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Detailing: How Much Does it Cost?

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This is a question most business owners hear on a daily basis… “How much?”.  In our industry, the question is familiar to volume car washes, individuals working in their home garage or small businesses providing premium detailing services.  For this article, I’ll stick with the small businesses with premium services as that’s what we do and that’s from where my experience comes for the most part.  What I had in mind could end up being 5 pages of text, so I’ll try to make this as short and to the point as possible.

“How much does it cost for a detail?” is a legitimate question and one that ultimately needs to be asked before any work is to be done.  There are many other variations that I have heard, some better and some much worse!  For example, a better version would be “How much do you charge for (insert specific detail service)?”  This is good because it’s a more direct question about a certain service you provide, so it’s very easy for me to answer it.  A worse version is something like “How much do you guys charge for a full detail?”  In this case I have absolutely no clue what a “full detail” is to this person nor do I know to who we’re being compared because the person almost always says “you guys” as if they talked to 5-10 others already.

If not already obvious, the issue I have with this question is the meaning behind it.  Well, multiple meanings actually.  In my experience, there are usually 2-3 meanings or definitions of this question… 1. The customer’s, 2. The detailer’s and 3. The industry norm that defines a certain detail service as well as the value.  By understanding this, both potential customers as well as detailers can learn how to better communicate with each other.  For this article, I mainly want to focus on the meaning of the question based on the customer and detailer and to try and clarify it both for those who may be customers asking the question as well as the detailers who will be answering it.  I plan to discuss the value of a detail job in another article in the near future.

How the customer defines the question:

There are a few different customers and obviously they have different backgrounds, knowledge, etc.  I’m lucky enough that most customers that call or email know our services and know what they want because their friend/coworker/etc had it done.  That said, there are many random, new customers who simply searched for a detail shop nearby and we popped up.  These potential customers normally don’t have much knowledge on detailing and are used to the typical list of services, such as wash, wash & wax, buff’n’shine and interior shampoo.  “Full detail” to these customers normally means some combination of interior and exterior detailing.  Then of course there are those who are somewhere in between, where they only had typical car wash services performed but learned a bit about premium services and wish to try it out.  All of these differ from one another and the definition to “how much” can greatly vary.

Normally the referrals from regular clients are the easiest to comprehend.  They know what they want and mainly how they want their car to look, so it’s as simple as “How much to do a paint correction with 22ple coating on my Porsche 911?”.  You answer with the dollar range based on condition and set a day or two for the work.  Done.  Sure, it can be a bit more involved if the car is a special case or the customer has a special request, but overall, it’s a very straightforward process.

The “medium” customers are a bit harder to figure out, but not too bad.  They normally have a service in mind, but don’t know what to expect in terms of results and the value they will get at the end of it all.  So they’re more inquisitive about certain things that they may not even understand just yet.  Most people want a shiny car and these customers usually want a “shinier” car based on the fact they’re now getting a premium service done vs a typical “buff-n-shine”.  It takes a bit of explaining and educating but at the end of the day most of these customers understand exactly what’s to be done and know they will get great results.

Last are the customers who don’t have any experience and are looking for “a detail”.  These customers ask the simplest of questions which are ridiculously hard to answer if you don’t run a car wash with only 3-4 services.  They have a service in mind as well as a price range they experienced before, so many times it’s as simple a question as “how much for a full detail?”.  To these customers any answer but “$xxx” may seem like either you’re trying to sell them a bigger service or you simply don’t know what you’re talking about as a detailer.

Speaking of detailers, here’s my thought on, well, my thoughts as a detailer…

How the detailer defines the question:

Going along with the above questions, as a detailer I have to deal with them in different ways.  The “easy” potential customers are, as I mentioned above, very easy to communicate with and schedule a job almost immediately.  They normally know what they want and may ask a few additional questions to see if there are other services you recommend for their specific car.  In this case, I like to be as simple and short as possible so as not to confuse the person with any additional information.  They were referred to me for a service, they know it will come out great and they usually want to do it soon.  I will try to keep it as simple as price range and available dates, but if they ask about anything I will make a quick recommendation (PPF, maintenance compared to their friend’s car, etc).

The customers who are ready to try better services than those provided by a local car wash need a bit more thinking on the detailer’s end.  We have to understand that as much as they read up on your services (usually on the website in my case), they may not know exactly what’s included in these services.  I recently had someone ask if our $1,500+ exterior service included a wash, which it does of course.  For this reason, I have to immediately go into the mindset of an educator to try and quickly and easily explain the benefits of our services.  In this case I need to relate to the customer both in terms of the services I provide as well as the services they had done before.  This will allow me to clearly show the customer that while overall the same tasks are being performed (washing, running a polishing machine over paint, waxing, etc.), the process is greatly different and has both a higher price and better results.

