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Auto Detailing to Add Profit

For this body shop, detailing provides a tidy profit center and keeps customers happy.


Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Every little bit counts.” And in the business world today, that saying is especially relevant. Even though experts say the recession is officially over, many businesses are still struggling and looking for ways to cut costs and add new revenue streams.

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That’s exactly what Schmitz Body Paint & Repair of Perham, Minn., did seven years ago when it decided to take detailing from a free wash and vacuum to an expanded service it could charge for. That decision turned out to be a good one as detailing sales now represent 10 percent of total sales for the five-man shop.

Nancy Schmitz, co-owner with husband Tom, said the initial investment was about $6,000, relatively small because they only had one employee at the time and were renting the space where the detailing work was performed. As word got out, they added more equipment, bought the building and remodeled it.


Sell, Sell, Sell!

Word-of-mouth, Schmitz says, is really what has fueled her detailing operation’s growth. But a conscious effort to up-sell has also been key.

“If you come for a repair, we’re going to automatically do an outside wash and vacuum so you start out with a clean vehicle after repairs,” Schmitz says. “But then we’ll ask if they want a coat of wax before winter or in spring before the hot sun hits. Or, they might say, ‘Well, if you’re going to vacuum the inside of my vehicle, can you shampoo it, too?”


Schmitz says many older people aged 60 or higher will specifically call the shop asking for a detail on their vehicles before they head south for the winter. “And they’re willing to pay whatever it takes because it’s hard work that they either can’t physically do or just don’t want to do.”

Aside from upselling and word-of-mouth, Schmitz solicits potential detail customers from advertisements in the local newspaper announcing fall or spring cleanup specials or that a detail would be the perfect gift for Christmas or Father’s Day.


About 70 percent of Schmitz’s detailing business comes from individual customers, but the rest comes from dealerships. Until recently, Schmitz was the only shop in town that offered detailing, but according to Nancy, several individuals who tried to open detailing shops ended up closing the businesses. Schmitz has not seen a decline in business due to the one competitor left standing, Nancy said.
One dealership Schmitz used to do detailing work ended up dropping it and detailing its own cars due to the amount of time it had to wait.

“It’s first-come, first-serve on detailing at our shop, and our collision customers get first priority,” Nancy said. “The dealer cars would end up sitting and they wouldn’t get them back fast enough.”
While that dealer went away, Schmitz ended up getting new business from a used car dealership that opened up next to it.


Staffing Up

Schmitz has two full-time employees dedicated to detailing. Training is provided by its supplier of detailing products. Nancy says the shop values them highly and pays them well.
“Maybe that’s what cuts into our profit margin, but we have two really good employees and obviously want to retain them,” she said. “It’s important that they do a good job because sometimes when people get their cars repaired, they’re more excited that they’re clean!”

Schmitz charges anywhere from $15 to $200, depending on the type of detailing service the customer wants. Services range from an outside wash to vacuuming, shampooing, cleaning the vents and tires and whatever else the customer chooses. The shop has not only detailed standard vehicles but boats and campers, too. All detailing occurs in a separate, dedicated building, which Nancy says is ideal because it minimizes the chance of dirt ruining the jobs.


Schmitz’s “every little bit counts” philosophy carries over into other profit centers it has, including glass repair and sprayed-on bedliners, with sprayed-on bedliners being particularly good.

Sage Advice

For those collision repair facilities mulling over creating their own bottom-line boosting detail operation, Schmitz has some advice.

“The biggest thing is you need to let people realize that you’re going to take care of their vehicles. They’re the second biggest investment they have,” she said. “You want to treat them well and have good equipment and a clean area that’s presentable to them.”


The Schmitzes aren’t content with keeping detailing profits level. They would like profits to grow, of course, but also know that collision repair is still king.

“With any business, you don’t want to be complacent,” Nancy said. “Our goal would be to grow it, but our focus is on collision. If we grow collision, that will benefit the detail shop.”

 At a Glance
Name: Schmitz Body Paint & Repair

2008 Gross Revenue: $900,000

Location: Perham, Minn.

Established: 1980      

Square Footage: 4,800

Owners: Tom and Nancy Schmitz

No. of Employees: 5 – 2 detailers and 3 combo technicians

Repair Volume/No. of Cars Per Month: 60

No. of Detail Jobs Per Month: 30    
DRPs: 3

Jason Stahl is editor of BodyShop Business. He can be reached at [email protected].

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