The inside of a car or SUV is like a rolling living room, with all the comforts of home. It makes sense then that those who demand that their homes be comfortable and clean would want the same for their vehicle’s interior. Now, we detailers have many examples that prove this statement wrong, like the mom-taxi from hell.
Nonetheless, interior detailing is an important part of professional automotive detailing, and it is important to encourage customers to take care of the inside of the vehicle as much as the outside. So this month’s column is dedicated to the pricing, marketing, and selling of interior detailing.
I will start the discussion with pricing, since under-pricing is one of the most common mistakes in our industry.
In truth, most interior detailing will be performed as part of a complete detail that includes the exterior. Nonetheless, the concept of pricing is critical for interior detailing. As a separate service, it has to be priced so that it is worthwhile for you to spend the time cleaning just the inside of the vehicle. As a combined service, it must be priced so that you can make enough money for your time on the entire job.
Before you can go out and attract new customers to buy your interior services, it’s important to have an established pricing structure. The pricing structure allows you to confidently talk to potential customers about the price of the services to be provided.
Exactly what amount to charge for interior detailing is another issue. It is amazing to me, after 25 years of hands-on detailing and providing education to the industry, that there are still operators out there who price their interior-only packages for less than their exterior-only packages. In my experience (and everyone with whom I have spoken), most interior detailing takes longer than exterior detailing. Yes, an exterior detail that involves multiple steps of polishing will take a long time. But standard interior detailing typically takes longer than a standard wash-clay-dress-wax exterior treatment.
Pricing of any service has to be fair, both to you and to your customer. The customer may think that a “fair” price is one that basically “gives away” the service; but this is not “fair” to you as an operator. Bottom line is that “fair” goes both ways.
Your pricing will be based partly on the amount of time it takes to complete the service and partly on the value of the service. The professional detailing community currently commands an hourly charge range of $50 to $100 per hour. So, if your interior detail on a four-door sedan takes three labor hours, a fair charge is between $150 and $300. When explaining the price to the customer, point out that you are using professional chemicals, equipment, and techniques to perform a service that most consumers do not have the capability to perform. This amount also takes into account that, with the professional equipment and chemicals, you are able to perform the service faster yet with better results. It would take most consumers an entire weekend to do what you can do in a few hours, and the car still would not look as good.
This is especially true if you are using machinery like an industrial-grade vacuum, hot-water extractor, steam machine, and odor neutralizing equipment. The total investment in these machines can easily range from $5,000 to $10,000.
I recommend having a “standard interior detail package” (call it what you want) that involves a thorough, yet basic cleaning of the interior. This would include thorough vacuuming; cleaning and conditioning all vinyl, leather, and plastic panels; extraction of all carpets, mats, and fabric seats; and cleaning interior glass. For me, it takes two to three hours on a sedan.
Then, have a subsidiary menu with a complete listing of additional, non-standard detailing services that can be performed, each with it’s own additional price. For example, you might have deodorization treatment, applying liquid repellant, or removing seats in this area of the menu. This subsidiary menu becomes a “custom add-on” from which the customer can choose options to “customize” his or her detail so that it more closely fits the customer’s requirements or the condition of the vehicle. This menu also allows you to up-sell your standard detailing packages with additional services that some customers may want. “It never hurts to ask,” and you just might make more money on the deal.
Marketing is the way that you tell potential customers that your business exists. There are two basic ways that you can market, through advertising or referrals. The advantage of advertising is that it has the potential, if effectively done, to bring in high volume. Two of the disadvantages of advertising are that it typically costs more, and you may have to field a bunch of price-shopping calls before you actually get a paying customer.
Referral marketing relies on who you know and who your customers know. You make contacts in the community through business referral groups and civic organizations that meet on a regular basis. Basically, everyone that you meet becomes a potential customer. In the early days, my motto was, “If I’m not shaking your hand, I’m probably handing you a business card.” Do good work for these people, creating delighted customers who are then more than happy to refer their friends, family, and co-workers to you.
Referral-based marketing can multiply your customer base many fold in a very short period of time without as much expense as advertising, but it generally takes a bit longer to fill up your schedule than with an aggressive advertising campaign. Yet most operators who rely on referrals report that they have a high-quality customer base.
Consider sources of customers other than private vehicle owners. This includes virtually any company or industry that relies on vehicles whose interiors must be regularly or occasionally cleaned. This includes car dealers and leasing agencies; transportation providers like busses, taxis, limousine, and shuttle service; insurance companies (referrals from their clients); emergency vehicles (police, ambulance, paramedic); federal, county, and municipal fleets; trucking companies; car rental agencies (e.g., some people smoke in non-smoking cars!); delivery services (messenger, fast food); and the list goes on to include any company that has a fleet of vehicles.
A little-used marketing technique is to educate the potential customer about the germ-killing benefits of professional detailing. There are plenty of reports available online about the fact that vehicle interiors are rolling germ- and bacterial-infested swills. You, the professional detailer, with your steam machines and hot-water extractors, and germ-killing chemicals, are the answer to this problem. Advertise this.
Once you have established your pricing structure and you have created ways and means to attract customers to your business, the next step is to be able to “close the deal” by converting those potential customers into paying customers. As with any business, there are a certain number of “NOs” that you will have to endure before you get a “YES” from customers. The effectiveness of your salesmanship is often tied directly to your conversion rate.
I explained some of the basic salesmanship in the Pricing section above. Be sure to explain to the customer the benefits of your service: experience, knowledge, techniques, and proper equipment and chemicals. Offer a “service excellence guarantee:” You will be happy with our work or we’ll keep working until you are happy. Note that this is not a money-back guarantee, which should not be necessary if you are providing a reasonable level of professionalism.
Remind the potential customer how great it felt when the car was new.
Inform the customer that you can return the interior of the car very close to this condition.
Another basic sales practice is to up-sell and cross-sell every job. Up-selling is the art of adding additional yet related services to a basic package that the customer has already requested. For example, every interior detail customer should be asked if he or she would like application of liquid repellant to carpets and fabric. This is a simple yes/no question that can lead to increased revenue per vehicle without a lot of pressure placed on the customer.
Cross-selling is the art of adding non-related services to an existing purchase. For example, if your customer has requested an exterior detail but is not interested in the complete detail package, you could cross-sell an a la carte service like leather conditioning or mat cleaning without selling the entire interior detail.
However you do it, salesmanship is about determining the needs of the customer as well as the vehicle; helping the customer understand how you are the best person to take care of those needs; and then finding other needs that the customer may not even know he or she has.
Interior detailing is an important part of a profitable detailing operation. It should be priced to reflect the work and equipment involved. Seek out new customers through your active marketing strategy. Approach each potential customer with passion and conviction that you are the best and inform the customer of all the great services that you can provide. You will find that interior detailing and all of its components and related additional services can add tremendously to the bottom line of your detail operation.
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.