Friday, 8 May 2015

Becoming a Professional Detailer

If you are really serious about making a career in the detail industry, you need to be knowledgeable and proficient with the tools and techniques used, you also need to learn how to grow your business, and it has absolutely nothing to do with a miracle product, polishing machine or any other equipment. It all comes down to obtaining knowledge and its correct application

What traits make a ‘professional’ detailer?

According to a recent detailing poll, most detailer’s are self-taught, along with websites like YouTube and various detailing forums it seems an easy entry-level business. Unlike other trades there are no formal educational or vocational education requirements nor is there a requirement for professional licensure

The USA Small Business Administration (SBA) states that only 50% of new businesses survive 5 years, or more and that  most fail in the first two years.

Education – attend an approved detailing course. Don't ever stop learning: knowledge of new technology and application methods also make detailer’s an asset to both a company and its clients and increase the value of the services offered

Knowledge – Automotive original equipment (OEM) technology is becoming more and more complex requiring educated and skilled technicians to work on them. As the materials used are constantly changing we must maintain our knowledge base and utilize the correct products and application methodologies to keep up with emerging technologies. It is very important to be able to recognise the various finishes and materials used as they all require different methodologies and products for proper care and maintenance.

Diagnostic skills - Diagnosis is the key, not guess work; the most important thing to find out before you attempt to clean or care for something is to ascertain what the material is made from.

Continuing Education – become pro-active on detailing forums an Facebook detailing pages and read articles authored by experienced detailers. This will not necessarily improve your detailing skills, lead to a successful business or change your life. Applying what you learn from it, however, will. That's where your commitment comes in - you need to make a commitment to yourself right now that you will take action on what you learn

Customer service / satisfaction

This is what customer service looks like (or how to ensure repeat customers)
     Finding out what the customer wants (advising them (non-aggressively) what they really need.

Ask a potential Customer the following:
1.        Have you ever had a professional detail your vehicle?
2.        What did it include?
3.        What are your priorities as to your vehicles appearance? (This answer will provide what aspect to focus your sales presentation on)
4.        Do you have a budget in mind?

This may not include all the items they have listed, which gives you an opportunity for a discussion. "For that amount, I can address the 4 most important things that you described to me (Shiny, interior, wheels, glass), but correcting the scratches on the paint surface is time-consuming and would go beyond your budget as stated; but could be included for X$. This will secure the detail and they get results in the areas that are most important to them

Determine what is important to each individual customer; after all you are catering to their wants not yours. Spending hours to produce a flawless paint finish, when the customer is looking for a spotless interior (after all that were they’ll spend most of their driving time) +
b)       Meeting and exceeding (within reason) customer expectation’s +

c)        Ensuring the end product meets your quality standards

Success Rate

There is a lot more to getting started in the auto detailing business then knowing how to use the equipment, using chemicals and getting a car detailed. Just like any business there are financial considerations, books to keep, contacts to be generated, Insurances and permits along with sales and marketing concepts to be put into place in order to grow your new business venture.

Getting started in business should be a decision your confident in making happen. Be sure to do your research, get educated and find out just what it takes to get a great return on your investment of time and money. Most people who get started don't set up the business correctly in the beginning stages and end up either loosing or completely folding up shop. We know that a large percentage of detailers fail within the first 18 months of getting started.

There are two main reasons for this challenge. One, is they don't know how to run a business and don't have enough knowledge to keep it up. And second, they are usually much undercapitalized to support their business until they do learn how to make it work. Basically, they run out of money before they make money. 

Very common in many businesses today and this can be a tough business to get started in and build that all important customer base. Once established it provides an almost an instant return on your investment and a fast way to generate income. Adjust your mind-set and consider this enterprise as a business not as a job.

Set your business some goals and write them down, place them where you can see them every day. Consider it a living document and adjust it in line with customer requirements and changing market demands

However, it is vitally important to get it started right and to learn how to run a business as well as the technical aspects of cosmetic restoration ; my best advice is to obtain as much knowledge and  professional training as you can, this can be obtained via seminars and by reading Internet cosmetic restoration  forums

A completed business plan - this is the first item on the list because it is, by far, the most important. Without a business plan, you can’t have a business. It’s the foundation on which your enterprise will be built. Accordingly, it may contain some, all or none of the points below, so keep that in mind when you put it together. Your goal here is to present an overall summary of what your business is and how it’s going to make money.

Market research - is the verifiable data that demonstrates the need and viability for your business. Without it, your idea may only be good in theory.

Potential customers - your market research should prove a theoretical customer base for your idea, but potential customers will drive your point home.

Real ability - you’ll also need to make sure that you’re capable of handling the first stages of development and business growth personally. If you have years of experience in the industry or other proven credentials, you should be in good shape.

If you get started with the proper training and education your chances of success are greatly increased. There is a lot more to getting started in the auto cosmetic restoration business then knowing how to use the equipment, using chemicals and getting a car detailed. Just like any business there are financial considerations, books to keep, contacts to be generated, Insurances and permits along with sales and marketing concepts to be put into place in order to grow your new business venture.

Many people seem to think that being a professional detailer must be the coolest job ever, and in some ways it is. Working on both everyday driver vehicles and amazing exotic cars day in day out and doing something you love to do for a living is pretty awesome. Detailing your own or friend's vehicle’s is worlds apart than detailing vehicles’ for money, both in their expectations and your motivation; and there is also a harsh reality to being a detailer that you should be clear about from the very beginning.

A large % of the people attempting to open a detailing / paint restoration business fail; as too many focus solely on the technical side of the business but never learn how to run a business properly.

