The title of this month’s column is a bit misleading. At first read, most will think I’m going to talk about “standards of excellence” or something lofty like that. Nah, I want to discuss a subject about the detailing industry that is close to my heart — the development and use of an appropriate detailing menu. Specifically, I would like to propose the concept of a “standard” detailing package and the huge impact this can have on your entire operation.

Now, the word “standard” has several connotations, as evidenced by the 20 or so individual definitions offered in the dictionary that I use. (Yes, it’s a book on my desk — did not come from a screen.) The definition that I would like to use for the sake of this discussion is this: A standard is “an average or normal requirement, quality, or level.” By invoking this definition with a detail package title, I am referring to what would normally be included in a full-service detail package that would cover the average vehicle condition in your area and the quality requirements of most of the customers that call on your shop.


It is a common mistake among my peers to have an overly complicated detail menu that has numerous packages. Sometimes this takes the form of levels of service like Bronze,

Silver, Gold, Platinum; or Good, Better, Best, Excelsior; or whatever. Yet, typically, if you read what’s included, each package is simply the previous one with a couple of things added.

As a professional detailer, it boggles my mind what some of these packages leave out, like clay treatment, or leather cleaning and conditioning. My thought is, “Are you detailing the car or not?” If you’re detailing the car, do the full job.

The real problem with this approach is that you are opening yourself up to price-shoppers and those who are automatically going for the lowest package, regardless of what the car really needs. I find that many new operators think they need a three-fold brochure with four to six packages and prices, simply because that’s what they’ve seen the competition do. If you want to be better than the competition, you need to do something different.

I also often hear concern about particular vehicle conditions or customer requests that are not captured by one of the standard packages. In other words, the operator is worried about “losing” a customer. Usually, this situation involves a very small percentage of the potential customer base. We’re not trying to capture every vehicle for detailing, just most of them. Moreover, as we will see later in the article, vehicles with special needs will also be addressed in this menu scheme.

So, the solution that I suggest is this: have a very simple detailing menu that has three starting packages:
• Standard Interior Detail
• Standard Exterior Detail
• Standard Complete Detail (i.e., both of the above)

Now, let’s be clear that this simple menu concept is meant to apply to shops that provide detailing to mostly “daily drivers” and the general motoring public, as well as production shops like dealership detail centers. This is in contrast to the shop that provides highly specialized detailing services that, because of the clientele or type of vehicles, requires individualized service elements for virtually every customer.

“BUT, BUT, BUT . . .”

When I make this simplification suggestion to the detail operator who’s asking for advice on the menu, he or she usually comes back with, “But, what about the guy with the car that has . . . ?” or “But, what if they don’t want any of those?” or “But, I have some customers that are used to my old packages?” The slightly sarcastic answer to these rebuttals is simply, “Well, if your current menu is working so well, why are you asking me what to do next?”

If you keep an open eye, you will notice the simplification trend popping up in other industries. Chelsea Beyer wrote a fantastic article (Auto Laundry News, August 2016) in which she encouraged automatic car wash owners to simplify their menus down to only three wash packages. This was news to an industry that often offers a dizzying amount of options to its customers, frequently four to 10 packages. Her data indicate that simplifying the menu, as well as featuring the top package instead of the cheapest one, dramatically increases per-vehicle revenue.

A common recommendation on reality TV shows featuring business experts coming into struggling restaurants is for the owner to reduce the number of offerings on the menu and focus on making those items really well. Here in California, the ever-popular burger chain In-n-Out Burger prides itself on its super-simple menu: Double-Double, cheeseburger, hamburger, fries, and a list of drinks. That’s it! Compare that to your favorite fast-food burger chain and the 42 choices.

We can take this analogy along a logical path to consider that In-n-Out may be “losing” some customers because they do not offer a larger variety of items. This argument doesn’t hold much weight when you drive by any In-n-Out during most any time of the day, and the line is huge. What they have done, instead, is to offer a great product that appeals to a large majority of the population, instead of trying to capture everyone with a “full line” of mediocre menu items.


There are a number of advantages to having a simplified detailing menu. Among these are:
• It’s easier for the customer to understand
• It’s easier to describe and sell
• It’s easier to deliver the service

Let’s take these one-at-a-time. Please try to remember a time when you were presented a menu, either on the wall or in a brochure, that was very confusing with a six-by-six matrix of options; and you ended up having someone walk you through it or had to spend several minutes trying to make sense of it. It is this situation that we are trying to avoid for our customers.

