Evaluating Your Detail Department

Do you have problems with your detailing department?  Silly question to ask a dealer, “of course you do.”  Every dealer that I have worked with, consulted for, or sold equipment to have problems.

What do most dealers do about the problems?  Not much.  They complain and wish it were better, but in most cases, things remain the same.

As the old saying goes, “keep doing what you have always done, you will get what you always have.”

In some cases, a dealer simply does not know what to do, and in others, they just accept it.

Well, let me tell you there are things that can be done, but it requires a major paradigm shift.

Doesn't everyone in the dealership share the same opinion (paradigm) of the detail department?  It’s the Cinderella of the dealership that no one wants to claim.

For that reason, all dealers have the same problems with their detail departments, at least in the U.S. and Canada, where I have worked.

What is the Paradigm Shift That Needs to Be Made?

For most dealers that is the $64,000 question. What to do?  Part I of this article will attempt to give you some basic steps to follow in evaluating your detail department, and Part II will give you the solutions.  If you cannot wait, feel free to me ([email protected]), and I will be happy to discuss some solutions to consider.

Principles of Production

The best way to evaluate your detail department is to use what are called the “Five Principles of Production” for an automotive service business or department, which are:

•           Management

•           Personnel

•           Equipment

•           Facilities

•           Chemicals and supplies

What I will do is help you through these five principles, and show you what to look for in evaluating your present detail department

Management: As a dealer principal or general manager of a dealership, I do not have to tell you the importance of having good managers of the various departments in your dealership. New-car manager, user-car manager, service manager, body shop manager, fixed operations manager, Internet manager, etc.

There is a qualified person “in charge” to manage the department. They are held to certain performance standards, and they in turn hold the employees in their respective departments to certain performance standards. And, in most cases, you give them all they need to achieve these performance standards.

Take a look at your detail department. There is no real manager. Normally, the management of the department is given to the used-car manager, the service manager, the body-shop manager or the fixed operations manager. The problem with this arrangement is any one of those people is far too busy in his or her own area of responsibility to give the detail department more than cursory attention.

The only reason they take the responsibility is that the dealer principal or the general manager tell them to take it. Worse, they really do not have a clue what to manage for an effective detail department so they often leave it to the detailers to tell them what they need. 

They might have someone in the detail department they call the “manager,” but that is using the term loosely. This person is not actually a manager, but a detailer who has been there the longest and spends most of their time detailing, not managing.

Worse, they really do not know what to manage either. And, they are often paid on flat rate, not a salary, so they are more interested in getting work done than managing.

So, you have two people in charge of a department that neither really know how to manage or what to manage.

That is the No. 1 problem in every dealership detail department that I have had any with, without exception.

Next time, I will give you some suggestions on what to do.

Personnel:  If there is one problem I hear all the time, more than any, it is the inability to find good “detail” employees. Is that any wonder? In my 40- years in the business, I can tell you that, in my personal opinion, there are no good detail employees. If they were good, they would be working.

In today's market, there are great employees out there to hire and ways to train them to be long-term employees functioning the way you want them to function. That will be discussed next time.

Equipment: If you have a person in charge that is not familiar with the detail industry, how do they know what equipment is necessary for a well-functioning department?  And, if you depend on the detailers who work in the shop to tell you, that is a dead-end too. They know only what they have always been using. A 10-pound electric buffer and a portable shop vacuum. Most do not even understand how to use a soil extractor properly.

Suffice it to say, that today there is so much advanced equipment available in the detail industry to make it possible to get vehicles detailed perfectly the first time and in much shorter times than were ever thought possible, but someone has to understand what the equipment is and how it works.

You can get the right equipment, but if you have the wrong people working in the department they will not use it and tell the person in charge it is junk and does not work.

Typically, a dealership detail department might have one or two 10-pound. electric buffers, maybe one or two shop vacuums, possibly one soil extractor, and that is about it. Towels, a few brushes that are not used, and a box of dirty buffing pads that are used over and over again on cars causing scratches and swirls.

In the next issue, I will outline what is available for dealerships to equip their department to increase productivity, decrease labor and chemical costs, and reduce the turn-around time for a vehicle in the shop.

Facilities: Any extra space is given to the detail department, or a lean-to is built off the back of the building for detailing. Maybe an old, dirty, poorly lit building that was used for storage or even a two- or three-stall body shop is devoted to detailing.

Then there are dealers with new dealership buildings where some thought was given to the detailing department and they have two or three detail bays and a couple of wash bays that are well lit, BUT this space is given to a department that is not properly managed, not properly staffed, and is ill-equipped, and it is all for naught.

The next article will discuss how to properly layout the detail facilities for maximum efficiency.

Chemicals & Supplies — Again, this is an area that is really mishandled in dealerships. No one really knows what chemicals are necessary for the proper functioning of the department, and very little inventory control is exercised over the department.  Once more, this comes back to improper management and staff. 

Let me ask you if you really know what chemicals are needed to detail a vehicle in and out, and why. Do you know what operational supplies are needed?

How are the inventory of chemicals and supplies controlled?  Is there really any control?

Keep in mind the goal of every chemical supplier is to sell you as much chemical as they can, and they do this by selling to the preference of each detailer. Is this good? Obviously not, but if you do not know what is necessary then how can you make intelligent purchases? If you have no real inventory control, how can you control expenses?

Again, how to solve this problem will be covered next time.


There you have it, a primer on how to self-evaluate your detail department. If you want to talk about this or want to know what to do before the next column, please feel free to me at  [email protected]