Education is the most important component of the success of any business. The skills required to run a business consists of; Technical (to do the actual work) Marketing (to get the work and keep it coming in) Financial (maintain company books, paying suppliers, ensure vendors are paid on time, maintain the company’s credit rating, paying company taxes) Administration (maintain adequate chemical supplies, maintain a working relationship with the company Accountant, ensure bills are current (telephone, electricity, rates, water and etc.) ensure client bills are received and resolve  any conflicts should they arise

A professional detailer has the knowledge to recognise the materials they will be working with and knows what chemicals can be safely used to correct any problem, they will also have all of the equipment, tools, supplies, and chemicals required to properly and efficiently detail the vehicle

Knowing the products you use and their application methodologies and what works in a given situation from practical experience, will help strengthen your knowledge to provide an invaluable service to both existing and potential customers

You need talent plus experience, knowledge and understanding; establishing creditability is one of the biggest challenges for small start-up businesses.

Random success plays a part in all industries; randomness or the ups and downs of luck, both good and bad, sometimes mask for a while anyway; underlying quality. But few people are confident enough to stand by their judgements about underlying quality or character and so remain fixed upon short-term indicators - indicators bedevilled by chance.
You need to decide what niche market you want to concentrate on.
Aimed towards the average vehicle owner, which caters to ‘wash & wax’ type clients, this market sector provides a higher cash flow but small profit margins. High turnover (volume) provides the biggest profits. It produces a steady work load and a guaranteed pay cheque. Other advantages are-
It’s more productive, consistent because all cars receive the same service and you want to complete as many cars as possible per day.
·         With a higher turnover and bulk buying of products greater profits can be realized
·         You do not need special facilities; a garage or warehouse is all that is required.
·         There is little need to advertise because you only have to depend on one or two dealer contracts.


Many operators of retail-oriented detail businesses simply will not do dealer work, as they prefer catering to higher end clients, usually ‘exotic’ or specialised automobiles, this market sector provides lower cash flow and higher profit... There are several reasons for this, including a combination of job satisfaction, higher profit and emotion:

·         The gross profit per car is less for dealer work than retail services.
·         Retail vehicles are typically in better condition and the customer is generally more positive about the end results of the detail service.
·         You are able to hire a better quality staff because you do fewer cars at higher revenues.
·         The loss of one customer or two will not break your business in the same way losing a dealer contract would.
·         The retail market is bigger and has great potential for growth.

The retail market would not be much affected by the loss of a customer, but the production market would be very negatively impacted with the loss of just one dealership

If you think that cosmetic restoration is just a job think again, because it isn’t. It’s more like a lifestyle choice, and the spirit of what it involves will need to run deep in your veins if you are to succeed and thrive as a detailer.

The ultimate question is this: are you trying to open and invest in a properly functioning business or just trying to creating a job.

Usually a business needs to operate for a period of months before it breaks even, so it’s a very poorly paid job. You could be the best detailer the world has ever seen but unless you learn how to correctly operate a business properly you're just setting yourself up for failure
If you know deep inside that you will work as hard as it takes no matter what, and that paying attention to minute details day after day and vehicle after vehicle appeals to you even though it will be extremely challenging then this type of commitment will help you to succeed

Dealership Work

You may want to approach a local dealership to sustain constant work year round. This is "wholesale" work since you are not dealing with the customer directly. Dealerships typically pay about 60-75% what you would get directly from a customer.

Typically larger dealerships already have detailers on their payroll. However independents that sell only used cars contract this work out. Approach them on a weekday afternoon not Friday-Sunday as these are their busiest days; typically you should talk to the sales manager. Do not worry if they don't book right then and there, leave them a card and let them know who you are. You will want to continue to check on them. Many dealers get in more cars than a single detailer can handle and they might start you out with a couple cars if you can catch them at the right time.

Don’t let them push you around with an unreasonable price requirement or requests for discounts and extras. Just give them what they are willing to pay for at a price that will show a profit. There is always another dealer down the road. Dealers with a higher end inventory typically are more willing to pay a little more to get a car into selling condition. Don’t be afraid to stop in and reintroduce yourself and remind them of your services.

Price shopping customers
The first thing you must communicate is the quality and value that your detailing services offer vs the competition. You must be able to communicate and/or demonstrate the added value of your services and then you’ll find that prospective customers will be willing to pay your price.

Companies that market high-end products make it their business to create added value such as; memorable service; higher quality and guaranteed, on-time delivery, and they excel at communicating these differences very effectively.

It does you no good to be the best detailer in your area, if you cannot or do not communicate this to 
prospective customers.

Of course there are some people who are seeking the least expensive detail service around, and you need to identify these people and not waste time with them. Not everyone who seems to be price shopping are actually seeking a cheap deal, many are just price conscious. They are looking for value but do not understand the detail service so the first thing they ask is price. Education is the key for the public to understand just what detailing is and what it means for their vehicle. It’s up to the detailer to explain the added value detailing will make to their vehicle and to ascertain their expectations and explain how they can be met

A detailer who feels they lost a sale on price alone, when usually the real reason is that the detailer failed to explain the added value or differences between their service and the hack advertising cut prices to the customer; it’s really that simple

Attention to Details

Dependent upon your cosmetic restoration goals and the areas of concern you would like to work on. You do need to understand some of the basic chemistry behind the materials and finishes used for automobiles to understand how to care for it.

Diagnosis is the key, not guess work; the most important thing to find out before you attempt to clean or care for something is to ascertain what the material finish is made from. Much the same is true if you’re trying to remove a stain, what caused the stain (Organic stains, Inorganic stains or Petroleum soils) and what is the material ( Finished or  Synthetic Leather, Fabrics, Wool or Synthetic fibres) you are trying to remove the stain from.

Formulate a cosmetic restoration plan, then utilize proper cosmetic restoration techniques, combined with quality products is what makes a details outcome, successful.

“God is the details” and it’s often the small things that make the difference between a good detailer and an outstanding one. Once your paint is polished and protected look to the finer details; wheel wells, brake callipers, wheel lug nuts, glass surfaces, tyres and the exhaust tips and the interior: brake pedals, control knobs, instrument cluster, door kick-plates, seatbelts, buckles and retractors.

