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There’s Money In the Details

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If you were asked what business you’re in, you’d probably say the collision repair business. But the truth is, the business you’re really in is the “cosmetic car care business,” which is probably bigger than collision repair and detailing put together.

Many of you, however, aren’t taking advantage of it.

What do I mean by that? Look at the steps you now go through when completing a collision repair: estimate; repair; paint; and final cleanup. But, it’s not until the final step of the process is completed that you can present your bill. Why? Because whatever the car’s condition was to begin with and whatever amount of work is required to complete the job, your ultimate “product” is a cosmetically presentable motor vehicle. That’s what your customer wants, whether he’s paying the bill out of his own pocket or an insurance company is paying it.

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What your customer really wants from you is an improvement in the car’s appearance. This should tell you that in the final step you now perform as a routine part of the repair process – cleanup – lies a profitable business opportunity, another source of revenue.

Many detail shops today report revenues in excess of $40,000 per month. And many of their customers are your customers who bring their vehicles for cleanup after a collision repair.

Who Are Detail Customers?
Consider detail customers. Who are they? They’re not the do-it-yourselfer types, and they’re also not those who don’t care about driving around in a battle-scarred vehicle that’s been fixed up just enough to be driveable. No, detail customers are those who feel they must maintain their vehicle’s appearance. And they don’t want to do it themselves. They’re customers who can afford to pay you to do the job for them.

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But what you may lose sight of is that what these customers are actually purchasing is maintenance of the cosmetic appearance and condition of their car on a regular basis. So if you’re waiting to see your collision repair customer the next time he needs your collision repair services, you’re missing out on a huge percentage of the profit potential in the business relationship you’ve already established with them.

Educate them. Significant “damage” to the vehicle’s paint finish in the form of oxidation, etching, water spotting and acid rain, etc., is something that needs to be protected against at least once or twice a year – and more often in some climates. The vehicle’s interior is also subject to irreparable damage if not regularly cleaned and shampooed.

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Use Your Resources to Start a Profit Center
What I’m suggesting is that the cosmetic car care business can add more revenue and profit to your collision repair business. And the more successful you are in the collision repair business, the greater your potential for added success in the related fields of total cosmetic car care.

Why? Because you already have a valuable base of customers whose loyalty and trust you’ve earned – customers ready to bring their business back to you and recommend you to their friends. In addition, you have an established location, an established place in the community, established management techniques and personnel policies and, in all probability, an established computerized bookkeeping system capable of supporting a much greater volume of business than what it’s now handling. Moreover, the pollution controls you’ve installed and the OSHA requirements you’ve complied with to operate a collision repair shop will give you a valuable head start in setting up a detailing operation. This affords you an advantage over any competitor trying to create a detailing business from scratch. Increased traffic from detailing can also increase business for collision repair.

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This doesn’t, however, mean you can simply turn a typical, bucket-and-sponge detail department that exists in many shops into a profit center overnight. True, by the primitive standards prevailing in the detailing business today, many so-called “detail shops” are simply small-time operations that generate minimal revenues by detailing new and used cars for auto dealers at low prices. As such, most get by without much more in the way of equipment than a few squeeze bottles, chemicals, brushes and a buffer.

Compared with collision repair industry standards, this would be equivalent to opening a repair shop with a spray gun, a few hammers and a come-a-long, etc. But bear in mind that while you have an opportunity and an advantage, this “window of opportunity” to use your superior resources and business skills to get a running start in the emerging new business of detailing won’t stay open forever.

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Why? Look at the trends: The price of automobiles is increasing and length of ownership is on the rise, creating a demand for more cosmetic car care. And what’s more, the traditional suburban ritual of washing and waxing the car on Saturday is declining as American consumers elect to spend their precious leisure time with their families or doing recreational activities. Further proof? Look at the leveling sales of the do-it-yourself, off-the-shelf automotive car care products.

What this means to you – and all those in the automotive service industry with an eye to the future – is this: To protect their investment in a motor vehicle, consumers have no choice but to spend their money on professional auto care services, including auto detailing and related cosmetic services.

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Do You Have Vision?
You can be sure that, sooner rather than later, farsighted investors and big corporations will wake up and “smell the money” – just as surely as the founder of McDonald’s woke up years ago to the fact that with less time to spare for cooking, people were ready to pay for convenience. And the “fast food” industry was born.

