The first car I ever bought on my own was a bright red 1990 Toyota Tercel. I drove it and I drove it and I drove it for almost 15 years. It had the longevity of 10 Eveready Bunnies.
I was a single woman, no children, no need to haul anything, and I couldn’t care less about speed and luxury. I needed paid-off and practical.
I grew up washing the family cars but it was not because I had some instinctive passion like all the detailers I have ever met. It was because we had a lake house with a steep boat ramp and it was fun for my sister and I to suds it up with — oh yes — Tide detergent and a big Swiss cheese sponge, and play in the water, squirting each other with the hose.
During the years I owned the Tercel, I lived in coastal Florida. There was nowhere to regularly wash my own car in South Beach Miami and the sun and salt of South Florida took its toll on the paint. I purchased the highest-grade washes at the local car washes with the wax option, but the red was gradually growing dull and by the time I sold it many years later, it was pinker than it was red.
The car was in excellent shape except for the paint, and I did not at the time want a car payment, so I checked into having it painted, which I quickly discovered was called “resprayed” and it was going to cost about $1,500. I set out to save for it but like my diets, I just never quite broke the threshold and it never happened. I decided since the engine was fine, I would just drive it that way. I know, I know… all of you are horrified at this story but bear with me – I’m getting to the point.
I had heard of detailing, but I thought it was something car crazy people with expensive classics and exotic cars did for car shows. But when I started writing for the automotive appearance industry in 2003, I could not believe the before and after pictures detailers sent me of trashed cars and trucks they had detailed and completely restored. It was incredible and I thought back to my poor pinkish Tercel.
In 2013, I drove my year-old Fiat 500 POP to the Mobile Tech Expo in Orlando. I considered it brand new compared to the vehicles I had driven in the years prior.
Several detailers sneaked out to the parking lot and detailed my Fiat while I was in the show. When they told me and invited me to come out and look, I was overwhelmed by the sweetness of their effort, but I thought “Wow, it is practically new, and I just washed it before I came to the show.”
Then I saw it and my mouth dropped open!That little blue Fiat was sparkling like a diamond! It did not look that good when I drove it home new from the car dealership!
So why did I tell you this story?
Because most people – and yes, more women than men – have no idea what detailing a car is, much less the miracles a good detailer can perform.
When their paint starts getting dull, they grab a tub of wax and rub a little harder. They may consider a respray, but is it worth the money? “Oh well,” they think. “things just don’t last as long as they used to.”
I have seen vehicles so gorgeous in the sunlight after a paint correction and ceramic coating that they never looked like that, even on the showroom floor! There are so many opportunities for automotive detailers to easily increase their detailing and paint correction services. But how?
Below are some basic things every detailer can do to build new business and it starts with education and awareness.
Business Cards Are Essential
I am starting with the simplest thing you can do. I do not mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I cannot tell you how many detailers I have seen at car shows and tradeshows who do not have any business cards.
You can buy basic business cards for under $50. Take them everywhere you go and put them with your money and credit cards, so you always have a couple on you. Start planting seeds every chance you get.
If you are in a restaurant where there are business card holders around the cash register, add four or five or a handful, whatever there is room for. Plant seeds with every customer and every potential customer you meet. Give them to everyone who comes into your shop or whose home you visit, whether they buy anything or not.
When you go to car shows and tradeshows visit every booth and leave your business card. It’s a matter of numbers, the more seeds you plant, the more people you reach to grow your business.
Join the Chamber of Commerce
The first thing I did as a writer when I started my own business in 2008, was join the Chamber of Commerce in my city.
Newcomers to your city will call the local Chamber for information about all kinds of businesses. If someone calls the Chamber and asks them to recommend a writer, they give them my name and contact information.
If someone needs a good car detailer, they will do likewise. They will only recommend members and there’s nothing like a Chamber recommendation.
Your local Chamber of Commerce exists to promote small business. Most of them have numerous events from Breakfast & Coffee events to Business After Hours events specifically designed for networking.
Networking can produce a harvest. Everyone at a networking event is there to plant seeds of business growth. It is not like cold-calling sales. No reason to be shy! Everyone is giving out business cards and introducing themselves. You will not only meet new and potential customers, but you will spread the seed around and form important business relationships and pick up referrals.
Most Chambers have multiple levels of membership that range from $200 for an individual to a small business rate and Chamber sponsorships for $2,500+ where you can put your logo on event signage and handout materials.
When you join — go! Membership is a waste of time if you do not take advantage of the opportunities — you will meet a lot of businesspeople with a lot of fine cars and trucks.
Have an Elevator Pitch Ready
Elevator pitches are a quick, down, and dirty explanation of what you do. It is called that because it is designed to introduce yourself, intrigue them, and hand them a business card in the time it takes to ride an elevator.
Yes, it is a sales pitch, but an easy one… an approach that also plants seeds.
“Hi, I am John Doe, I have an automotive detailing business here in town where we can make an aging car look like new or make a new car look even better. If you are interested or know someone who is, here is my card. And have a great day!” as the door closes.
Someone might think, “Hmmm. Maybe I will call this guy later and see if he can do anything with that car I am about to sell,” or “fix up the old Toyota for a new teen driver,” or “I wonder if he can fix that spot on the hood where sap dripped on it.”
Give Callers a Starting At Price
One of the most asked questions I have heard detailers ponder is “What do I do when someone calls and wants a price over the phone?”
There is no way to quote a person a price when you have not seen the vehicle and it is extremely risky to quote a price based on the customer’s description.
It is a good idea to tell people you will need to see the vehicle, but in today’s world of instant gratification, if you are wishy washy or just say, “Sorry, I need to see the vehicle,” they may be calling around and the first person to give them any price at all will get the business.
The easiest answer is to plant a new seed. Give them a “starting at price.”
“Depending on the condition of the vehicle, our details start at (whatever is your lowest price) for a basic detail. That price can go up depending on the condition of your vehicle — can we schedule a free quote today?”
Use Loss Leaders and Upsell
Loss leaders are a big seed. You will bring in a haul with this one.
You have a customer in your shop and after an inspection, you point out some “problem spots.” Show them some scratches that have the potential to rust, or places where the paint is cloudy. Be sure to point them out and put some urgency behind it.
“With wintertime coming, you don’t want to take a chance on it developing rust.” Most women will beat a path home to tell their husband the detailer found some flaws in the car paint. Chances are you will see him or her very soon.
If it is a man and he is in a hurry that day, make sure to show him before and after pictures or perhaps a newly detailed car on your lot that had similar problems. “Look what I can do!” Even if he doesn’t buy that day, flawed paint will gnaw at him until he has to bring it back.
You can upsell sealants to coatings, one-year coatings to five-year coatings, a vacuum to a steam cleaning once you see the pet hair and candy on the seats and carpets. Recommend add-ons like tire and wheel shines, headlight repair, and glass coatings.
Always be honest, of course, but plant those seeds and watch your detailing business grow all year round!
Kimberly Ballard has been writing and doing PR for the automotive industry for more than 20 years, covering automotive detailing and a variety of mobile tech services. She can be reached via e-mail at Kimberly@kimberlywritescreative.com and on her website, www.KimberlyWritesCreative.com