 [A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent of us; we are dependent of him. He is not an interruption in our work; he is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business; he is a part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him; he is doing us a favour by giving us the ...opportunity to do so] Mahatma Ghandi

Becoming a Professional Detailer

You also must have a Tax ID to get Business Insurance and a Checking account, you’ll also need to file tax returns each year and you should employ a professional CPA to help with this
In most cases a city or county in which you are going to do business requires that you have a Tax ID # to get Business Insurance and a Business Checking account, you’ll also need to file tax returns each year and you should employ a professional CPA to help with this (See also Business Insurance).

Before the late ‘60s most major car dealerships had a staff of trained professional detailers. The economic downturn has forced many dealerships to eliminate their detailing staff and hire junior staff to wash and polish vehicles or contract the service out to the lowest bidder. 

Becoming a professional detailer takes knowledge of the materials used; experience to both see defects and using methods that succeed in removing them, plus talent and skill in using the correct tools; and most importantly an "attention to detail" As well as keeping current with the developments in automotive products, trends  demographic, and financial influences that impact auto cosmetic restoration .

One man who should know is Paul Normyle, founder of vehicle preparation service Shine. Seven years ago he was a very dissatisfied sales and marketing director for an engineering company, schlepping around the Midlands in a Rover 214. Today he's at the helm of a Bentley GT (part of his 11-car collection) and a firm with an annual turnover of £4 million. And he got there by cleaning cars.

[I thought there had to be a better way to earn a living," says the 41-year-old, "so I bought my first van and valeting equipment with a credit card and went from there. I started by cleaning other people's cars, now I'm paying 78 people around the UK to do it for me.]

Cosmetic restoration

Attention to detail makes all the difference to customer satisfaction and retention.

Cosmetic restoration is a better way to explain this type of higher level services; the term ‘detail ‘simply means wash, wax and vacuum to the majority of the population. Is an essential part in the maintaining the appearance of a vehicle. The objective with the cosmetic restoration of a vehicle is to make it look as good as it can. In many cases make it look better than it was when new. Cosmetic restoration can take a lot of time, but the results are always worth the effort.

Proper cosmetic restoration will also protect a vehicle from environmental hazards that can rob life away from your vehicle. In order to attain and maintain an optically perfect shine, you must protect it from natural deterioration and dullness that occurs over time.

A detailer combines chemicals, equipment as well as knowledge of the materials used in automotive manufacturing (vehicle surfaces). ‘Chemicals’, refers to the cleaning and protection products used, ‘equipment,’ refers to the tools used, for example, random orbital polishers, high-speed rotary polishers, extractors and power washers, to name but a few. Vehicle surfaces require a basic understanding of chemistry and how to rejuvenate and protect each of the many and varied material surfaces, regardless of its specific surface composition making objective observations based upon experience, the results obtained, and adjusting the techniques and products used as necessary.

A professional detailer should be able to answer these questions; what are your procedures for the removal of the following-

1.        Acid rain damage
2.        Sintered rail or brake dust
3.        Carpet cleaning and what equipment, tools and chemicals do you use?
4.        Correcting extreme dulling in a clear coat on dark colour paint (tools, pads, chemicals and procedures).
5.        Can you name the various types of leather, the properties of each and what leather is most commonly used in automobiles?
6.        What is the most common material used in automobile carpets?

It requires -
·         Knowledge of paint technology and the differences between single stage and multiple stage paint
·         Knowledge of clear coats and their reactions to different types of compounds and polishes
·         Ability to appropriately choose proper equipment, pads, and match chemicals to different materials
·         Knowledge of various types of fabrics, carbon fibre, finished leathers and other very difficult surfaces

Will a full professional detail increase the resale value?

By presenting the vehicle in a clean and as close to new as possible condition will increase its selling price. A clean detailed vehicle  in itself will make the car command a higher price  (in most cases) a vehicle that has uncared for , stained and faded paint will be perceived as worth less than it could be

Go to Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds and check out the difference in the trade-in and resale values of an Excellent condition versus Good or Fair condition; it’s usually several hundred, if not thousands of dollars, this price differential will be greater for collectable vehicles.

(CNN) “8 easy ways to boost your car's value” -

Choosing and trusting a professional auto detailer can be a tough decision; when you look for a detailer you want a person you can trust with your vehicle, one with experience, knowledge and specialized training, one who provides the best possible workmanship and products for a fair price.
It is said that the highest art is simplicity; usually experts in their field make what they do look simple, this is due to their technique and extensive experience

For many, the thought of spending over $300 for cleaning and applying protection to - $450 - 1000 plus for pint surface correction / renovation seems faintly ludicrous, especially when an automatic car-wash charges less than $30, and there are many products available from high street retailers that claim to shine your car to perfection. The reality is that to detail a vehicle correctly takes time (typically 6-8 hours) and the better cosmetic restoration products are not usually available at a local auto superstore. Professionalism and the overall customer experience are also very important...
There no standard of what a detail consists of in this industry; detailers from different locations charge a wide spectrum of fees depending on their experience, geographical location, scope of work (i.e. their interpretation of what a detail should consist of) and the type of products used and cars they're working on.

It is in your best interests to ask question about what actual work is involved. The most significant costs involved are labour; products are not a huge component of a details cost, although using premium car care products will make some difference to a details quality. Things like detailer's experience, marketing the company, insurance; taxes, overheads, etc. will be the larger factors in a price of a detail. Even if you're not that astute about cosmetic restoration, if you ask questions on the process common sense will enable you to make an informed decision

For the professional detailer there are three major groups 
1.                    Volume (car dealerships or daily drivers that just require a wash, one-step polish and interior vacuum)
2.                    High-end work (this entails paint correction and both interior and exterior cosmetic restoration )
3.                    Concours or Show Car Cosmetic restoration  (keep in mind that inspection is done to ‘white glove’ standards)
Volume cosmetic restoration  

Volume cosmetic restoration  is where the most money is to be made, catering  towards people who don’t care about paint correction, or cosmetic restoration , but just want their vehicle clean and shiny.
But be cognizant that vehicle dealership work is very much bottom-line driven and the lowest bidder will almost always be successful winning it. This is partly the reason so many dealership and high volume production shop detailers suffer from a bad reputation.

