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Detailing Business Theory


What comes to your mind when you hear someone say car detail(er)? Visions of chamois towels and wool pads in the hands of some guy and an owner hoping he will make their paint look like new again? Maybe you think of a family car that is hammered from the family really “enjoying” the car and mom showing up to get the interior cleaned up? What comes to my mind is the car enthusiast that is tired of looking for the right guy to take care of his pride and joy. He just wants to find that right guy that will give his car the same attention the way he would.
What comes to your mind when you hear someone say car detail(er)? Either you’re reading this as a professional detailer, a weekend warrior or someone looking for a professional that knows their stuff. If you’re the professional detailer reading this, you fit into one or more categories just the same as your customer. What is your goal as a professional? This is about gaining a better understanding of who you (the professional) should appeal and market towards. For the potential customer hunting for a detailer, this is about you asking the right questions when you’re talking to a detailer to find the right fit.

As a professional it is important to understand who you should appeal to. If you don’t, there will be wasted time, effort and money. Imagine the volume-minded guy tracking down the most demanding car enthusiast and insisting that he has what the owner needs or a concours detailer getting a contract with a large car lot and spending five days on each car. Either scenario is a nightmare.

How can you know who your market is?

Reflect on how you answer a few questions:

  • Do you aim to get every job that crosses your path?
  • Do you see yourself as an artist or maybe as someone trying to make some nice money?
  • Are you pretty content with your processes or do you aim to refine your processes in a way that improves the results even if it increases time spent?
  • What has more importance to you, time consumed for a given task or the end result?

How you answer those questions says a lot about what type of service you provide and frankly, who your target market is. That isn’t to say being a volume guy is bad or being something else is better. It’s a matter of you and your customer being a good fit for one another. This is a way you can build a lasting business relationship and we are all instruments in detailing. Do we ever believe a vacuum is great tool for washing the exterior? We must recognize the type of detailing instrument we are and move towards that use.

If you lean more towards volume, you should be pricing yourself in a way that will draw the most customers. The trade off will be you will not be able to have as much time per job. We understand that time = money, but it also equals quality (to the extent that you’re not redundantly wasting time). The more you put in, the better it should be. This is where the niche detailer makes a name. If you’re the type that refuses to do less than chase down every last imperfection in paint, the wheels and the interior, chances are you’re investing a lot of time. For this added time, you should be charging more per job. More time and a higher cost should mean higher quality for the client.

A lot of shops will brag that they do the best job while charging very little. Call 5 random shops in your area and ask how their quality ranks on a scale of 1-10 and I bet every one will exclaim with a proud “10”! How can that be true though? Most shops are putting a fraction of time into their jobs opposed to some niche guys that charge more. This is where an owner must recognize that not everything is as advertised. By interviewing a company representative /owner, they can ask the right questions that will help the owner get a better grasp on where that company really sits, quality-wise. Car owners should understand that they can not have everything. They can’t have the lowest price in town and also get the best quality. It should be the job of every business owner to educate their clients where they sit quality/price-wise. Many people can understand that a 7/10 kind of job will be pretty cheap. But do they really know how expensive a true 10/10 job is? Tell them. Be proud of where your business sits. People will respect that you earn your business the old fashion way, with honesty.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless ways a detail business can be successful, honest and build a list of loyal clients. This more serves the purpose of opening candid dialog when it comes to recognizing who we are and where we excel in this trade. Beyond that, hopefully owners who are looking for a detailer can gain a greater understanding of where detailers are and what they face when talking cost of a service. Maybe they will be better prepared to ask the right questions that will help them find the right company/guy for the job.

Jean-Claude Corcoran
Jean-Claude Corcoran
Detailed Designs Auto Spa
Atlanta, GA
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3 comments on Detailing Business Theory

  1. Jesse Benjamin says:

    Well said!

  2. Ray Scott says:

    Very well said. I am retired and have a small detailing business (60 vehicles per year). I only detail 1 vehicle per day so I can give my customers a quality detail and take my time achieving that goal. I offer the convenience of pick up and delivery. I am always striving to learn about this business and recently purchased a Flex polisher which has made a huge difference in my quality. I am old school and very particular and I think that is why I have done well. My pricing is the same as the local car wash and I have been told that I should charge more. I don’t have a lot of overhead (work from home) no employees so that keeps my costs low. I love DI and Reece has been a great resource. Good money and I can be flexible with my time.

  3. Jim Fornadel says:

    Good information. I set my prices for a basic good detail with 8-9 results and offer paint correction as added service and try to teach with X amount of work it will look pretty good, but I can take it to an extreme but it costs more because of the time involved. I probably get the 50/50 split on the upgrade pending on the type of car and budget. People who bring their “toys” always upgrade.

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