Again, last are those customers just looking at you as another detail shop and asking “how much”.  They normally won’t even check out the website, services, listed prices, etc.  They know you’re a car wash/detail shop and they want a service to clean their car.  For customers like this my thought is always to immediately explain that we’re not a typical car wash nor do we provide quick, lower quality services.  I also explain there’s nothing wrong with those services as they cater to the big majority of people to simply clean up their cars.  I just speak on the fact that we use a longer, proper process to clean a car, use high quality products and offer custom services depending on the needs of the car and owner.  An easy example is “how much for a full detail?”  For a long time I had a hard time answering this question.  While they may be thinking “outside buff and wax with full interior”, I may be thinking of a stage 2 paint correction, paint coating, wheel coating, maybe some PPF and a 15 minute interior vacuum.  They may be waiting to hear $150-250, while I may be thinking “gotta do paint correction, coat it, etc. so $800-900 or maybe $1200-1500…”.  Definitely not on the same page!  For this reason, I will ask some questions about what they are looking to get in terms of results, what services they had done before, what were they happy/unhappy with and other similar questions.  Then I can better gauge their needs and recommend a proper service that fits those needs.  I find that I get either a good or bad response with these customers.  Good being they understand where the time is invested and the quality of even just a wash (more thorough cleaning, less chance for swirl marks, etc).  Bad being they expect A LOT more than a simple car wash because they paid more than usual.  In the latter case, customers didn’t understand exactly what you do, rather simply though that you do a more expensive wash.  Thus, they assume that expense should include more stuff than just clean paint.  Didn’t fully vacuum the trunk on a simple hand wash service?  They may expect it.  Wheel wells aren’t fully cleaned, dressed, salt removed, etc.?  May end up with a bad online review for your business.

Long story short, these last customers that are looking for the quickest service are ones where I make sure to invest more time on the phone or email to either make them fully understand what we do and the value of it, or mutually decide we’re not the right business for them, which is fine for everyone involved.

In conclusion:

As I warned initially, it’s a bit of a read and maybe some rambling.  I wanted to put my thoughts in text and hopefully help out both potential customers or owners of detail businesses.  I deal with these things daily and have only improved through experience, so I hope to pass along a better understanding to those with less experience (again, on both sides of the coin).  My main point is that the definition of a service, pricing and value will differ even with different detailers, let alone customers who are simply shopping for a “detail job”.  Our industry is extremely large and the terminology greatly varies.  While some include interior vacuuming, glass cleaning and even engine washing when doing a “hand wash”, others wash the wheels, paint and wipe the door jambs.  We as both detailers and customers have to expand our mind a bit when communicating with each other and understand that we are probably not on the exact same page.  With a bit of communication and no assumptions like “This guy is trying to rip me off charging $500 for a buff’n’wax” or “This customer is horrible, they have no idea what detailing actually is”, we can make the process of making a car shiny much, much easier.

Ivan Rajic LUSTR Deatil
Ivan Rajic
LUSTR Detail
485 W Wise Road
Schaumburg, IL 60193
LUSTRDetail.com
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17 comments on Detailing: How Much Does it Cost?

  1. What a great read. I struggle with this exact problem. Some great insight . Thanks Ivan

    Addison,

  2. Bob says:

    You never answered the question. How much for a “full detail”? 🙂

    It makes sense why some detailers price themselves out/above the mainstream market. Too much time spent educating that market, regarding how your vehicle doesn’t go from a “pig pen” to showroom new in 4-6 hrs for $200.

    Great information.

  3. Gene says:

    Nice write up! Thanks Ivan!

  4. Great Article Ivan ! And very true. It sounds like we work together. It always amazes me when people can easily compare the prices of services to other places, but conveniently do not understand the different quality and quantity of the services you are providing v.s. other places.The word detailing has such a broad meaning . To some, it means a quality, multi step, refined process, which has extreme results. To others, it can simply mean driving thru a car wash tunnel, and paying extra for the Hot Wax ! That is why I explain to people, “I can’t control the quantity of work your car needs, but i can control the quality of work your car needs.

  5. Ray Scott says:

    I have been detailing vehicles for a long time. It was mostly part time as a hobby as I am a car guy and I did have a full time career. When I retired I moved to the beach with my wife and after 3 months I was borerd. Sure, I cycle, surf, go to car shows etc. but I wanted to something more. I decided to start a detailing business and the first thing I did was look at detailing supplier sites which provided products and advice on this type of business. I chose DI because the products were top shelf and the advice and techniques provided were best in class. I learned more from this site than I thought I would ever know. I ordered the products, researched the best buffer and poured over the techniques on how to become a professional detailer. The name of my business is Ray’s Custom Car Care and my business card reads” professional detailing with a personal touch. My charter was to provide the best detailing and service in the beach area. After 9 years I have gotten the reputation of the best detailer in the area. Most of the praise was from word of mouth as I don’t have a web site. I work out of my home garage, provide free pick and delivery of my customers vehicles but more importantly I provide my customers a full description of my services and the benefits I provide by using professional products and processes in my business before and after I detail their vehicle. I work alone as I am very particular and have an “old school” approach. I provide a full detail only and my prices are higher than the competition. Car washes which provide this service are not considered competition. Volume detailing done quickly is not my forte. I detail one vehicle a day as I am 73 and don’t have the energy I did when I was younger. I receive very few complaints but numerous compliments such as my vehicle looks as good as it did when I purchased it. Reece at DI has been a constant source of advice and his quick responses are one of the reasons for my success. I started detailing about 15-20 vehicles a year when I started. Last year I detailed over 100.

