If you have the time and desire to get a real grasp on this topic, perform the following experiment. If not, I am sure you can still easily follow along.
Start by doing a Google search for car detailing and call the top five shops/businesses that show for the search results and just ask for the price of a ‘full detail’. Do not offer a description of what you exactly want.
Note two different things as you perform this experiment. The first being what the price is. The second, see if they ask you what you specifically want out of your full detail.
The results will vary from company to company. But what you will most likely universally find is that everyone’s full detail is different in some way from the other companies. For the shops that don’t ask you to describe what you want out of your detail, ask them what their full detail consist of.
Why do the results you get matter? The results will show you the tip of the iceberg as to why there is such a great divide in service pricing from detail companies. Part of the reason is due to a difference in what is being advertised or offered for a given name like ‘full detail’. For if each one of those services are different why would it be a surprise that there is a different cost? Despite that, some car owners are very quick to scoff at a price given or think a price is too good to be passed up before having an understanding of what is being done in detail.
Who, when asked, would pass judgement on the price someone paid for a car without knowing the make, model, mileage and condition? Maybe all of those are spot on for the price but the color is just plain ugly and there is no demand for it? These are normal thoughts we have when considering large purchases. We want to have a full grasp of what exactly the money is being put towards. This should be the same attitude we see in regards to detailing services and their cost.
Maybe this doesn’t completely apply to the individuals who are reading this now. But then again, maybe it won’t hurt for you to think more critically about the approach your personal detailing business takes or for you to think more critically about where your dollars are being spent? Join me as we get one insider’s look at the detailing service cost disparity.
Where’s the Beef?
30 years ago Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, had a commercial aired with the catch phrase “where’s the beef?”. It was centered around 3 older ladies getting their hands on a hamburger that was 90% bun and 10% beef. Before opening the burger up, they had been commenting on how wonderful the bun looked. When they looked inside to see where the substance they paid for was, one angrily asked “where’s the beef?” There was no substance and they were aggravated they paid for essentially nothing but a bun.
So many people are left asking where the beef is, so to speak, when spending money on detailing services. They feel as though the substance just isn’t there. Why is this?
Detail shops know that ‘full detail’ means many different things to different people. But taking the time to describe a service may mean they lose the job due to having a higher price than a different shop even though the service is more extensive. I can say that I have personally had countless experiences where someone called without first viewing our website and requested a price for a “full detail”. Because my shop is quality and end-result driven, we are not cheap. I’ll ask that they describe exactly what they are looking for in their full detail and what is not unusual is someone just reiterating that they want a full detail…”ya know, like inside and outside fully detailed.” At that point, it is more often than not that I write them off as I know from that one line that they are looking for something other than what we offer. Regardless of that, I give them their price so they can end the conversation and I won’t have to be a bad guy and tell them no and every single time it works. They exclaim how ridiculously expensive we are even though they have no idea what we do.
For many people, they are hunting for a shop to tell them what they want to hear (we can do everything you want and make it perfect for chump change -good luck) instead of what they need to hear (time is money and doing things the right way that gets the best results is more expensive). In other words, their first thought is on a price and not the result they desire. THAT is what drives most shops to be price-focused and not results driven. From that, you have shops that will claim they have the cheapest or “best” prices in town. Call my shop, Detailed Designs Auto Spa, after speaking with one of those shops and you may think we are insane with our pricing. Why the extreme difference in cost?
Sometimes it’s a matter of one company providing a more thorough service that will use more man-hours to complete. Quality being equal, if one full detail is a car wash and wax at one shop and the other shop’s full detail is a wash, wax, interior vacuum, leather cleaning, dusting and dash wipe and shampoo, shop number two will probably be more expensive. Before you pass judgement on a detail cost, educate yourself as to what is involved in the service. You may find that what you though was overpriced is really a far better value than the cheaper priced service.
Let’s say you have pinned down two different shops that are saying they are doing the same thing and yet the prices are substantially different. What’s going on here?
