As professional detailers, we constantly strive to perform our services better and faster for our customers.Those of us involved in the constant forward movement of the detail industry are fascinated by the newest trends, the latest equipment, the evolution of detailing chemicals, and learning from our fellow colleagues’ tips and tricks that make our work easier.

And in a world of uncertainty, there is one surety about today’s detail industry — just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes along.

This is a wonderful characteristic of our revolutionized detail industry, led by the movement and progression embodied and exemplified by the International Detailing Association (IDA). Increasingly, there is a certain hipness and cache demonstrated by being über-involved in the industry. I encourage all professional detailers to jump on board this bandwagon.

So far, it has produced huge improvements in the standards of our industry. It has helped new operators understand how to take a professional approach right from the start. It has increased the professionalism of existing operators. Moreover, we are riding a wave of activities that will continue to increase the respectability of our detailing industry. Our value is increasing.


Yet there will always be those who want to tear us down — usually because they feel threatened by the apparent success of others. Unfortunately, this happens on the supplier level, with niche suppliers spending more time badmouthing competitors than they do trying to improve the industry. And, unfortunately, this happens on the operator level, with detail shop owner “A” badmouthing detail shop owner “B.” In today’s world of social media, it is far too easy to be caught up in verbal “slap fights” over the stupidest things.

Negativity has the intention of reducing the value of its target. Unfortunately, reducing the value of one part of our industry reduces the value of the industry as a whole.

I caution the support of trends that even hint at deriding, minimizing, criticizing, or making light of any part of our industry. We should follow the example of some of the big players in our industry, who are spending time together, finding ways to cooperate and improve the experience of the operator. There are places in our industry and daily operations for all types of equipment, chemicals, and techniques.

Nothing is ever “dead.” Dry vapor steam machines will never completely replace hot water extraction. Ceramic coatings will never replace wax or sealant. Long-throw polishers will never completely replace rotary polishers. Waterless wash chemicals will never replace pressure washers. Microfiber towels will never completely replace the need for an occasional terry towel. Each of these technologies has its place in certain venues. And, indeed, the professional detailer that services multiple client types will have each and every one of these technologies at her or his disposal.


Remember that, as a professional detailer, you are a representative of the entire industry. For some consumers, detailers have a reputation for being flaky and unprofessional. Guess where that reputation comes from — “detailers” who are flaky and unprofessional.

Now, I realize that we will never be able to eliminate all the bad apples, but we have come a long way, especially with the support of the IDA. Nonetheless, each of us who relies on professional detailing as an income source needs to continue to put forth a professional stance in everything we do. For examples of how to do this, look to the resources of the IDA website and the leaders in the industry who are members of the IDA.

If we all increase our own value in the industry, the industry will follow suit and consumers will increasingly understand the value of detailing.

Here is a specific tactic that will help: never talk negatively about your local competition (or anyone). This just makes you look bad. If a customer refers to another operator, simply respond, “Well, I’m sure they are doing the best they can. What I can tell you is that I am licensed, insured, and certified, and that I offer a service excellence guarantee.”

I once had a local detailer say some nasty things about me on a neighborhood networking website. Fortunately, his false comments were removed quickly by site administrators, and my faithful customers responded in droves supporting me. My reaction was two-fold: First, I did not respond to his comments. Second, I contacted him, and without even mentioning the post, I invited him to lunch to discuss how we might work together to benefit both of our businesses. Although he did not accept, the next time I saw him in public, he apologized profusely for his comments.

Here is a specific strategy that will help: Become involved in your industry. Teach others. Attend detailing networking events. Seek out further education and training. Volunteer your time with the IDA as a committee member, seminar presenter, or IDA representative at one of the many regional events.

These activities give value back into our profession.


As one of the leaders in this movement, I can tell you that one of the goals of the industry’s leadership is to educate the motoring public to understand the value of professional detailing with messages like:
• Detailing adds value
• Take pride in your ride
• Protect your investment
• Choose a professional detailer

You might still ask, “What’s in it for me?” Well, here it is: If you are operating as a true professional and the potential customer understands the true value of professional detailing, he or she is more likely to choose you for service. It’s a pretty simple equation.

And, this is where you come in. Once the customers find you, it is your job, as a representative of the detail industry, to provide excellent service and value to each and every customer, each and every time.


The main value that you bring to the table for the consumer is a collection of specialized equipment, chemicals, techniques, and procedures that allow you to complete tasks in a fraction of the time, and with far better results, than it would take the average vehicle owner. Indeed, this is where we convert value into actual dollars and profit.

This is the main point that inspired this particular column. As I began writing, however, I realized that value is a concept that runs so much deeper than what one is paid for the job. Nonetheless, this is an important factor that I believe far too many of us ignore in our pricing and packaging.

There are three main things for which we professionals should be compensated. They are:
• Operational expenses
• Time (labor)
• Value

Operational expenses, of course, involve such things as rent or vehicle expenses, insurance, supplies, and all the administrative costs that we have. “Time” is literally the time that you spend working on a vehicle; it is reasonable to expect that, just like at a job, we get paid for the number of hours we work on a vehicle. So, our pricing must be adequate enough to cover operational expenses while at the same time leaving us with an “hourly wage” that fulfils our family budget, living expenses, and enough left over to pay for investment into lifestyle improvements.

I think that some operators forget to — or are afraid to — add to their pricing an appropriate compensation for the value of the service. The value that a professional detailer brings to the customer is the knowledge, experiences, and equipment that allow him or her to perform services on the vehicle that the customer cannot do or does not have time to do.

For example, a professional full-service wash can be performed by a fully trained and equipped detailing technician in one to two hours. The same effort will take the average consumer three to six hours to complete, with inferior results. So, with this example, I encourage you to make sure that your pricing reflects this situation.

A common mistake that I see is operators basing their price solely on how long it takes to provide the service. Or worse, reducing an existing price because the operator found a faster way to do it. A perfect example of this is in the lovely world of pet hair removal. Most of us have had the early experience of trying to remove dog hair with just a vacuum and some attachments; then we discover some kind of pet hair removal device, like a rubber glove, brush, pumice stone, foam sponge, or likewise. We jump for joy because it makes the job so much easier and takes less time.

The value of being able to remove pet hair quickly is in the fact that we have done the research, purchased multiple devices, and developed specific techniques that allow us to do it faster and better than any customer could.

So, let’s say it used to take you two hours to vacuum a car with heavy pet hair. Now, you add a pet hair removal device, and you can do the same job in one-half hour. You still should charge for two hours’ worth of work because you bring knowledge, equipment, and experience that allow you to do the job better and faster than the customer could ever dream.

This idea applies to so many other services that professional detailers can provide, including deodorization, paint correction, wheel cleaning, and ceramic coating application.


Understanding the concept of value will help professional detailers to charge appropriately for their services. When you value yourself as a professional, you can approach your customers with the confidence to command a fair price for your service. Most importantly, remember to invest in your industry to increase its value, which will trickle down to each and every one of us.

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