Digital or other methods, some principles still hold true on finding the right customer. 

            In today’s day and age, marketing advice is easy to find, and often well off the mark. It is constantly bombarding us on our phones, social media, TV, and a variety of other sources with gurus telling us that if we just follow their four-step method, we can’t help but be successful. But what does it really take?

            Basic marketing principles still apply and identifying these and focusing your efforts will be the key to success.

            First and foremost, identify your market. Consider that only 20 percent to 25 percent of the motoring public is familiar with the term “detailing,” so this is the target market for a detail business, not 100 percent of the market. The other 75 percent have to be educated, which, with the digital world, is easier than ever, if you know how to identify this next part.  Of those that do and don’t know about detailing, how many would actually want the service? Just because they are aware, they may not need, want, or value the service. So, while it looks like you may have 25 percent of the market that know about detailing, how many of them would actually seek out the service — 5 percent, 10 percent? This becomes a pretty small segment.


            Before advertising, you must consider marketing. It is really very easy. Here are 10 questions, the answers to which will provide you with a strategy to follow in choosing the appropriate advertising vehicle and message to use:

1. What Business Are You Really In?

            You must have a clear answer to this to determine what you are selling. It isn’t the same for all customers. For some it is a clean car, for others, protecting an investment, and for others still, it is about convenience, etc. You need to determine what you can and want to offer and target those customers that fit that service.

2. Who Is Your Customer?

            Now that you know who you are and what you are offering, you need to find customers that line up with those services and why. Part of your market will be determined by who can afford your service, and where they are. Narrow it down to who the customer is — income, geographical area, type of car, how long they keep it etc. All are factors.

3. Why Do They Buy?

            What is the decision process they follow? What factors influence their decision? In most cases, it is not price. To keep it simple: they don’t want to do it themselves and see a value in having it done by a professional. More likely, they don’t have the time or the skill to do it. Market to these factors and demonstrate that you are the solution.

4. Why Should They Buy from You?

            You must stand out. What are the advantages of doing business with your detail business? Make it easy for them to do business with you and solve their problem.

5. Who Is the Competition?

            In some cases, there may not even be competition since many detail shops go after wholesale, rather than retail business. But you do need to know if you have:
a. Direct Competition — does exactly what you do
b. Indirect Competition — equivalent to you, but different; say an auto dealer, body shop, car wash, etc.

            Don’t let this dissuade you, just be aware and be ready to answer what makes your service unique and why they should choose you.

6. What Is the “Leading Edge?”

            You must know what the competition offers in terms of service, and what they charge. You need to know how they advertise and promote, and which customers they target. These answers will be critical in developing your own strategy and pricing.

7. What are the “C.F.S.s” For Your Business?

           The C.F.S.s are the “Critical Factors of Success.” For most retail detail businesses, they are:
a. Selling the right service.
b. Advertising and promoting to the right markets with the right message.
c. Having the right telephone and onsite presentation and closing technique.
d. Price — it is a factor, but not the initial factor in the decision to purchase. No matter what price is paid, the customer expects quality and value.

8. How Well Have You Segmented Your Markets?

            “The size of any market is the sum of its riches.” Actually, there are so many markets for detailing services, you can get distracted. But you must focus on those markets that will bring you the most business for the least amount of effort and money. These are the customers that have a need to cosmetically maintain their vehicles and don’t want to do it themselves. The hard part is identifying these people. When you’ve secured as much of this market as you feel you are able, then go after other markets.

9. What Is the Perceived Value Of Your Services?

            Based on your answers to questions one through eight, you should now be able to clearly determine what your perceived value to the customer is.

10. What Are You Doing Right? What Are You Doing Wrong?

            Based on your answers to questions one through nine, you should be able to determine if you have been concentrating or focusing on the appropriate markets.


            There is more detailing education than ever on social media and the Internet. In fact, the International Detailing Association (IDA) just launched a consumer awareness site that helps educate and promote detailing for the consumer. Check it out:

            All of this is great, but as the WWW stands for World Wide Web, how do you bring it closer to home so you can educate the public and bring attention to detailing in your market, and to you? Here are ideas that are becoming increasingly successful:

1. Take Care of Present Customers

            They say, “growth comes in taking care of what you’ve got, not in what you hope to have.” This being the case, marketing, educating, and engaging with your existing customers is the easiest way to grow your business. They are enthusiasts, so fan that enthusiasm. Have an open garage and teach them how to do basic self-vehicle-care, give them opportunities to show off their cars to others. Educate them on services that you have that they don’t know about or don’t know why they should purchase them. Finally, take advantage of word of mouth — make them a fan that raves about you to others. Use monthly newsletters, targeted social media posts, and a CRM to keep in touch with and engage them.

2. Get Involved With Your Local Car Culture

            Hosting events at your shop for car clubs, holding open garages, and getting out to the local events and supporting the enthusiast culture can do wonders for you. Many in these circles are do-it-yourself type folks, but even they have limits on what they can do, and the input and support of a professional may be just what they are looking for. You may just be the person they didn’t know they were looking for, until they meet you.

3. Engage Locally

            Involvement with Chambers of Commerce and other local business-oriented groups can really connect you to people that have the means, need, and desire for your services —and potentially a similar customer base that they can refer you to.


            I want to thank Auto Laundry News for the opportunity to join the team here and also thank and appreciate my good friend and long-time colleague Prentice St Clair, whose column I will be picking up. Prentice has done so much for the detailing Industry, and I thank him for being a great resource here — hopefully I can keep what he created going strong for a long time to come.

Keith Duplessie is the owner of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems in Portland, OR. He has been building detail centers and selling products and chemicals in the industry for more than 20 years and is a past president and Founders Club member of the International Detailing Association. In 2021 he was inducted into the IDA Hall of Fame for outstanding contributions to the detailing industry.