On the other hand, if he hadn’t possessed a vision for the future and if he hadn’t recognized that what he was really selling wasn’t hamburgers but “convenience,” McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc would’ve been consigned to the dumpster of business history – just as more than 100 years ago, the nation’s then-most-powerful industry, railroads, ultimately “derailed” itself by failing to realize that its real business was “transportation,” not railroading.

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For you to achieve the full potential of your inside-track position in this “sleeping giant” of a cosmetic car care industry, you should be prepared to make the same kind of commitment to quality and professionalism that you’ve made to your collision repair business. That could mean establishing a separate section of your facility as a detailing center and training competent people who will proficiently and profitably manage and perform those detailing services. These services can include hand washing, engine cleaning, polishing and waxing, and interior shampooing, as well as windshield chip repair, paint touch-up, paintless dent repair, vinyl and upholstery repair, carpet recoloring and dyeing, and even undercoating.

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From a practical standpoint, your entry into any of these various areas of detailing could represent a natural, logical outgrowth of your present operation. But, as with your collision repair business, an important first step is to make a commitment to the business of detailing in time, money and space. Only by doing this will you generate the volume that’ll make the return on your investment worth the effort.

In your present business, knowledge and experience has taught you the best ways to manage and coordinate the function of performing the work to achieve the finished result. If you decide to expand into the business of detailing, you’ll owe it to yourself to take the same approach: to organize all steps in the detailing process into an efficient, systematic process that maximizes productivity and minimizes wasted motion. As with collision repair, employees must have immediate, unobstructed access to the tools and supplies needed to perform their tasks without getting in each others’ way, and the department manager must occupy a practical location from which to supervise work activity and properly handle customers. The exact physical configuration of any individual business will, of course, depend upon a number of variable factors.

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Ideally, an efficient professional detail center should include a wash bay to clean engines and wash the vehicle, two to three detail work bays and an area for equipment and storage. It’s only through a systematic approach to the business of detailing that you’ll be able to extend the detailing service to your customers. Think about it! The better the service you provide to your clients, the more satisfied those customers will be, the more referrals you’ll get from their insurance companies and the better word-of-mouth you’ll get.

But, if you want to convert their loyalty and satisfaction into a whole new source of revenue and profit, you’ve got to let them know that you’re also there to continually protect the value of their vehicles, year in and year out, even if they never require another dime’s worth of collision repair. And that brings us to the subject of how to market detail services to customers and to the general public, who can represent increased collision repair business.

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Marketing & Selling
Naturally, the time to “market” your extended detail services is to a satisfied customer while you’ve got him in the shop. Sell him, right then and there. Whatever you say or do, it will still likely be a matter of weeks or months until his vehicle will again need serious cosmetic attention, especially if your detail department went over the car properly before you handed him back the keys.

So, to get that lucrative additional business, you’ll need to follow up. You’ll need to pursue him and the rest of your existing customer base. Beyond this, if you wish to gain the greater financial reward from an investment in the detailing business, you’ll also need to reach out to new customers who share those same needs – a market that is enormous and nearly untapped at the present time.

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To illustrate, just consider the fact that detailing – a service needed by the average car owner at least twice per year – is now offered by about 14,000 detail shops, many mobile and back- alley. By comparison, the muffler- replacement industry, providing a service required only once or twice in the lifetime of an average automobile, is crowded with more than 15,000 muffler shops. Our wholesale-oriented detail industry has done such a poor job of marketing that only 15 percent of motorists know what “detailing” is. Eighty-five percent of motorists have never used the service.

What you need to do, then, is establish a marketing plan that includes the direction for your advertising, promotion and ultimate sale of detail services. A marketing plan is quite simple and easy to do if you have the proper information about your market. If you don’t want to tackle it on your own, consultants like myself and others can help. You can do it for yourself if you understand basic marketing principles and apply them to detailing. For example: What are you selling? Who will buy it? Where are they? How do you reach them? What do you say in your advertising message? What do you charge?

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Tapping an Untapped Market
Collision repair shop owners like yourself are in a strategically advantageous position to open a detail profit center. Yet many suffer from tunnel vision, limiting themselves only to collision repair rather than seeing the big picture.

You’re in the cosmetic car care industry. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can profit from this relatively untapped market. But don’t wait too long. It won’t remain untapped forever.

Writer Bud Abraham can be reached at [email protected] or (800) 284-0123.

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