The detail industry has undergone a major transformation in the past few years. No longer is the service viewed as a side project at a car wash — or worse yet an unsafe process run by an unprofessional detailer — it has stepped out from behind the tunnel to become a service offering all its own.
As the detail industry has evolved, car wash and detail operators have evolved with it: John Rudell of Millennium Auto Wash and Detail Center is a prime example.
Rudell built Millennium back in 2003 with the plan to operate the Grand Rapids, MI site as a strictly flex-serve location, but within a month of opening the doors Rudell discovered that the community was in need of something more. Beyond simple express detailing services the market was calling out for full-blown detailing and Rudell stepped up to provide it.
Rudell was no stranger to adjusting on the fly and taking advantage of whatever opportunities life threw his way. As an engineer by trade with degrees in both chemistry and civil engineering, Rudell might be the last person you would think would embrace the car wash business — you would be wrong.
Over the years, starting in the 70s, the Rudell family has been purchasing and developing land in Grand Rapids. Back in the early 2000s the family had one remaining lot available and was looking to develop it and was in search of inspiration.
A potential customer contacted them with the idea of building a car wash on the site and either selling or leasing the final product. The potential business deal fell through, but the idea of a car wash was planted in Rudell’s head and began to grow. After doing his research and attending a number of tradeshows, the engineer decided to make a bold career move and enter the car care business.
“I joke around that it’s ironic that your mom would tell you to stay in school so that you don’t end up working in a car wash,” Rudell says. “Well I have two degrees, and now I can work in a car wash. While it is a rewarding business, no one ever told me it would be the hardest job I ever had.”
Rudell embraces change, converting his vision of a flex-serve wash that offers express detailing to a business model that is increasingly becoming detail first. Millennium offers five levels of interior detailing, ranging from a 10-minute once over incorporated in a full-serve car wash all the way up to full interior restoration, which includes carpet dye. The exterior detailing side of the business offers just as many options, with offerings starting at the 20-minute express wax level all the way up to wet sanding and exterior clear-coat restoration.
Rudell has noticed a huge evolution in the detailing industry since he first entered the business over a decade ago. “The whole detail industry in this area has been pushing more and more to the professional level,” he says. “Equipment, techniques, and training are being developed and detailers are operating under a true business structure.” He has seen the greatest evolution of the business segment in the last two to three years as industry associations like the International Detailing Association gain traction and recognition.
To keep his detailing staff up to date on the newest procedures and techniques, Rudell has enrolled his employees in an ASE certification program. The organization, known mostly for their certification of automotive mechanics, offers detailing certification focused primarily on automotive reconditioning.
There is a definite need in the community for detailing services and Millennium’s client base continues to grow, but there is plenty of room for expansion. Despite the increase in respectability of the trade in the public consciousness, there are still members of the community that are holding onto the old perception of the detailing business.
“The biggest hurdle we are experiencing right now is educating people,” Rudell says. “We are focusing our efforts on letting people know what is actually possible in detailing. I don’t think people are aware just how incredible reconditioning can be.”
With razor-thin detail margins, Millennium doesn’t have a huge marketing budget to throw at educating the general public about the wonders of the modern detail environment. Instead the car wash/detail center relies on word of mouth and educating car wash customers on site about the detailing services offered.
Despite the growing popularity of Millennium’s detailing services, the site still services far more customers in its car wash tunnel than it ever could in the three detailing bays. The 150-foot Belanger-equipped tunnel features all of the standard tunnel fare, and keeping with Rudell’s ever-evolving theme has recently reconfigured the blowers, reducing their number to 10 while improving efficiency.
Customers that opt for an express exterior service drive off after riding through the tunnel, no post-blower wipe down required. Car wash patrons that are looking for interior service pull their vehicles into the full serve area and exit their cars and enter the waiting area.
The waiting area is in between the full service and detail lanes, with windows looking out on both areas. Everyone is in uniform, and each employee will interact with customers on one level or another.
“We try to make the employees understand the ‘lifetime value of a customer,’” Rudell says.“Sometimes you forget that your best customers can be your most demanding customers. If a customer comes in on a regular basis, they probably expect a meticulous vehicle.They may ask for an extra wipe-down here or there. We are happy to provide a few seconds of extra effort for our best customers.”
Providing that extra minute of special attention is one thing, but going above and beyond the level of service purchased is quite another. With so many different detail options available it often becomes difficult for employees and customers to differentiate the services. When a detailer used to performing full-scale restoration is conducting a quick express service their instinct is to perform more than has been purchased, a predisposition Rudell is working on correcting through the reevaluation of the detailing process.
10-minute drive up to complete interior restoration.
Each level of detailing service is now assigned certain materials, techniques, and equipment to differentiate them in both the technician’s and customer’s minds. “This is a big challenge for a lot of detailers,” Rudell says. “I think the best way to deal with it is to segregate the services. For instance, at one level the technician is only allowed to use a cleaner and a rag. At the next level an air tool and detail brush. The next level an extractor, and so on. Thinking about the packages in those terms defines the process more effectively.”
In his 10-plus years in the industry Rudell has not shied away from innovation and evolution, in fact he embraces it. By listening to the needs of the community and adjusting his services to fit demand, the former engineer has taken his business to never before seen heights and positioned it for success in the new age of detailing.