Auto Laundry News - July 2012

Sell Need Not Price Detail Services and the Car Wash, Part I

By Keith Duplessie

Any salesperson will tell you that it is nearly impossible to sell something to someone who doesn’t have a need. As a consumer, you know that you won’t buy without a need. You cannot overlook this in establishing a detailing program at your car wash.

When customers come to a fixed detail shop or call a mobile operation they are exhibiting a need for detailing services. They may not know
exactly what it is they want or need, but they have an idea there is a need, for example: a wax, a carpet shampoo, etc.

On the other hand, what about typical car wash customers and their immediate needs?

Coming to the car wash is not exhibiting a need to buy coffee, or greeting cards, nor a need for polish wax, wheel brightener, cvleather/vinyl protectants, hand waxes, or carpet shampoos. They are there for a car wash.

That’s not to say that you cannot get them to purchase other services, far from it. However, as a smart marketer, you have to know your customer. If you do, attempts to sell services above and beyond a simple car wash will be more successful.


To sell any service, you have to create a need. But on a busy car wash day the service writer does not have a lot of time to create need. Often, when they try to create that need, the flow of cars down the wash line is disrupted, and your customers might feel harassed or upset with the delay.

Many car wash operators actually tell their employees to stop pushing extra services during certain peak times on high-volume car wash days.

On a recent detailing training session at a full-service car wash in Texas, I watched the service writers at the vacuums, trying to sell car wash packages and detailing services at the same time.

From a car wash point of view, it seemed disastrous. Rather than promptly servicing customers as they drove up, the writers went through various detail packages, keeping customers in their cars far too long, and interfering with the car wash flow.

From a detail point of view, they were losing valuable revenue for two reasons:

  1. The customer may only want a car wash, nothing more, and is in a hurry.
  2. Even if the customer politely listens, there still is not enough time to properly evaluate the vehicle and sell to its specific detail needs.

In short, when car wash customers are approached, they don’t necessarily have the need for anything more than a car wash, and the operator does not have the time to create a need for detail services.


To overcome this problem you must have a well thought-out action plan. The first question to ask yourself is: “What do I want to sell?” If you do not know, you have two choices. Hire a consultant, or make a list of all the services you could offer with a full-service detail department, and those you could offer with express.

Then compile another list of what it will take in personnel, equipment, space, money, management, and time to offer either program. While this should answer the question of what you want to do, it does not answer the big question: “What does the customer want?”

Put together a questionnaire to give to car wash customers, asking them if they would purchase detailing services. Do not ask questions concerning price, because if consumers are unfamiliar with detailing and do not perceive the need, they can’t judge the value of your service. In most cases, when confronted with the chance, customers will generally state a lower price than they would be willing to pay.

In next month’s issue of Auto Laundry News, we’ll discuss building a sales team, implementing a marketing plan, and identifying different types of customers.

Keith Duplessie is technical services manager for Portland, OR-based Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems. You can reach Keith at

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