Marty and Tammy McCormick
at Klassic Kar Detailers in Jacksonville, IL.

Operating a successful detail shop is a rewarding venture with many benefits. There is a feeling of satisfaction that comes with being your own boss and seeing first hand the results of your hard work. However, running a detail shop can also be challenging. Every year hundreds of small operations open and close, unable to sustain themselves in a competitive market. In order to keep a detail shop running and turning a profit, operators must keep their customers happy and keep new customers coming to their shop. This can be difficult in a metropolitan area, with a high population to support your business. In a small community, customer attraction and retention skills become even more crucial to the success of your business.

Klassic Kar Detailers, in Jacksonville, IL (population 20,000), has been in business for 16 years. In that time, owners Marty and Tammy McCormick have seen many competitors open and close their doors, but the two have managed to carve out a niche in their area and sustain a successful business where many have failed. According to them, the secret to success is no real secret.

“There are four things that every detail shop should do,” says Marty McCormick. “You have to have good customer relationships, provide good service, keep your prices fair, and use lots of elbow grease.”

Everyone pitches in and takes on ashare of the work.

“It is important to know your customers,” says Klassic Kar Detailers owner Tammy McCormick. “People like it when you remember their name.” This can be difficult when you deal with a large number of people every day. It is important to keep records of names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. This way you can keep customers informed of services you offer and specials that you might run.

“Several times a year, we send thank-you cards to everyone whose address is in our file,” says Marty. “That way, they know we are thinking of them and ensure they think about us.”

In addition to knowing your customers, it is also important to know what they expect. A customer wants friendly service, and to be welcomed to your business with a smile. This can be easier said than done, especially when you are particularly busy, but it is critical to your success.

“You have to be available, and reachable, any time during business hours,” says Tammy. “If you miss a phone call, you have to return it promptly to let them know that they are important.”

Another way to make your customers feel welcome is to be friendly. Nothing makes a person feel more welcome than to be greeted with a smile. In order to keep your customers coming back, they have to feel welcome. Provide comfortable places for them to wait, and have magazines and newspapers for them to read while you attend to their car. These small steps cost you almost nothing, and ensure a more pleasant experience for your valuable customers.

The second aspect of running a successful detail shop is providing good service. This is critical to your success; without good service, all of the work you put into customer relationships will be wasted. The work you put out is reflective of your business in general.

“You have to provide your customer with the cleanest car possible. That’s why they’re coming to you in the first place,” says Marty. “You have to do good work, and you have to be consistent.”

Consistency is the key to providing good service. You have to do the same job, every time, so that your customers know what to expect when they bring you their car. Without this, you will not keep customers coming back.

“It helps to work in a pattern,” says Tammy. “If you have logical order that you follow each time you clean a car, you will find that your work is much more consistent.”

In order to provide good service, an operator must be honest. It is important to know your limits and not overbook yourself. This will help you to keep deadlines and appointments, and provide your customers with timely and efficient service.

The third factor in maintaining a successful business is to keep your prices fair. This is important to stay competitive, and to keep your customers coming back. If people don’t feel like they are getting a good deal, they will find someone else to provide the service.

One way to determine if your prices are fair is to be aware of the market. Know the competition, and know what the other detail shops in your area are charging. You don’t have to match them dollar for dollar, but by knowing what the competition charges you can get a good idea of what the market is like.

Also, you must know what it costs you in time and products to complete a particular service. It is critical that you know exactly how much product you are using, and how much these products cost you. Without that knowledge, it is impossible to determine a fair price.

Just as consistency is an important factor of customer service, it is also important for your pricing methods. The price must be based on the service, not the dirtiness of the vehicle.

“While it may take you longer to clean a dirty car, or to wax a badly oxidized car, you can’t charge people more for the service than you would for a cleaner vehicle with a fresh paint job,” says Marty. “You have to let the vehicles that aren’t so bad balance it out, and make up your time that way. Every job should have a consistent price, regardless how difficult a particular vehicle may be.”

The most effective way to keep your prices low and increase your profits is to keep your overhead low. If you minimize your expenses and reduce your spending, you can provide better prices to your customers and increase your profits at the same time.

Marty at work in his shop.

“It is important to know your product suppliers, and to keep relationships with them the same way you keep relationships with your customers,” says Tammy. “That way, they want to provide you with better products and more efficient service. You never know when you may need to have a product delivered overnight. By keeping your suppliers happy you can be sure that they will go the extra mile to make you aware of new products and provide you with efficient service.”

Another source of information concerning new products and techniques are auto-service trade magazines. By staying up to date with issues and trends in the auto-service industry, you keep yourself informed and knowledgeable about your chosen profession. It is important to know what other people in your industry are doing, which products they are using, and how they are staying relevant in the marketplace. You might also search the Internet for new products and detail-related services, and browse automotive forums to see what people are talking about and which services are important to them. By staying aware of issues of concern to other operators and customers, you can increase your own relevance in the detailing industry.

The final factor that can make or break your small business is the application of elbow grease. Everyone involved in your business has to work hard to contribute to its success. People have to work as a team, and be aware that everyone is responsible for the customers’ happiness.

“Running a detail shop is hard work,” says Marty. “You can’t be scared to take on a big, dirty vehicle, and you sometimes have to work long hours.”

While it may be hard to run a detailing business, by utilizing these methods detail shop operators can greatly increase their chance of success. Hard work and good services at fair prices will keep your customers coming back, and will attract new customers to your business. As long as you are willing and able to go the extra mile for your customers, they will reward you by coming back and spending their money on your services and contribute to the growth of your small business.

Eric McCormick is a freelance writer from Jacksonville, IL, who has worked in automotive detailing since 1997. His parents, Marty and Tammy McCormick, own and operate Klassic Kar Detailers.