Do not make the mistake of treating this work like you would cosmetic restoration vehicles for our regular customers as volume work is all about speed, cost effective products and working efficiency while still producing a reasonable end product in the time allocated. You can’t spend 6 or 8 hours on a vehicle detail that you’re being paid $100 and expect to make a reasonable profit from. You will need to work smarter (efficiently) not harder as you’ll need to process several vehicles per day

Becoming a High-end Detailer

High-end auto cosmetic restoration is one of the most misunderstood markets in cosmetic restoration; high-end vehicles do not necessarily equate to high-end cosmetic restoration. It must be explained to the prospective client the steps involved and the importance of maintaining the finish accomplished, it is also important that they realise how much work is involved in its upkeep
Customer expectations are constantly rising and your competitors aren’t going to slow down. Now is the time to raise your game.

Advanced cosmetic restoration; comes about with plenty of experience and when someone becomes so in tune with their craft it becomes art. High end A-list vehicles and prestige concourse entrants; customers in this type of niche market will have their vehicles detailed on a fairly regular basis, especially during the concourse show season. More time and care along with specialised products is required to detail a high-end or super car than it takes to do a minivan or daily driver.

This is partly due to the advanced materials used like glove soft finished leather, exotic woods and carbon fibre, special paint finishes, carbon fibre disc brakes; this is often an $8000 option and requires specialist care/knowledge, as well as other specialist materials. These types of cars need to be detailed to provide a flawless finish and this is why it requires specific experience, knowledge and a good eye for every little detail.

Most owners of this type of vehicle are looking for a high level of expertise and are willing to pay a premium for it. Depending on the condition of the vehicle and what level of finish they require it will take anything from one to four days to complete and charges will range from $500.00 to over $1200.00

Building long lasting customer relationships should be your main goal, ideally you want to establish a customer base that uses you not only for the major concourse details, but also for maintaining their vehicles on a weekly to monthly basis.

What is the best demographic to cater to as a detailer?

If you live in an area where there are people with prestige cars and high disposable incomes, the sky is the limit.

Once you realize how much you don’t know, only then will you be willing to research and enhance your knowledge and understanding. I would strongly recommend that you learn the most you can from Internet cosmetic restoration forums you’ll find a wealth of knowledge from people who have experience of most if not all of the problems you’re likely to encounter as well as the existing high end detailers who contribute and are making a lucrative living with this type of cosmetic restoration.

As an experienced concourse detailer you need to know how to tackle any cosmetic restoration  problem, including paint and  interior renovation / restoration that comes along, although it is impossible to prepare for every situation possible, the more knowledgeable you are, the more valuable you become, and hence the more you can charge for your services.

With a well thought out business and a solid marketing plan, a good work ethics, quality tools, products and workmanship, along with outstanding customer service, knowledge and experience of products and the tools of your trade you'll be on your way to achieving success. (See also “What detailers should know and the skills required”)

[Good quality is never cheap, and poor quality is never good] - Anon

Help them to find your Business

Establishing a new business or moving to a new town, the first thing you should do is create a Google Local Business entry.  Then prospective buyer will know where to find you. It's a free way to get on the first page of Google in the city you service. 

Here's how to create your Google Local Business entry, step by step:
1.        Go to  and click on "Create an Account Now."
2.        Follow the directions to create an account.
3.        Once your account is created, go to  and log in with the account information you created in step 1.
4.        Once logged in, go to     
5.        Click Add New Business.
6.        Complete your contact information. 
7.        Under "Category" be sure to type in Car Cosmetic restoration Service (exactly as I typed it there, with capitals). 
8.        Enter your hours of business, payment methods, and photos of your business if you have them.  A photo of a car you finished is a good thing to upload, as Google prefers businesses that provide photos.
9.        Google will call the phone number you list and give you a verification number.  Once the code is entered, the listing will go live within 24 hours.

Customer Orientation

Can you and your team name three things that set you apart from the competition?
There are a few reasons people choose to do business with you;

1.        They feel comfortable with the company.
2.        They feel comfortable with and trust your abilities
3.        They want the service
4.        The price is what they consider to be ‘right’.

Choosing and trusting a professional auto detailer can be a tough decision; when anyone looks for a detailer they want someone they feel they can trust with their vehicle, one with experience, knowledge and specialized training, one who provides the best possible workmanship and products for a fair price.

When you go to a dealership for  a car service the CSR will usually walk around the vehicle with you to discuss any problems and find out what you think needs to be taken care of.

A detailer should also adopt this method, it’s an ideal time to look around the vehicle and (a) spot any paint or other damage (b) ask the client what he want done (c) discuss your cosmetic restoration plan (c) answer any questions they may have (d) Provide tips on avoiding scratches by proper washing and drying techniques and any other tips they can give to maintain the finish on the vehicle.

Client education in the aesthetic care of their vehicle should be equally as important as the cosmetic restoration. The most common cause of surface scratches is washing the car improperly, or using unsuitable washing media, so I would suggest they explain or demonstrate the correct vehicle paint washing technique (e)it’s also an ideal time to up-sell other services, products, and etc.

The most important thing to ensure repeat business and a satisfied client is to determine what aspect of cosmetic restoration is most important to them, for some it’s just a clean and shine car, for others it’s the interior.

So knowing what is important for them, and satisfying that need is what’s of paramount importance, after all you are catering to their desires not yours.