Detailing is not a commodity. It is not a make and model of a new car that all dealerships can attain and potentially sell for the same price. It is a skill-based art and science. No two shops have the same ability and produce the exact same end result. There are detailers that are really bad, detailers that are amazing and then there are guys that float between the two extremes. “Cheap isn’t good and good isn’t cheap” … at least that is how I was raised. Typically, price will dictate quality.
Paint correction has gained a lot of traction over the last 4 years or so. It seems like everyone offers multiple levels of correction to their clients. There is a huge difference in the level of attention, time invested, skill or experience, protective measures taken, products used, results available and cost from company to company. On our paint correction projects, we can spend hours taping off sensitive surfaces, removing the tape and cleaning up the tape edge build up once the corrective steps are complete. Trying different corrective polishes, compounds, pads and machines to find the right combination can take a few hours. Slowing down to use a 4″ pad on a rotary to hit tight areas eats up hours during a correction project. Correcting the edges of panels as much as the middle of the panels is incredibly time consuming. On that note, I once heard a detailer say that “no one” gives the lower portions the time that the upper portions get … I disagree but you get the idea. I could go on and on about how doing a thorough job and not just a decent one, can double, triple or more the amount of money and time invested into a correction job.
Sometimes it’s a matter of the shops having different budgets for products and chemicals. When shopping for our cleaning or conditioning products, price is not a factor. We are hunting for the best products and solutions, period. How does that translate to cost? If you’re reading this now, you understand that there are cheaper products to be had at Walmart. But you’re not at Walmart right now buying wheel cleaner. You’re shopping for Sonax or p21s wheel cleaners or something else that is, no doubt, more expensive. You understand that a higher quality carries a higher price. It is the same way for a company. The increase in the back end cost drives up the front end cost for a client. The trade off? Better products that give better results, safer.
Different detailing companies may sometimes offer services that are simply not available anywhere else locally. At Detailed Designs Auto Spa, we recently incorporated a no cost, hands on maintenance clinic for each of our paint restoration and coating application clients. Now, when a client has a restoration completed or new coating applied they will have the hands on experience to build on when they begin down the path of proper car care at their own home. This no cost 3-4 hour class adds long term value that someone will carry with them for the rest of their life. Before incorporating this service, we had technical how-to’s for clients to reference (which will still be available). Just as before, we are still willing to build online shopping carts with the products they want but don’t have time to research and hunt down. Many skilled high-line detailers are willing to provide ongoing support for their clients. It’s important to learn what level of support your detailer will provide when considering the value being provided.
Insurance and shop overhead are real costs for professionals who take their craft seriously. Insurance is a no brainer. The better the coverage, the more expensive the premiums, which drive up front end cost to a client. No one likes to think about a freak accident happening and causing a complete write off of a $300,000 car. But it could happen. That’s why we and other high-line shops spend more money for higher coverage. A shop with minimal coverage probably isn’t the best choice to take your luxury or exotic car to be worked on.
Nice shop facilities are not cheap. Sure, the rough part of town is a lot cheaper to lease a shop at … but is that where you want your car?
The Finer Things in Life
Come your anniversary, are you taking your wife to Long John Silvers for dinner or are you hunting down the location that will provide you with wonderful service, excellent food and an amazingly memorable experience? My wife knows she only gets the best and I enjoy spending the coin needed on that event.
For some of us, we have those same feelings for our automobiles. We want the best experience we can afford. Maybe it’s that there’s a bond with another car guy that is a car detailer and that’s who you want taking care of your pride and joy? You know that he will take care of it as if it were his car and that’s enough for you.
Here’s the bottom line ladies and gentlemen. There is not just one reason some shops are more or less expensive than others. If you educate yourself as to what different detailing companies are offering from the ground up, you will be better suited to find the best solution for your needs. It’s not enough to just ask for a price anymore. There are too many options and variables that can drive a price up or down and it’s up to you to find out what you’re buying into.