To be successful at virtually any profession, one must obtain background information in two main areas: one, the skills necessary to perform the duties that are typical within the profession and, two, the information necessary to succeed in the profession.
Although the profession of detailing does not require a great deal of knowledge to perform, there is still much information that a professional detailer should know, including:
• Knowledge of the equipment and chemicals
• Knowledge of the vehicle surfaces
• Knowledge of the procedures required to recondition and protect the vehicle surfaces
These types of issues can be categorized as “operational knowledge.” That is, this information is necessary for the detailer to have in order to perform detailing. Additionally, there is a second category of information necessary for the professional detailer to be successful in the industry, which I will call “administrative knowledge.” This includes such activities as marketing, scheduling, bookkeeping, management, and supply, among other things.
The best detailing technician in the world may be terrible at running the business. Likewise, the best business manager in the world may be terrible at detailing cars. Nonetheless, for most of us, we must be proficient at both activities. Some of this proficiency comes with experience, but for the fastest results, there is no substitute for training and education.
To learn the art and science of detailing, many technicians rely on the expertise of those around them — other technicians who have been “doing it longer.” Unfortunately, the approach of passing information from one technician to another leads to watered-down and imprecise methods of detailing. The best approach to learning detailing is to attend a formalized hands-on training event where the new technician will be exposed to professional equipment, chemicals, and procedures.
There are a number of detail training schools that provide formal education in automotive detailing. If the travel and expense of a training school is simply out of the question, there are some excellent video training packages available in the industry. These will give you the background information and visual demonstrations necessary for you to get a basic grasp of the elements of detailing. Then you can practice with this information to gain hands-on experience.
To avoid the “cookie-cutter” approach to detail training that can be present at a detailing school, you also have the option of on-site training at your facility. The advantage to this type of training is that typically the training can be customized to maximize your profitability taking into account such factors as:
• Your shop layout
• The typical condition of vehicles that arrive at your shop
• The desires of the typical customer visiting your shop
• The equipment and chemicals that you have on hand
• The type of automotive detailing that you typically provide
Some suppliers provide free training with purchase of their products. The advantage of this training is that you get information specific to the products that you will be using.
The disadvantage is that the training sometimes becomes simply a sales pitch for you to buy more products from the company. Your local detailing supply distributor may also offer detailing seminars, with the same advantages and disadvantages.
My experience has been that, as with most purchases, “you get what you pay for.” If you want a truly exceptional training experience that includes hands-on practice and lots of background information, you will have to pay a few thousand dollars. Free or very low-priced training experiences often leave the trainee longing for more.
A great source of detailing information is available through involvement in the International Detailing Association, which holds monthly webinars and occasional training seminars around the country. Check out www.the-ida.com for more information.
There is also an increasing wealth of information online through detailing forums and sites such as YouTube. Regard this information carefully by considering the source (e.g., a reputable supply company or some guy working in his back yard).
Knowing how to perform the operations of a profession and running a successful operation are actually two very different tasks. Fortunately, many aspects of running a business are common to all businesses. There is a myriad of “how-to” books on success and conquering basic business principles.
Another great source of business administration knowledge is your local community college or other educational institutions that cater to learning adults. Your local municipality may also provide free courses on business success.
Tap into your social and business network. Take a “successful” businessperson to lunch and pick his or her brain for ideas. Talk to others within your industry — most “successful” detailers are willing to share their ideas. Consult with experts in specific areas in which you need help. For example, if you are having trouble attracting customers, talk with a marketing specialist.
One way to jump-start your business (or give it a kick in the pants if you’re already operating) is to work with a business consultant familiar with the industry. I recommend finding someone who has real-world experience in the detailing industry as well as a good grasp of the information necessary to run a successful business. Business consultants can be expensive. Many require advanced payment for several months of service. Find someone that will allow you to “pay as you go” and one that guarantees results.
GET INVOLVED IN YOUR INDUSTRY
If you are reading this article, you are reading one of the several trade magazines available in our industry. These publications are great sources for bite-sized chunks of information that can help you with both the daily grind and planning for the future.
Consider also becoming involved in the trade organizations that cater to our industry, including the International Detailing Association (IDA). The IDA offers an independent detailing certification program that allows detail technicians to be tested and certified on their knowledge of automotive detailing as well as their technical skill.
Also consider attending one of the many detailing-focused conventions that occur on an annual basis. For example, Mobile Tech Expo, which takes place in January in Orlando, FL, is a popular venue for detailers. The IDA typically has a strong presence at this convention, offering numerous educational seminars, roundtables, and opportunities to complete the IDA Certification requirements.
Check the IDA website (www.the-ida.com) for upcoming detailing-related conventions. One of the biggest advantages of convention and tradeshow attendance is that it brings together like-minded individuals, giving you the opportunity to network with other detailing professionals.
Although I don’t recommend relying on a distributor’s local free seminar as the only source of basic detailing knowledge, it can be a good source of supplemental information. If you pick up just one good technique or idea that saves you time on every detail from now to eternity, the day was well spent. Additionally, these seminars will bring in other local detailers with whom you may choose to network. Just because you are providing the same service as someone else does not preclude cooperating with that person so that you can both increase your success.
The Internet offers an added resource. Online detailing forums abound. It is interesting to “peek” in on these occasionally. Realize, however, that anyone can contribute to an online forum, which means that it is difficult to know whether or not the information you are reading is valid. Thus, read detailing forums carefully. If the information that you are reading does not stand well on your foundation of detailing training, ignore it. Also look for the source of the information — is it coming from a backwoods detailer or a respected industry expert?
Your success in operating a professional detail center is based in great part on the knowledge that you have. Take the time and invest some money on the foundation of your knowledge of both the basics of detailing as well as the essentials of successful business management. You will see your investment create returns such as a more efficient, effective, and profitable 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.