Before and After Photographs

You should have a portfolio of vehicles your company have detailed / renovated, wither it be on your website or a portfolio (or both)

Photograph ‘real life’ correction not just polished paint; clients have seen too many shiny car photos. They have specific problems (upholstery and carpet stains, dog hair, stained wheels, water spots) and they need assurance that you can remove them; a picture is better than a thousand words; so show them specific problems and solutions. To prove your competence with a before and after photograph

Paint Renovation

I would also add that paint renovation (the removal of serious paint surface scratches is normally charged on an hourly rate, an experienced paint renovation detailer will have a good idea of how long this should take, so do ask for an estimated time and cost before giving the go-ahead as this could cost between $450 - 1000.


The best way to increase turnover / profit is to find reliable employees to work with you. But always be cognizant that both of you are mutually critical to the company’s success, so threat them accordingly. Bear in mind that we need to retain good employees as well as customers “Hire for attitude, and train for skills”. Train your staff to be courteous and don't use a reward system that undermines that behaviour.

Providing a clean well organized and enjoyable working environment, ongoing training, empowerment and decent pay will go a long way towards the retention of loyal employees.

·         If you have employees you will have to abide by the labour laws in the State in which you do business.
·         You will have to purchase Workers Compensation Insurance.
·         You will need both liability insurance and Garage owner's insurance
·         Ensure that they act and work as ‘professionals’ at all times.
·         Provide work shirts and ensure their work attire is maintained in as clean a condition as possible
·         Ensure that their ‘workspace’ is maintained in a clean and tidy state as possible
·         Train them one-on one in the skills they need (Videos are a great training resource)
·         Either you or an experienced detailer should mentor them.
·         Monitor the work closely, do not micro-manage but provide guidance
·         Make sure that a high quality is maintained by carrying out QA checks on finished details.
·         Ensure that they understand that company success is beneficial to both them and you
·         Become the business owner not their best friend; always remain courteous, friendly and understanding
·         Be generous with praise for a job well done.
·         Praise publically criticise privately

Professional Working Attire

Distinguish yourself from the competition; always ensure you look more like a "business" than just someone who cleans cars. Selling your service to an audience - it follows then, that if the salesman doesn't look the part, he can expect the door to be slammed in his face. Perception is reality from the customer's point of view.  A clean and well-presented work vehicle, wearing a polo shirt and dark colour khaki pants or shorts; gives people confidence in you and your business; which is the main reason most people choose to purchase your services.

Jeans and / or t-shirts present the wrong image.  For a few extra dollars you can get a few polo shirts embroidered with your company name / logo instead. And ensure their work attire is maintained in as clean a condition as possible.

Dark grey, dark blue and black of course work the best. It goes without saying quality is of paramount importance. If you do not put out a quality product, no amount of professional image will make you successful.

Work Vehicle

I make sure to keep your work vehicle clean and scratch free as your work vehicle speaks to your work, and that’s going to the first vehicle they look at

Setting a Price

Setting a price should be fairly simple, materials used plus, a percentage % of (b) items 1 -6, plus Labour costs, plus profit margin


Calculate an hourly rate based on your costs of operation, any cost that is incurred by carrying out business, including your salary and benefits. If the market will allow you to charge more per hour charge it, but never less than what it costs you to operate the business.

a) Materials used (car care products) + expendables (i.e. micro fibre towels, latex gloves, etc.) + depreciation on tools (machine polisher, pads, vacuum, power washer, etc.)

b) Overhead Costs

1.        Tools
2.        Water
3.        Electricity
4.        Rent or Lease
5.        Insurance, business licence, and etc.
6.        Marketing

c) Labour

Estimated time x expected hourly rate
To estimate labour wage cost it’s important to include paid holidays (9) 4% vacation pay, 1.73% Worker's Compensation Board (WCB) (both calculated on gross pay) a matching employees’ pension plan (PP) contribution and pay 1.4X what our employees contribute to employee insurance (EI).

As a general number for actual labour costs multiply hourly rate 1.35 (not including benefits). At a minimum wage of $10.25 per hour that equals $13.87 per hour. Your labour costs should never exceed 30-35% of your total costs so you need to include 3.3x labour costs included in sales to cover all your costs plus profit. This equates to approx. $42-$45 an hour for a minimum wage employee. (Check these figures as they vary by state)

d) Profit Margin

Percentage profit that you expect to make on sales

e) Written Contract

Provide each client with a written estimate and ensure they sign it to agree the costs. Remember a verbal contract is not worth the paper it's written on Circle the damage, describe the job, set a price, set a schedule, and get the signature. If there’s ever a disagreement you have the terms of the deal in writing. It’s risky to service hundreds of cars a year without a written agreement. This free check-in form is simple and takes just 30-40 seconds to complete.

Business Forms (Free) - restoration -forms.html

f) Dealership Work Order (Billing)

Before you do any work make sure they provide a written work order stating the vehicles VIN number identification?  Attach a copy of it to your invoice when doing your billing. If possible get the work order as a purchase order through the parts dept. Dealers will pay parts bills second only to new car invoices as if the parts bills are not paid, their account get shut down very quickly.

Profit is NOT a bad word

You need to know "all" your costs and develop a financial model and turn that into an hourly rate that will always make you a profit it you estimate the job correctly in terms of time. That is why you can get into trouble with posted prices; you are telling the customer this is the cost without evaluating the vehicle first.

 "Depends on condition of the vehicle” then becomes meaningless. Your price should always de dependent upon the time, materials and a margin for profit that it takes to complete the job, unless you recover these operating costs you will not remain in business for very long

Price reduction

Your competition doesn’t lower your price, you do; price matching unless done with caution will lead to disaster

 Reducing price obviously means a reduction in profit, although reducing introductory prices is a different strategy, which hopefully will bring future profit. When business is slow, especially when an economy is in recession, there is great temptation to reduce your price. Price reduction as a way to deal with a credit crunch and / or a slow economy is a myth, albeit a dangerous one.

