done, throw away the disposable PPE, sanitize the rest, remove your clothing and wash in hot water, and take a hot shower. All this must be done before you come into contact with anyone else or get into any other vehicle (including your own).
If this pandemic is severely hindering your business, now is the time to do all the things that you usually put off with the excuse of “I don’t have the time.” Hopefully, most of us are receiving our “Economic Impact Payments” that will help to keep the lights on. If so, you can now engage in all of the business development activities that you have thought about for years, like online marketing, and website creation or updating, and customer-base updating. How about all those repairs you’ve wanted to do on your equipment?
And here’s another one. How about online education and certification?
Increase your technical knowledge. Get your International Detailing Association Certification completed. Get certified in things like personal protection equipment, biohazard clean-up, and the like, which will help you market yourself as a “sanitization” expert when we can get back into cars. Educate yourself about what it takes to sanitize vehicle interiors. There’s tons of online information available.
If you don’t have enough money, look into your community for opportunities for There are myriad ways to asset your community during this strange time.part-time jobs that are surging. Continue to listen for and research grants and loans that are being offered for ailing businesses. And, if you’re really bored or want to help, there are myriads ways to assist your community during this strange time, both in massive, well-coordinated public projects and simple gestures to neighborhood individuals in need.
WHEN WE GET THE “ALL CLEAR”
When we are finally allowed to continue “normal” activities, it’s not likely to be the same as before. It will be a new normal. Be sensitive to that as you deal with your customers. There might be a great opportunity to market interior detailing and sanitizing, if it’s worded prudently and you have learned the proper techniques to do so. Whatever you do, don’t overpromise and don’t “guarantee” anything.
Every individual business owner has to make her or his decision about which services can and cannot be performed safely. I sincerely hope this article has given you some information that will help you with that decision. Some of us depend solely on our detailing income to feed our families. There are other ways to earn money during this time. In your final decision, I ask you to seriously consider your responsibility to yourself, your family, your customers, your community, and the reputation of the detailing industry.
Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.