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Legitimizing The Detailing Industry Part 1 of 5: An Open Letter To A Price Shopper


This is a five-part article series. Click here for parts 1 through 5!

“Rodney your prices are on the high end.  I had a detailer who would do all of this for $125.  But he stopped showing up.”

I would like to put to bed the allusion that value and integrity of service can be found when the price is your ultimate determining factor in choosing a detailing service.  There are two driving forces that have encouraged me to write this article.  False expectations for the expected cost of detailing services have left consumers and detailers very frustrated.  Another motivation has been my interactions with clients.  These are individuals who upon watching me work on their cars have made statements like, “I have a newfound respect for what you do.”  “You need to be paid more for this.”

In terms of compensation, many consumers make value comparisons of a business owner’s hourly rate to that of an employee.  The reality is that this relationship is not 1:1.

Detailing is a luxury service.  This can be seen from two perspectives.  Speaking from the customer’s perspective, you not only do not need this service and can very possibly perform some of these services yourself.  Here is another way of looking at things.  I do not need to go to a restaurant.  I can certainly make a higher quality burger than a fast-food restaurant.  I can also make a meal for less money than a nice restaurant.  From a business standpoint, it is not realistic for a fast food restaurant to offer a world-class experience.  It is also unrealistic for a nice restaurant to not be a more expensive option.  Not all meals are the same.  The same can be said for detailing.  Product expenses, especially for higher-end (coatings) services, is often underestimated.  But that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Rent and electricity for shop owners are not cheap.  Gas and wear on vehicles are part of the expenses for running a mobile business.  Business insurance for not just the business but employees is another cost of running a business.  Repairs for tools and other miscellaneous problems that will arise have to be factored into running a business.  After those expenses, there is the IRS.  Business taxes and personal taxes are not the same.  A business owner still must market the company for relevancy and assume all of the risks that go along with running a business.  Have I mentioned that a good indicator of quality is how much time quoted to get the job done correctly!  Running a legitimate operation with the stress of high expectations, how much would your time be worth?

This is my thought process when discussing the price with a new client.  I am not trying to take your money purely out of self-interest.  I want to offer a high level of value.  I love what I do.  But I have an expected return of value for my work.  If you were to find out the hourly rate of a plumber, the cost of a contractor, or many REPUTABLE companies that provide a service in a skilled trade the rate of that highly recommended detailer may not seem unreasonable at all.  Perhaps that is why that person is so highly recommended.

Before I started a business, I would have expected more for less.  $100 and $200 details may have taken on a completely different meaning to me than they do now.  It was the detailing forums; watching and learning from people I would admire gave me a unique perspective.  I also saw how much time was spent, resources, and thought was put into each detailing step.  Sometimes 20, 30, 40, or over 50 hours went into a turnaround.  Behind many $100 underwhelming interior details and behind many $200 paint corrections there was a detailer asking “how do I make this worthwhile?”  With 100% transparency, many times neither party is happy.

The hard work, time, and resources put into delivering consistently great results can be very difficult to impossible to communicate to enthusiasts and perhaps impractical for the mainstream nonenthusiast to comprehend.  Often for a professional who feels forced by the market to charge low rates, cheaper and cost-cutting alternatives are the only way to yield any profit.  More questions get asked on social media how quickly a job can be done and what are the cheapest products to use, with no thought of potential damage to a vehicle in the long run.  Oftentimes minimal value exchange takes a very unethical pathway.

There are outliers.  Many new detailers are desperate to prove themselves believing their services are not of value.  They often do not realize the cost of running a legitimate business.  Over time there are three options; increase prices to stay in business, cut costs at the expense of quality, or stop showing up.  Often a combination of the first two happens before the detailer gives up.

When a skilled trade becomes a numbers game (volume or quality), the ultimate victim is really YOU the customer who cares about quality but did not realize how much goes into detailing.  You like many others may have that nonenthusiast friend who mocks the expensive detailer “are you kidding, that much for a wash!”  I and many other professionals commonly fix or try to salvage the cheap work of the poorly trained nonprofessionals, often at a significantly higher expense than if done correctly the first time.

Paying over $1000 for a ceramic coating job is not a lot of money from our perspective if it involves 3 to 4 days with your car.  You may see the singular number.  As a business owner and technician, we are thinking of the hourly and product cost.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

What is stopping a business from selling the service of this product as a fully-fledged ceramic coating and inflating your expectations, or merely applying just a wax? What is stopping someone from using a glaze to conceal scratches and added damage while calling it paint correction (buff job, etc)?  These very common occurrences happen most often by detailers who lure customers by offering services at what is commonly referred to as ‘reasonable prices’ and quick turnaround times.

These are issues you the customer may overlook when you base VALUE and CREDIBILITY upon who has a cheaper price.  More times than not, especially in this industry, quality and price are not synonymous.  It is a lot easier to saturate a market with people who tell you what you want to hear.  It has been my experience some of the highest integrity individuals in the detailing industry are anything but cheap.  But those people are worldly respected for the value they provide to customers.

Could I be suggesting picking the business with the highest prices?  NO!  Take the time to do your homework on the business and the human beings who are going to be touching your car.  Look at the business’s website, read the reviews, and look at the social media posts.  Have a thoughtful conversation with the people who are caring for your car.  Detailers are often at fault for not doing their part in selling what sets his or herself apart from a less expensive option.  But making that excuse does no one any good if you (the consumer) do not take the time to have an open mind.

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
YouTube | Facebook

4 comments on Legitimizing The Detailing Industry Part 1 of 5: An Open Letter To A Price Shopper

  1. Dave says:

    What an intelligent, well-written piece this is. I wish you were near CT, so I could do business with you. A real breath of fresh air in today’s world. Thank you for writing.

  2. Joseph Williams says:

    Good morning Rodney I just finished reading your article. It was very well written and thoughtful. As a new business owner i find myself having these same thoughts about pricing, product selection, and quality. I am
    determine not to let some else cheapest detailing price sway me from charging what I feel the job is worth. The old school saying: You Get What You Pay For .

  3. Mitch lehrman says:

    OK Rodney: I just started skimming through your piece. Looking forward to really getting into the finer points. I’m old school. Have fun, make lotsa money, repeat. Mitch

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