If your unit price is $100 and the net profit after all expenses and salary is 10% ($10) but you discount your prices in order to make a sale by 5% ($5) that is 50% of net profit. Your clients will receive the message that you are desperate for work and it also set a precedent and devalues your perceived value.

There is a big difference between ‘price shopping’ and shopping for value. Customers who shop solely on price will never be loyal customers, the next time they need a detail they will again look for the lowest price. Once customers start shopping for price as opposed to value, and once you’ve offered a price reduction it’s very difficult to recover from and raise prices once the economy improves.

Market to customers who are looking for quality and service, providing these attributes are given consistently they will remain loyal, repeat customers. Focus on value and the service offered and never apologise for your price.

Other resources –
Pricing — Overcoming Objections, by Jordache Perozzo -

80/20 Rule

Equates to getting more done with less effort; eliminate wasteful activities, and sell more to your best customers?
The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your production is the result of just 20% of your efforts. Put another way, 80% of your sales are derived from just 20% of your daily activity as a detailer. Most of what business owners do is low value.  Eliminate the 80% of efforts that produce poor results.

Cosmetic restoration Pricing Guide

As with most other things, the price of automotive cosmetic restoration varies by quite a wide margin. Many more people are concerned with perceived value (a cheap price) as opposed to quality; the secret is to sell quality over price, while keeping in mind client needs. Don’t try to compete with their price as they can’t compete with your quality.

The cost of having a professional perform a cosmetic restoration job on your vehicle will vary by geographical region, the experience and reputation of the detailer, and the condition of your vehicle, and your expectations of the finished detail, among other factors. Most detailers will offer a specified package of services that are included in their standard prices, and generally will provide additional services on request for an additional fee.

Check to see what your direct competition is charging. This is far more relevant than what others are charging hundreds of miles away in an entirely different demographic. 

What people will pay you in your market depends on the demographics in your area, i.e. amount of disposal income, types of automobiles, area house pricing, if local people consider their time valuable and are prepared to pay for a professional detail as opposed to DIY, as well as your reputation.

It takes us about 8-10 hours to do a 1-2 step paint  detail ($45-60 per hour) so depending on location /  skill level / /reputation, to transform your vehicle back to ‘like-new condition’.  A Professional using high quality products may spend over $40 in product use alone; so expect to pay a fair price for the amount of work involved.

Charging by the hour will scare away clients in most cases as they want to know what it’s going to cost before they will allow you  to start,  so a fairly accurate estimate will ease their mind, even if it’s a ‘between X and Y type estimate. With enough experience you’ll find your estimates become more accurate.

“How much would a ‘full detail of my vehicle cost?”

Detailer’s advertise full details anywhere from $125 -450 that’s a huge difference. So to make a fair comparison we must define what constitutes a ‘full detail’
     Generally this implies that the vehicle’ exterior is washed, the wheel surfaces, tyres and wheel wells are cleaned and a protection product or dressing is applied. The windows, trim (rubber seals, vinyl, and etc.) are cleaned and protected.

2.        The interior and seating surfaces are vacuumed; interior surfaces (dash, door sills, and etc.) are cleaned and protected. Windows are cleaned as well as the door jambs and door and window seals protected

3.        It will usually include a single-step polish that will remove minor surface scratches and the application of a wax or sealant o protect the paint

4.        The engine is usually considered a specialized service and is mostly excluded.
This should provide a basic understanding of what is covered in a ‘full detail.

The price charged is ‘a sum of its parts’

What washing method is used? Some volume-based places and many dealerships will use an automated tunnel wash (using brushes or “soft cloths” that do the cleaning). These will typically be the least expensive (first cost anyway) as these methods impart scratches to the paint surface that will eventually require ‘paint renovation / correction’, but more of the later.

The least expensive (because it takes the most time) the two-bucket wash method that uses Grit Guards; this method is the most gentle on the paint (and thorough) but doesn’t cause surface scratches. This method takes upwards of an hour to complete and is usually combined with a thorough but again gentle drying method that minimizes surface scratches as opposed to drying the surface with a towel.

Cleaning / Protection Schedule

A suggested regimen to keep the vehicle looking its best (aesthetics) and keeping it protected-
1.        Initial reconditioning detail – this gives the vehicle a fresh clean start; it is easier to maintain a clean car rather than a dirty one.
2.        After three months- re-apply wax sacrificial protection – washing will be easier on a freshly waxed car,
3.        After five months- complete detail (including interior) exterior wash and paint protection apply ultra violet protection to prevent photo degradation (fading)
4.        After seven months – a one or two-step machine polishing as necessary to remove surface scratches. 
5.        After nine months - complete detail (including interior) exterior wash and paint protection apply ultra violet protection to prevent photo degradation
6.        After nine months - re-apply wax and ultra violet sacrificial protection

·         Perform a two-bucket (summer) or Rinse less ONR wash (winter) and use a damp micro fibre towel to wipe down surfaces and vacuum carpets once a week
·         Look into the application of  an active resin coating (Opti-Coat™) this will provide the most durable finish as well as scratch resistance
·         Remove bird excrement as soon as possible, left for any length of time they will etch the paint surface

Cosmetic restoration

Exterior (8 hours)
·         Wash and dry exterior paint – 1.5
·         Detailer’s clay – 1.0
·         Tyres and Wheel surfaces – 0.5
·         Clean exterior glass – 0.5
·         Clean and lightly polish paint – 1.5 
·         Wax or seal paint -1.0
·         Clean and protect rubber seals – 0.5
·         Exhaust, tyres and trim etc. 1.5 hours

Interior (4.5 hours)
·         Brush and Vacuum carpets – 0.5
·         Shampoo mats – 0.5
·         Shampoo / extract carpet – 1.0
·         Clean upholstery – 1.0
·         Apply protection to vinyl and leather – 0.5
·         Clean interior glass -0.5
·         Deodorize interior - 10 min
·         Protect carpet and upholstery – 0.5

This level of detail on an average sized and condition vehicle would take approx. 13 hours, a larger vehicle will obviously take more time, most professional detailers will charge between $400 and $550 to do this level of work.

