Most professionals that you know probably spend several hours a week and thousands of dollars per year keeping up on the latest in their field. In some professions, continuing education is mandated in order to renew licensures or certifications. In the performance of their duties, doctors, dentists, attorneys, and the like bear considerable liability, which is part of the reason that these professions also command tremendous hourly wages. Part of that liability is the price in time and dollars to stay on top of the field through extensive reading and attendance at seminars, workshops, and courses throughout the year.

The serious detailer will consider himself or herself a professional as well. After all, if you are detailing vehicles on a full-time basis as your primary means of income, then detailing is your profession. As such, the “professional” detailer, like other professionals, will seek out sources of continuing education so that he or she may stay on top of the field of detailing.

Like most professions, the detailing industry has a relatively stable foundation of information that stays virtually the same year-to-year. Nonetheless, like most professions, there is also a constant stream of new ideas and technology being introduced into the detailing industry. Almost without exception, such new concepts are promoted to either improve the efficiency or effectiveness of existing services, or improve the potential profit of the operator through new services that can be offered to the customer.

The detailer who is not actively involved in researching the industry is often operating a struggling business that merely survives. Operators whose businesses are “thriving” are typically not only researching but also embracing the changes that come down the line in the industry. Successful operators realize that improvements in operational efficiency and effectiveness through the implementation of new ideas or technology almost automatically leads to improved profit potential.

FROM THE BEGINNING . . .

The detailing industry suffers from an inherent ailment. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to start a “detailing business.” Many wanna-bees start by buying a garden hose and a few polishing products off the shelf of the local retail auto supply store, throw the stuff in the trunk of their car, and call themselves “detailers.” Unfortunately, many of the operators who start out this way do not end up succeeding and quit the industry in a matter of months. In Southern California, for example, a detailer who has been in business for more than a couple of years is considered a seasoned veteran by most customers who are accustomed to having to find a new operator every few months because their current “guy” stopped showing up.

The operators who end up lasting in this industry are the ones who realize that, after a few short months of guessing, they need education and training in the field. Automotive detailing is certainly not rocket science, but there is a lot of information to know. Having the background and education in the equipment, chemicals, and standard procedures of high-quality detailing has two major benefits: it improves the technician’s efficiency and effectiveness, thus allowing the technician to produce better-looking vehicles in a shorter period of time, and it adds to the credibility of the operator.

So, if you are just starting out, I strongly recommend that you lay in a strong foundation at the beginning by attending a formal hands-on training event or purchasing a high-quality video training program. The programs that are currently available are easily accessible and relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of the education required for many other professions.

For example, a high-quality, hands-on training program, requiring only a few days to complete, can put you light-years ahead of the competition in terms of knowledge of vehicle surfaces and industry technology. The information that you will learn will allow you to perform better and faster, thus increasing per-vehicle profit. Also, the increased professionalism that typically comes with a training certification allows you to confidently charge a higher price for your service, because you know that your level of service will be superior to those who are not formally trained.

TO THE END

A true professional understands that the only thing that is constant is “change.” Thus, the true professional complements his or her initial training and education with years of conscientious experience and continuing education. Successful detailing operators are those who, as noted earlier, realize the need for initial formalized complete training. Moreover, they understand the importance of continuously building upon that initial foundation through continuing education in the industry. They see this not as an expense but as an investment in the future success of their business.

The detailing industry has several sources of information that are relatively inexpensive.

Trade Magazines

There are a number of trade magazines that cater to the vehicle appearance industry. Although many of these are geared more toward the car washing side of the industry, all of them have at least a smattering of detailing-specific information. The trade magazines are also an excellent source for keeping abreast of upcoming industry events that might allow you to network further for other educational opportunities.

Trade Organizations

Our industry is fortunate enough to be represented by The International Detailing Association, established in 2008. This young association is vibrant and rapidly growing, offering more and more benefits to members each year, including two levels of independent detailing technician certification. The organization offers several educational opportunities through its “IDA University,” including monthly free webinars (third Thursday evening of most months). Check out www.the-IDA.com for more information.

The IDA is becoming increasingly involved with regional car wash associations. For example, on August 23, the IDA will be partnering with the Southeastern Car Wash Association to present an IDA “Certification-in-a-Day” event in Myrtle Beach, SC. This event includes an intensive seminar that includes all the information that one needs to pass the IDA Certification exams, which are then administered and graded on site. We find that virtually all who attend pass the exams and are presented with their IDA Certified Detailer patches. For more information or to register, go to www.detailinprogress.net/training/ida-certification-seminar.

The IDA will also have a large presence at the 15th annual Mobile Tech Expo coming up in Orlando, FL January 28-30, 2016 (www.MobileTechExpo.com). We will be offering multiple educational seminars and limited opportunities to become a “Skills Validated” IDA Certified Detailer. Stay close to the IDA website and Facebook page for updates.

Workshops and Seminars

Detailing suppliers, distributors, and detail schools often offer seminars, workshops, and clinics at little or no charge. Yes, you may have to endure some sales presentations, but you can still get some great information as well as network with other detailers.

Automotive Reconditioning Schools

There are several instructional institutes geared exclusively to the automotive reconditioning trades. Some of these offer formalized detailing training. It is well worth investigating the opportunities that these schools offer. Look for a school that has an established reputation, instructors that are recognized industry leaders, a formalized training program with specific learning objectives, and a guarantee of training excellence and technical support.

Another option is to find a company that offers on-site training, which can often be customized to fit your particular situation.

Internet-Based Information

The Internet has a plethora of free and for-purchase information on automotive detailing. From specific techniques like “how to use detailing clay” to full courses with “certificates of completion,” to detailing forums —you have lots to look at. Although forums can be a great source of free information, take the “shopping cart” approach — just put into your “shopping cart” what you need, not everything offered in the store. Most important, verify the information that you receive with your current supplier or distributor before making major changes.

The Internet is also a great place to search for informational products for the detailing industry. There are several sites that offer training manuals and video training programs.

Cooperative Competition

When viewing fellow detailing operators in an area, there are two possible perspectives: view the competitor as a threat that should be eliminated or view the competitor as a comrade with whose cooperation we can create mutual success.

Let’s face it, there are millions of vehicles that need detailing — you can either fight with your competitor over customers, or you can find ways to cooperate so that you both capture a larger part of the market. We can work together to find ways to standardize and improve our service to the motoring public, thus, allowing each of us to individually profit.

SUMMARY

A successful detailing operator will take the time to lay out the information foundation of his or her business through participating in a formal educational program early on in the detailing career. This type of operator also realizes that continued success is ensured by staying in touch with changes in the industry through continuing education sources, such as industry trade organizations and publications, workshops and seminars, and contact with other detailing professionals.

Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or prentice@detailinprogress.com.