Profile in Success

NADA 2019 - Detailing at the Dealership

By Prentice St. Clair


The 2019 National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show took place at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, CA, January 24-27. I was fortunate to have been invited to make a presentation at this years’ show, and I would like to share my experiences from this, my first NADA show.


From it’s own website, “The NADA Show Expo is the auto industry’s premier marketplace of products, services, and technologies specifically targeted to franchised new car dealerships. More than 700,000 square feet of exhibits highlight more than 500 manufacturers and suppliers . . .” According to BDO United Kingdom, the NADA Show “. . . continues to be the largest dealer convention in the world, this year with over 25,000 people attending from over 53 different countries — the largest attendee number in convention history.”

The majority of NADA attendees are dealer principles (owners and GMs) and managers from the various departments. The educational sessions are popular, each room is able to hold more than 100 people, and most sessions are full. The character of the show is top shelf and caters to these high-level professionals, and the typical outfit is business casual — more formal than the car wash conventions I’ve been to over the years.

I found the NADA association staff to be quite helpful and professional.


The education program available to attendees was vast and covered many issues and topics. The educational program was well run and the presenters that I saw were professional and knowledgeable. NADA has a rigorous vetting process for its educational speakers. There were almost 150 educational sessions during the four-day event. Some of the idea exchanges were open only to dealer owners, while others were designed for specific departments within the organization, like sales and service.

Unfortunately, one of my main observations of this entire show experience was that there was a profound lack of representation of the detail industry, including the number of detailing-related exhibitors and the number of educational sessions on the subject. In fact, mine was the only presentation that was even remotely connected to the detailing industry.

I attended several other educational sessions and learned more about the operational challenges of auto dealerships. Among the four such sessions, the only one that even mentioned “detailing” was a session entitled “Top 25 Ideas from 2018 NADA 20 Groups.” A “20 Group” is an assemblage of dealer principles for an off-site retreat during which each attendee is offered the opportunity to share challenges and successes from their operations.

The benefit of these meetings is that attendees walk away with possible solutions to their individual challenges, as well as a list of improvements to potentially implement back home. So, I was keenly interested in hearing about the “top 25” ideas from the number of groups that were conducted by NADA across the country last year.

This was the only presentation during which I actually heard the word “detailing.” In fact, one of the “top 25” ideas had the word “detailing” in it. The idea was simply, “if you detail used cars before putting them ‘on the line’ for sale, you’ll make more money.” Wow. I really thought this was common knowledge in the dealership world. Apparently not, since this concept was among the top 25 ideas of 2018. We leaders in the detailing industry apparently still have a lot of work to do within the auto dealership industry.


So, my humble, hour-long presentation was designed to not so humbly bring down a giant hammer on top of the heads of the dealers saying, “pay attention to your detail shop!” I started by explaining why the detail department is so important — it is the only department in a dealership that touches virtually every vehicle of the millions in inventory that cycles through a dealership each year. (Thanks to Stephan Maeder of Rutland Auto Group for the concise perspective on this fact.)

Yet the dealership detail shop is typically the least paid, most poorly equipped, worst managed, and least trained departments in the dealership. Despite this, dealerships expect great results in a timely manner from the detail department, and constantly complain that they can’t get it.

After dropping this hammer, I went on to list the benefits of investing in the detail shop, including faster turn-around, better results, less turnover, and the potential of a new profit center as a retail detailing opportunity for service customers. Of course, I mentioned the advent of ceramic coatings.

Finally, I quickly went over how to accomplish the detail shop revolution by covering the areas that typically need help, including shop layout (space, lighting, electrical), detailing equipment (including all the new equipment innovations in the last 20 years), detailing chemicals (including the innovations and the need for using professional-grade), staffing issues (recruitment and retention), training, management, and sales of detailing services. Finally, I emphasized the need for the detailing revolution to be led from the top of the management chain in order for it to stick.

I concluded with the message that the detail department should really be elevated in importance and involvement to the same level as the other dealership departments like service, sales, F&I, and auto body.

It was nice to see 20 or so attendees stay after the presentation to ask questions and request business cards. I look forward to seeing if my message was heard with open ears and minds.


Well, in a word, the expo was “huge.” There was a handful of International Detailing Association (IDA) supplier members, and, of course, I stopped in and chatted with them. Of the 500 vendors, I would say there were about half a dozen who were directly or indirectly related to the detailing industry. By far, the most popular area of the expo waspopulated by data management companies and digital marketing companies.


In conversations with a few consultants to the automotive dealers industry, I brought up the subject of the dealership detail department and how they deal with it. The common response was, “it’s outsourced and we don’t deal with it.” When I followed up with, “well, how are the subcontractors performing?” an equally popular response was something along the lines of “terrible.” So, it is obvious to me that, whether we are talking about the dealership detail department or an offsite detail shop, improvement is warranted.

The association offers extensive educational opportunities for members, including a professional series designed for new department managers, certification for general managers, an “academy” that promises “becoming an expert in all aspects of the dealership”, and the 20-Group program.

I spoke with several NADA representatives involved in these programs, attempting to assess the extent that detailing is covered within these various programs. Unfortunately, it’s painfully obvious that “auto detailing” is not an important topic within the NADA educational offerings.


 (Thanks, Keith Duplessie, for providing this update.) The IDA is currently working with the Arizona Auto Dealer Association and the Arizona Department of Labor to pioneer an Auto Detailing Apprenticeship program. Scheduled to go on line for the fall semester of 2019, this program would set the necessary conditions to list Auto Detailing as a Skill Trade by the Arizona Department of Labor (DOL). Such listing would provide several benefits, among them the ability for Apprenticeship programs to be eligible for federal loan programs, Veterans Affairs Benefits like the GI Bill, and it would classify the trade with its own workers compensation rate.

This would bring the trade in line with other auto service industry programs such as mechanics and body-shop technicians. Having a skilled and trained workforce will be a major benefit to auto dealers that struggle with finding qualified professionals in the detailing trade. Similar to the ASE certifications for other trades, the program will be adopting the IDA’s Certified Detailer Program as its accreditation and standard of skills and knowledge recognition.

Once the program is complete in Arizona, the goal is to replicate it in adjacent states by 2020. As the program expands to multiple states, it will eventually become eligible for Federal DOL listing.

The benefits of this initiative are far reaching — from workers compensation insurance rates, to liability insurance, and funding of education. The largest benefit, by far, will be that there will be the opportunity for dealers to find and grow a qualified detailing workforce capable of high-quality work that can now be part of the store’s retail offering of services. The detail shop will have staff with the necessary skills to be a profit center.


The NADA Show was a great experience, and I would gladly go again if asked to return as a presenter. Although many auto dealers do not understand the importance of detailing, the percentage of dealers who do “get it” is large enough to warrant a continued effort to make inroads within the dealership world.


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


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