Depending on location / skill level / /reputation, to transform a vehicle back to ‘like-new condition; so expect to pay a fair price for the amount of work and materials involved.

·         Pre-inspect the vehicle
·         For paint renovation mark-up a vehicle outline showing paint thickness measurements
·         Photograph (time stamped) highlighting existing damage / bodywork issues
·         Note any serious scratches, stains or tears to interior materials
·         Note stains or heavily soiled carpet or upholstery
·         Document any wheel surface damage
·         Note any adhesive residue, tree sap, bug spatters (once removed they may show surface etching)
·         Remove all trash from interior including trunk, ashtray and seat folds and place small change or clients personal items in Ziploc bag
·         Place a paper name tag on ignition keys

Give the client a copy of this list before they leave (see also written contracts)

1.        Pre-spot and brush stained or heavily soiled areas
2.        Clean wheels and wheel wells
3.        Clean engine
4.        Remove any eaves, debris in jambs and cowlings
5.        Remove tar and/or adhesive residue
6.        Wash vehicle
7.        Clay vehicle if needed
8.        Remove tree sap if needed
9.        Polish and apply paint protection
10.     Remove any polish residue
11.     Dress tires
12.     Interior cleaning:
13.     Remove all items from interior and place in a Ziploc bag
14.     Vacuum all surfaces
15.     Pre-soak carpet and upholstery stains
16.     Scrub stained areas with brush
17.     Finish cleaning carpet and upholstery and apply fabric guard
18.     Clean all interior surfaces, vinyl, and leather
19.     Dress all interior surfaces
20.     Clean interior and exterior glass
21.     Replace all items in vehicle (Ziploc bag)
22.     Final vehicle inspection

Time Management

Creating a productive and efficient workflow is number one priority for proper time management. Organize tools and products on a cosmetic restoration  cart so that you have everything you need right where you can find and ensuring it's always in the same place will reduce your time significantly. Chasing supplies around the shop is by far the biggest time waster there is.
‘Work smarter not harder’. Formulate a cosmetic restoration plan, then utilize proper cosmetic restoration techniques, combined with quality products is what makes a details outcome, successful. When in doubt always allow common sense to prevail. 
Paint Renovation / Restoration
Surface preparation for polish / compounding
·         Wash 1 – 1.5 hours
·         Paint surface decontamination 2 -2.5 hours
·         Detailer’s clay 1.5 hours
·         Rinse and dry surface 2 -2.5
Paint correction details- as a basic guide for each stage
·         Test panel – 2-3 hours
·         I-Step polish – 4 -6 hours
·         Compound 8 – 10 hours
·         Polishing 10 – 12 hours per stage
·         Wipe down process 2 hours
·         Finishing 8 – 10 hours
·         Wet-sanding 3 – 4 hours per panel.

Sanding a paint surface is a very labour intensive way to eliminate orange peel or other paint surface problems; this method can take an entire day to sand and polish a vehicle properly ($1200 +)
Multiply hours by hourly rate ($30 -$75dependent upon experience / skill level and market demographic) plus materials, plus overhead

Value is in the eye of the beholder

Besides having a variety of different products and services to offer a client, you need to be able to ask key questions and recognize positive and negative body language indicators and how to counteract them. Here are a few suggestions that will enable you to increase your average sales transactions. Help your client see these as a service as opposed to an add on sale by emphasising their value

Do your team understand that the best way to sell is to ask questions?

Typical additional services charge as follows:
·         Single-Step Paint Correction $250 - $300
·         Full Paint renovation  $450 - $650
·         Engine detail, $85 - $125
·         Pant decontamination $ 200 (Iron )
·         Windshield polishing $50-$75
·         Permanent Coating $250 - $350
·         Paint chip repair $50 minor - $200 major
·         Paint protection coating (Opti-Coat™, Aquartz, etc.) $250
·         Headlight restoration (Polishing and UV-B radiation protection)$175- $200
·         Paint overspray or cement splatter removal, $250
·         Black trim restoration, $50 - $150
·         AC system cleaning and cabin air filter replacement (1z Klima-Cleaner Air Conditioning Cleaner)  $100-$125
·         Odour Neutralizer / Deodorizing (Aquartz - So2Pure (CleanAir) $65
·         Fabric / carpet protection (Scotchgard) $50
·         Leather and Vinyl Repair
·         Windshield Polishing Restoration, $50 - $100 (TOTL Chip Repair Kit)
·         Auto Glass Treatment, $50 - $75 ( Aquapel, )
·         Wheel surface (cosmetic damage) repair / repaint, $125 per wheel

More specialized services
·         Paintless dent repair (PDR) $55 - $125 per dent
·         Paint Protection Film (PPF)$ dependent on size of vehicle and coverage required
·         Carpet Dyeing and Colour Restoration, $200 - $350
·         Leather Renovation (Pigmentation)
·         Windshield Replacement
·         Odour, germ and allergen free driving with a 6-month re-application (DrivePur)

These added-value services will enhance your reputation if you’re able to fix these types of aesthetic problems and become the source for high quality work. As with the successful sale of any product, educating the customer is the key.

The above (USD) figures are only estimated costs and should be used for guidance only as they will vary by location and size and condition of vehicle

Customer Loyalty
Customer’s show loyalty when they receive a service they value and enjoy; it’s as simple and as complicated as that

Time Management
Creating a productive and efficient workflow is number one priority for proper time management. Organize tools and products on a cosmetic restoration  cart so that you have everything you need right where you can find and ensuring it's always in the same place will reduce your time significantly. Chasing supplies around the shop is by far the biggest time waster there is.
Formulate a cosmetic restoration plan, then utilize proper cosmetic restoration techniques, combined with quality products is what makes a details outcome, successful. When in doubt always allow common sense to prevail. 

