Jump on the detail expressway


Almost every auto dealer that I consult for or speak with admits that they would like to capitalize on the motorist demand for detailing services to make their in-house detail department a profit-center.

At the same time, they also admit that they have a very difficult time getting their in-house work done, let alone adding more retail work. Sound familiar? There may be a solution.

Express maintenance detailing services

The answer lies in the title of this subhead. What are they, and how do they differ from what you know as detailing?

To understand express detailing services requires that you understand what has happened to the detail service that, for years, has been the exclusive domain of the automobile industry and auto dealers, more specifically.

Since the early 1980s auto detailing has been moving steadily from a “back-alley” wholesale service, done by or for the auto dealer, to an in-demand retail automotive service.

This move was sparked by a number of factors:

  • Rising cost of automobiles
  • Extended length of financing contracts
  • Increasing length of vehicle ownership

In short, people are paying more for their automobiles, owning them longer and recognizing the need to take better care of them to maintain their value.

Unrelated to, but definitely affecting this rise in the popularity of auto detailing, is the consumer’s obsession with protecting leisure time.

Husbands and wives are both working and have less time for leisure; they have the disposable income to protect leisure time and have found that cosmetic car care (car washing and auto detailing) is not something they want to do on a weekend anymore. Especially if there is someone who can do it better and faster than they can.

Restoration and maintenance detailing

As mentioned, detailing traditionally was done by or for auto dealers to get used cars ready for resale. As such, it was a complete and thorough job that included engine-clean; wheels; trunk clean and shampoo; carpet and upholstery shampoo; and paint polish and wax. These services are better called “restoration” detailing services.

These services are typically performed on older vehicles or vehicles that have not been taken care of cosmetically. In most cases, both the interior and exterior, including engine and trunk, are in need of extensive restoration to get that “new-car” look again.

Restoration services require a commitment to space (usually two or three bays minimum), advanced equipment, an array of cleaning chemicals and relatively skilled personnel.

But today, there is also another side to detailing. It is called express “maintenance” detailing services. These are just what the words connote, detailing services that are done to maintain the vehicle, which can be completed quickly.

To clarify, late-model vehicles or vehicles that have been taken care of do not need what we describe as restoration detailing. They do, however, need to be maintained cosmetically. This would include regular washing, but also a periodic paint sealant or wax on the paint finish and periodic cleaning and shampooing of the floor mats and carpets. These are professional services, performed by knowledgeable personnel, but they are different than restoration in that you are only maintaining those vehicles in good condition.

These services can be performed in less than 30 minutes by one person, or less, if done by two people. They are easy, can be done almost anywhere you have electricity and can be reasonably priced.

Best of all they can be added to the repair order and completed when the customer picks up the car, or even while they wait.

Why will it work for a dealership service department?

First and foremost, it is an in-demand service. In fact, cosmetic appearance is actually more important to them than mechanical, because they can see the benefit. So, if you offer express detailing services, the motorist will purchase them if you market, promote and sell correctly.

Second, you have an established customer base that respects and trusts you. And, because they want convenience, if you offered the services, it would be convenient for them to purchase.

Third, it is an impulse purchase if it will not take any more time to do this service, at best 30 minutes.

Fourth, like the car wash operator, the dealer has numbers. Many dealers write 50 to 100 repair orders per day. Just think what that would mean in added revenues if you sold only 10 percent of these cars an express service at an average price of $40. That is over $200 per day or almost $5,000 per month. And that is a conservative number. Car washes have proven you can sell as much as 20 percent to 25 percent of your customers.

What does it take?

As discussed, these are maintenance services that would include, at most, an express wax and/or an express carpet shampoo. Remember these are offered to vehicles in good condition that only need a maintenance wax protection or a light carpet shampoo, similar to what you have done on your own dealership carpets to keep them clean.

The services can be performed by one person in about 30 minutes, and with two people, less than 20 minutes. The going rate is $39.95 for either the wax or carpet shampoo with a car wash. That is, if you have an automatic car wash. If you have to hand wash the car you should charge $49.95 for either service. Should the customer opt to purchase both you give them a $10 discount on the second service.

Personnel: Remember these are maintenance services and don’t require a lot of equipment or skilled labor. You could probably teach a porter or lot worker to do these services in a few hours. Or, they could be offered through the detail department where they would be viewed as not much more than a “new-car make ready”.

Equipment: At the most you would need an extractor for the carpets and an orbital waxer to apply the wax. There are self-contained portable express detailing units used by car washes that contain everything needed to perform these services.

Chemicals: All you need is an extractor shampoo; carpet and upholstery shampoo; wax, or one-step product.

Supplies:  Towels, brushes and applicator pads are about all you need in the way of supplies.

Selling express services

This is a “no brainer.” All the service adviser has to do after writing the repair order is offer the services to the customer, being sure that the vehicle paint is not severely oxidized or scratched and the carpets are not too dirty and stained.

If you are interested in learning more about express detailing services and how you can incorporate them into your dealership fell free to me at (800) 284-0123 or email me at: [email protected].

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