The following outlines my history with Auto Laundry News, as an example of why relationships are so important in this industry, as well as to encourage others to use their talents to make contributions to the detail industry, because you never know the opportunities that may arise from those efforts.
Back in 1997, I attended a one-day seminar in Pomona, CA. It was a traveling show put on by the International Carwash Association. Titled “Professional Development Series,” the topic of this particular event was detailing. I was only three years into a full-time detailing career and was hungry for information. So, I travelled two hours from San Diego, joining about 20 other detailing professionals in attendance.
The presentation was given by Steve Okun, who incidentally was just inducted into the International Detailing Association’s Hall of Fame, about which I am unabashedly delighted, as I believe Steve is quietly one of the biggest contributors to the detail industry across the 40 years that he was involved (roughly 1963-2003).
I learned a lot that day, and, thanks to the advice of an early mentor during that time, I had adopted the habit of “be the first one there, and the last one to leave” at any meeting or educational event. Claudius Harris, Jr. of Final Appearance Detailing in Santa Fe Springs, CA was also in attendance, and, when the seminar was complete, we asked Steve if the three of us could sit down for a drink, at which time we chatted for about 30 minutes or so, exchanged contact information, and went about our ways.
Fortunately for me, both gentlemen have been friends ever since. Moreover, a few weeks later, I received a call from the ICA, asking if I could contribute an article for their (then) monthly publication, ShopTalk. The caller had been referred by Steve Okun! Writing had always come easy for me, so I accepted. This turned into providing detailing educational seminars at the annual ICA shows, again facilitated by Steve, who was a major contributor to ICA at the time.
It was during attendance at one my first ICA conventions that I met Stefan Budricks, editor of this trade publication that you are currently reading. I told him that I could write about detailing and showed him the three-part series that I had written for the ICA. I wrote my first feature article for ALN in early 2002. The topic was mobile detailing. Stefan asked me to write two more features after that.
It’s important for younger readers to understand that back then, trade publications were one of the only ways for detailers to obtain information about detailing. I felt it my duty to provide information on what had worked for me at that time, and observations of the detail industry early on in my detail career made it painfully clear that the industry was in desperate need of an infusion of professionalism.
For several years, I had been gleaning great information from the ALN detailing column penned by John Lamade, after receiving a free subscription after joining the detail trade association that existed at the time, the Professional Detailing Association. When Stefan contacted me in mid-2003 with the sad news that John was retiring from the writing gig, I jumped on the opportunity to take over this column. My first contribution to this column was published in the September 2003.
I remember once sharing with Stefan that it was a fairly straightforward task for me to whip out a 2,000-word article in about four hours, to which he responded, “that usually takes me two days!” Even with that ability, some might be wondering why I would spend that kind of time every month for 20 years.
Well, I have always viewed this “work” as a contribution to the industry, a way to utilize my God-given talent of writing to share what has worked well for me and others in my circle. That, in and of itself, is a reason.
However, I must say, that having my name out there every month has led to numerous contacts by parties interested in my consulting and training services. Some of those contacts have resulted in quite lucrative contracts, as well as long-lasting friendships. So, there is that!
Nonetheless, by far the most gratifying reward coming from writing is the thanks that I have received over the years by numerous detailers via e-mails, phone calls, and even chance meetings at various trade shows. It is humbling and heartwarming to hear that my silly little monthly column was a contributing factor to the success of several detailing businesses.
Some, like dear friends Greg Swett, CD-SV, and Jason Barker, CD-SV, have shared that this ALN detail column was their primary source of information in those early years. It is truly gratifying that I have been successful in my professional mission “to increase the profitability of the detailing industry” through typing out a monthly column.
WHERE DID WE GO AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME?
Glancing through the file containing a catalog of column titles, it is quickly apparent that we have gone many places together in this column over the years.
There have been the obvious go-to topics of the technical aspects of detailing, from a single column on “how to conduct a prep wash” to multi-column series on paint care and another one on interior detailing. Moreover, I’ve always interspersed the very important topic of business administration with column submissions on such topics as insurance, pricing and packaging, and customer retention. In fact, in 2007, there was a 12-part series, each installment covering a different topic of the administration of a detail business.
The importance of obtaining technical training has always been emphasized. In fact, back in 2005, long before the International Detailing Association’s Certified Detailer program, I spoke of the importance of skills and knowledge certification. Years later, when the IDA CD/SV program came out, I jumped on the opportunity to help by writing a series of articles on the topics covered by the Certified Detailer exams.
What emerged over a couple of years was an unofficial “IDA Certified Detailer Study Guide,” which was helpful to many certification candidates in those early years. (Stay tuned, as I will be publishing a newer version of the Study Guide soon, updated to reflect changes in the CD exams.)
Speaking of the IDA, this column was a wonderful way of highlighting the IDA’s efforts to support the detailing industry since its inception in 2009. I appreciate the fact that Stefan has permitted unrestricted mentioning of the IDA and its activities. I also appreciate his willingness to offer a free subscription to ALN for new IDA members. Stefan and I set this up years ago.
It has been fun sharing new developments in the detailing industry, including the emergence of the use of dry vapor steam, innovations in polisher technology, and ceramic coatings. I’ve also enjoyed highlighting industry-related events by sharing “wrap-ups” of gatherings such as Mobile Tech Expo and SEMA.
Because of Steve Okun, a connection was established years ago between myself and the car wash industry. I have used this column to help the car wash industry understand detailing and how it fits into their world.
Some of my favorite submissions include the March 2005 column on “Insurance,” which has been lauded as one of the best ever written explanations of the insurance needs of the detailer. I’m also fond of the September 2010 title “Kooky Customers,” as we all deal with them on occasion. I’ve long thought this could turn into a marketing book, and maybe it will.
The two-parter on “Reputation” (February and April 2015) were personal favorites because I believe the success of my business, both the retail operation and the consulting/training side, is because of my ever-vigilant focus on establishing and maintaining a superb reputation. Another favorite is the August 2019 title “Opportunity,” which outlines how relationships, contacts, and the willingness to help led to many opportunities to be involved in special detailing projects and lucrative contracts.
I would love to hear about your favorite submissions. Please send me an e-mail.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It started out with a visit to a booth on the floor of a tradeshow and a simple “hello.” Some 20 years later, some 226 submissions later, some 350,000 words later, comes the last column submission from this author. There may well be an opportunity for me to submit a feature article for ALN in the coming years. In the meantime, I leave this monthly column in the very capable hands of someone I met at one of those early ICA conventions, and who has been a close friend for many years since, Keith Duplessie, CD-SV-MC, RIT.
God gave me the skill of communication, which has taken the form of both the written and spoken word. I have been fortunate to be able to put those skills to use in the auto detailing industry. I encourage all of those with particular skills to utilize them to support our wonderful industry, which is ever evolving and so much more vibrant than when I started.
I thank you all for reading my monthly column. I thank Steve Okun for helping launch the educational part of my detailing career. I thank Stefan Budricks for trusting me with this column for 20 years. I’m not going away from this industry, just moving on to other ways to support it.
See you at the next industry event!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.