    • Ron Ayotte says:

      Ray.. I am a lot like you. I am a retired Deputy Fire Chief who started detailing as a “paying hobby” in 1986. I started by doing a detail conversion fan for one of my wife’s friends, and they “spread the word”. Most of my clientele are firefighters, cops and EMS personnel. I too work out of my garage. I am also “word of mouth” and I also have a Facebook page for my detailing venture, which I call WaxWorks.

      I only do one car a day unless they are my own vehicles, which I constantly keep clean, so detailing them is relatively easy. One of the things I do when I schedule a detail is to get the person’s cell number and email address. After I finish the vehicle, I take a few pictures of their car and download it to my Facebook page. I will also send them the pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words and I have gotten some great referrals from them!

  6. Ray Scott says:

    Thanks Ron, that is a great idea. I detailed a 2004 Aston Martin Vanquish when it first came out. I took some pix and framed them for my customer. He was ecstatic and he still owns it. I am not of Facebook however. Ray

  7. Thanks for sharing Ivan. I myself struggle with this from time to time but I’m learning now of the definition of a full detail. I often get caught in the trap of offering a lower price to customers just so I can get the business, in reality I’m doing myself no justice. I will keep this in mind going forward.

  8. Ray Scott says:

    When I first started my business I would offer a lower price to get business. Now that my reputation has spread no more discounts except for military, I am a Vet and would like to give other vets a break. In fact, I am slightly higher than local car washes and some detail shops. I work out of my garage so I don’t have the overhead. One interesting fact. I get more requests for a discount for customers owning high end cars. Go figure.

  9. Tony Backs says:

    Great article. Educating the customer on your services and how they differ from the other guys is crucial in this industry. One thing that always should be asked from your customer is how are they maintaining the vehicle. For example when I first started I did a 2 stage correction, protection, and interior vacuum, spot shampoo, and interior wipe down on a black truck. A bird decided he would leave his mark on the truck 4 days later and the customer used a hose to blast off the bird bomb and then used paper towels to wipe the mess off scratching the surface of the truck fairly bad.
    Asking the customer if they use proper washing techniques may allow you to sell the correct package for that customer. Sure you can upsell every customer on a 2 stage correction and coating but if they are washing the car with brillo pads and dawn soap they are ensuring the swirls will return and may not see value in your service and you may receive a bad review or have an unhappy customer.

  10. Ray Scott says:

    Great comment Tony. I always go over with my customers on how they should maintain their vehicles between details. In fact, some of them have purchased products from this site which I recommended for regular maintenance. That is what keeps the connection strong as it is not a one and done but rather a open line of communication. I never have a problem if customers call and ask for recommendations. My business cards read “professional detailing with a personal touch”. It does make a big difference.

  11. Jack Bellomo says:

    I am not sure the title of this blog is correct since I did not find the answer to how much detailing techniques cost. I understand that the cost of different service is also dependent upon condition and experience of the detailer is working with. I would like to see what one could expect to pay for various detail service ranges from low to high to give the consumer an idea of what to expect to pay. Thanks for your consideration.

    • Ivan Rajic Ivan Rajic says:

      Hi Jack,

      As much as I’d like to answer your question, that was the entire idea behind this article. The price is something that’s very specific to a service, a detailer, location, etc. so there’s no right or wrong answer. One person may pay $500 for a quick polishing that doesn’t really do much more than add some gloss, while another person with another detailer may pay $500 for a 2-3 stage paint polishing that will make the car look better than new.

      Again, the idea here is to explain how these things vary greatly (services, prices, the idea of what a service includes as well as what value it provides) between consumers, detailers and everyone in between.

      Hope this helps.

  12. Don Porter says:

    My method of detailing is: washing vehicle, decontaminate, compound, polish, then coat! Clean engine, clean interior! It usually takes me 2-3 days to complete this. I do tell my clients once the leave their vehicle with me, it is no longer theirs, it is mine and i’m very particular so there is no rush jobs! Classic or higher end vehicles will be 1-2 weeks! I only charge $175 – $250 for my work! I enjoy the results and live in a depressed area, thus the low rate for my services!

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