When you have a simple menu, your sales job is immensely easier. When someone calls me, I gather some info and then ask, “inside, outside, or both?” And it’s so easy to describe — it’s the same description every time. I don’t have to memorize the description of six or more menu items, just three.

Delivery of service is also easier with a simple menu. We’re pretty much doing the same drill, day-in, day-out. This is especially important if you have a larger shop with multiple technicians. The technicians have to memorize only three basic procedures, which also makes training and monitoring a lot easier.


The intention behind the simple menu is to offer a set of service elements that:
• Are appropriate for the majority of vehicle conditions in your area.
• Will provide significant improvement of the vehicle’s appearance.
• Will yield results that will delight virtually all paying customers.

As an example, when I started mobile detailing here in San Diego back in 1994, I found that customers were consistently happy with a standard exterior detail that included the foundational service elements of: wash, clay, dress, and wax. Super simple and super easy to provide. This is in contrast to many operators who seem to think that they have to spend time polishing the paint to make it look perfect, taking more time and having to charge more.

My argument about this particular situation is, “If the customer can’t tell the difference, why do the extra work?” Now, to be sure, there are customers who request paint correction services. And there are some vehicles that need much more than a coat of wax, in which case I discuss the options with the customer. But, honestly, virtually all of my customers are thrilled with our detailing packages, and we rarely have to pick up a polisher for standard services.

In other parts of the country, however, the standard exterior detail may require additional steps in order to achieve good results. For example, areas that have roads treated with snow-melting chemicals may have to add a de-contamination step to the prep wash in order to remove all of the chemical residue on the paint. In other parts of the country, acid washing is normal for every vehicle. So, these types of elements would be added to the process for the standard exterior detail.

You may have noticed that I have as yet to mention anything about the engine bay. In my area, few people are concerned about under the hood, so my standard detailing does not include it. For a dealership, the engine bay is absolutely included in the standard detail for used car trade-ins. And in some parts of the country, an engine bay rinse will be expected by a large enough portion of your customers that you might as well make it part of the standard package.


Some people are bothered by the word “standard” as it somehow implies there might be something better. This assumes the connotation for the word is normal or regular. I’ve toyed with other words but standard seems to work the best. Yet, in a way, this idea of standard can also refer to the definition “used as a basis of judgment or comparison,” as this menu will make most cars look much better, delight most customers, and handle most vehicle conditions coming into the shop.

Renny Doyle wisely suggested “entry level”, which is a great way to describe the package. But I’m not sure it’s a great way to label the package on a brochure. The word “basic” detail has been offered, but this sounds like the service is of lesser quality. The menu item titled “Basic Detail Package” implies to many that there is a better package. One option that could work would be to use the term “full service” instead of “standard.”


Of course, the standard packages do not include all of the things we could do to a car. For this, let’s go back to the In-n-Out Burger menu example. Some of you may not know that In-n-Out has a “secret” menu of custom-built burger and fries options that’s quite extensive. For example, you can get “Protein Style,” which uses lettuce instead of a bun; or “Grilled Cheese,” which is everything but the meat.

Our simplified detailing menu uses the same principle. What the customer sees is three options: Standard Interior Detail, Standard Exterior Detail, Standard Complete Detail. But there are many customer add-ons that can be added to the chosen standard detail, depending on the condition of the vehicle or the specific requirements of the customer.

For example, the vehicle might have an odor problem. Hopefully your standard interior detail is thorough enough to remove normal odors. But to completely remove a non-normal odor problem will require extra steps and additional equipment or supplies; thus, this would be a custom add-on.

Another example might be that the vehicle exterior has an abnormally heavy concentration of environmental fall-out, like rail dust or paint overspray. This is a non-normal situation that most cars don’t have (unless your shop is downwind of a rail yard or ship yard). So, this situation is not covered in the standard detail, and is thus a custom add-on at an additional price.

The beauty of having only three starting packages is that it’s easy to add on to the package based on customer requests or vehicle needs. You can have your own “secret menu” that lists all of the additional services that you can provide, on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis.


Keeping the menu simple has served my operation very well over the years. Moreover, those who have asked me about menu development or re-structuring have consistently enjoyed the results of simple menus. If you struggle with this part of your marketing, I suggest you give it a try.

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