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Legitimizing The Detailing Industry Part 2 of 5: An Open Letter To A Frustrated Detailing Business Owner

by

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

I want you to give me $400, $600, $1200, or $2000 of your money.  I also would like you to give me the keys to a car that you care enough about to have detailed.  You also very likely do not know what goes into a properly detailed vehicle.  You have hundreds of other detailers advertising allegedly similar services for $20, $50, or $100.  You have (non-car people) friends telling you detailing is all the same and overpriced.  What are you waiting for, book now!

Oh well, but if I can get enough word of mouth, I can continue to take the easy way out while living lavishly.  Fine, maybe I will post one ambiguous before and after picture on my Facebook page.

Reality Check

You cannot successfully run a business that is only professional by title.  Are you going to tell me a high quality potentially loyal client for life is going to sign off on you spending hours of grueling intimate time with his or her vehicle and not care what kind of human being you are?  Starting a professional detailing business means much more than just a half-hearted marketing plan and showing up with a Rupes polisher.  There is a legitimate issue we as detailers face out in the world.  Legitimacy!

Being A Responsible Business Owner

Let us say you knowingly develop a habit of ordering products to be delivered the day prior to you desperately needing them.  If they come a day late, THAT IS YOUR FAULT!  Not only is that your responsibility to not put yourself in that position, blaming the suppliers says so many negative things about you (the business owner).  People, including myself, make mistakes.  But making the effort for better inventory management is essential.

Do You Charge Like A Legitimate Business?

Let’s be honest.  That thrift shop detailer that leads you to saying, “how can I compete” is merely exposing your lack of care in marketing your services.  Be honest with yourself, are the rates you are charging only a crutch?  Are you undercharging to take the easy way out of marketing your services?

Do you know who you are targeting?  Your market, without a doubt, has a legitimate influence on prices and potentially services you may offer.  This influence is often greatly exaggerated.  To be blunt it is often used as an excuse for not trying to run a legitimate and profitable business.

Digging deeper; are you making an honest effort to be noticeable to those people?  Many would say ‘you are only worth what someone is willing to pay you’.  Perhaps most people will not pay your worth.  In a population of 100,000.  10 percent of that population is 10,000 people.  That is more people than you could ever imagine serving.  Within reason what you believe in yourself, you will make true.

There has been a push for $100 per hour in the detailing community.  I support this movement, not because there is something wrong with not charging at that level, but because it is bringing awareness that we need to respect our day to day operations as a legitimate business.  The number to me is not as important as the message behind it.  The person running a business for less profit than a near minimum wage employee may now have the audacity to treat him or herself like a business owner instead of an employee.  Yes, you are actually worthy to reap the benefits of a successful business and live a good life.  Because I promise you those same customers that do not value you as such will remember you are a business owner when it is convenient for them.

You have to do what you believe is in your best interest.  With that said, if you are starting out charging significantly less than $35 as your base price as a starting business I would ask you to really evaluate your business.  I believe it is reasonable to at the very LEAST ascend to a minimum $50 per hour over time.  Owners who operate out of a commercial residence I would recommend setting those numbers even higher due to the overhead.

What Is Your Character

If someone, who is clearly a private person, communicates he or she is embarrassed by how their car looks, don’t post pictures of their interior on social media.

I have potential customers who are clearly not a fit for my services inquire about pricing.  I deal with degrading remarks at times.  There is a professional and non-professional way to conduct yourself.  I always try to conduct myself with class.  If you are getting into a belligerent exchange, texting laughing emojis, and communicating with slang (hey bro, etc) you are on some level validating their opinion of you and detailers in general.

In this niche, there is a shared humanity between you and your client, connected by the intimate cosmetic care of someone’s car.  If you do not exhibit a certain level of professionalism you will NOT find people who care enough to have their car detailed no matter how much or how little you charge.

Congruence

If you use the cheapest microfiber towel you can find with rubbing alcohol as your final wipe to save $6 on a $2000 coating job, the black paint did not conspire against you.  That is your fault.  If you invest in the cheapest business cards you probably are not going to get the trust of the most affluent clients.  I am not suggesting you buy the greatest and latest luxury item.  But as I advanced in my business I have made it a priority to not be a hypocrite.

Boundaries

You have someone request you do something you are very uncomfortable doing, dangerous, or simply clashes with your values.  You can say NO!

Your customer casually but quite intentionally requests you to do extra work not signed off on, significantly more labor-intensive.  It is okay to immediately and formally inform that person of an up-charge.

Some people are concerned about deposits, with respect to losing customers.  The if, when, and how much of a deposit should be a personal choice based upon the reliability of your clients.  If you are simply afraid of the consequences of a deposit on a high-end service, I will give my perspective.  If someone does not trust me for a good faith payment to cover the cost of a product, that person should not trust me spending multiple days touching their car for a $1,400 service.  If I am committing multiple days of my schedule to someone, what does someone’s reluctance to accept a good faith deposit say about his or her reliability?

A lot of detailers who suddenly stopped showing up, bought into the ole adage “some money is better than no money.”  That may not be entirely false when you are starting out.  But if you are not willing to turn away customers who are not supporting your business you will not be successful.

Conclusion

If you do not have a plan and a means to analyze your business, how are you going to make adjustments when challenges come.

Word of mouth advertising is not just about your 50/50 shots.  It is the organic growth from months and years of blood, sweat and tears. It is about all the human interactions that you did not realize you were signing up for.  Offering a wash clay and seal without polishing is not going to ruin the industry.  Bragging about only offering a full correction before ceramic coating a car is not going to help your business or hurt you.  You and your arrogance to think that doing good work can overcompensate for the endless hours of investing in marketing your business will be your undoing.

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
MirrorReflectionsAutoSpa.com
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