Clients ‘missed’ appointment?
 It’s part of doing business, Dentists, Lawyers, Doctors, Hairdressers, etc., we all experience it. When a customer does book an appointment, hold that appointment with a Credit Card. Holding an appointment with a credit card is something that almost all large service companies do, so if you are dealing with a customer that has money, they will understand. It’s beneficial to you in a number of ways.

It also shows the customer that you are serious about your time AND their time. It tells them “This time has been allocated to you and as such you expect me to hold it for you, I expect you to show up for it.”  Tell them that you have a missed service fee that will be applied to the card if they don’t contact you and don’t show up for their appointment. Always keep in mind, business is business. Your time is valuable.

Send a polite ‘reminder’ text message a day before the scheduled appointment this should at least alleviate the forgetful client.

Advanced Software Solutions for Your Auto Cosmetic restoration Business - Thoughtful Systems

BookFresh is online scheduling and appointment booking software
·         Easy online appointment scheduling
·         Advertises your services locally
·         Reminds clients of their appointments
·         Notifies you by SMS text and email
·         Connects to your website

Smartphone’s are a useful tool for any cosmetic restoration business-
GPS- every phone comes with Google maps and navigation that saves you $70 to $300 dollars on a GPS system like TomTom. It pin points exactly where you’re at and it will show you how to get where you want to get at by car, foot, bike, and bus. The navigation guides you step by step and the fastest way to get there.
     Email-  if you own a domain name (every professional should have one) or just a Gmail account ( its syncs to your phone so you get emails as soon as you get them on your computer, also with the qwerty keyboard you can read and answer emails. I have received 3 very big accounts for having this feature with me. It shows you are serious about your business and not allowing them to email other businesses.

·         Docs - you can store proposals you can change the name of company on the go and respond to a potential customer. Or if you have ideas on blogs you can store them here. If you have a secretary and have things to do you can work through here to get stuff done

iPhone credit card reader/swipe
No merchant account is required, like a lot of banks require for their card readers, no monthly fees (like PayPal pro), no need to buy a laptop, 3G card, and a bulky card swipe. Card numbers are never stored, they are sent to the server via SSL and the processing company takes care of it from there.
The cost is 2.75% per transaction, and the plug-in swipe is available free of charge.  Based on transaction frequency and amount there is an opportunity to receive a lower rate. You just sign up, put in all your business information, and it links right to your business account (similar systems are being offered for other phones) For Andriod based phones, you need to check out Squareup their card processing fees are: 2.75% + 15¢ for swiped transactions, 3.5% + 15¢ for keyed-in transactions

Wireless Credit Card Processing
With Bluepay cutting-edge mobile credit card processing solutions, your business can be wire-free while you take advantage of our competitive mobile merchant account rates -

RV Cosmetic restoration

Providing service for RVs is a way to increase your profits without a large investment in new equipment and chemicals. There is a large population of private RV owners who are willing to purchase the services to keep their coaches looking great. With some marketing to different RV service providers and your current customer base, along with the right pricing structure and a commitment to quality service, you can take advantage of this profitable business. Pricing formula –RV length / 2 x hourly rate; adjusted for age and condition of the coach

Paint Thickness Gauge (PTG)
An electronic paint thickness gauge can be an invaluable tool, before buffing it’s always a good idea to check the paint film thickness to see how much of the paint film thickness available, check it periodically during the process and on completion to see how much was removed. Take measurements with a paint and coating thickness gauge

Take measurements with paint and coating thickness gauge and mark them on a template; this will provide a guideline and a future reference document for future polishing so that you have a reading of before / after polishing. Take readings on each panel left – right every 2- 4 inches, then drop down 2-inches and repeat - ® /?action=view&current=carplan9br-3.jpg

All the major car manufacturers specify that measurements should be taken before, during and after these steps. This is primarily because removal of too much clear coat can cause paint failure over time due to the fact that UVR absorption is the job of the clear coat. If an insufficient thickness of clear remains after polishing the colour coat won't be protected from UV radiation.

For this reason, it’s also recommended that paint be measured when buffing since you can’t see how much paint is being removed during the buffing process. If too much clear is removed, either on the original OEM finish or the refinished areas  a warranty issue may develop down the road it’s interesting to note that painters must now demonstrate proficiency with an electronic paint thickness gauge in order to become certified to perform refinish warranty work for General Motors Corp. (GM) vehicles.

Note- Take photographs of any and all damage to the vehicle, one is showing the mileage and any warning light that are on when engine is running

Another useful piece of marketing copy is a photographic portfolio of your cosmetic restoration work. Try to show a cross-section of vehicles. Ferrari and Lamborghinis are great but include some everyday vehicles (unless of course this is only the market segment you sell too). Show a cross section of before and after details and don’t forget to show a few vehicle interiors, after all that’s were most drivers spend most of their time

As a professional detailer you need to showcase your work as best you can. Put together a portfolio that includes high quality photographs of vehicles you have detailed and some detail related articles, explaining to potential customers what you do. A portfolio of your cosmetic restoration work is a great selling tool.

Internet cosmetic restoration forums all have a section (Detail Gallery) were you can showcase your work as a form of advertising to potential clients. A decent camera with a great lens makes the world of difference. Without good photographs, people find it difficult to imagine what a difference a proper detail can make, after all you cannot describe a ‘look’ with just words, as they say a picture is worth a thousand of them

If you've ever removed red-eye from a photograph, or used a spell checker to correct an essay, then you know how computer software can enhance a raw photographic image.
·         Take photographs when the sun is setting
·         Use digital a photograph in an editing software picture editing program (i.e. Paint Shop Professional X1) you can also adjust contrast, and white balance from the camera
·         Open the digital photos in a picture editing software program and use the tools to "sharpen" the image. The end result is a better, more finely tuned picture.

Does the camera ever lie?
Photographs can now be digitally altered to tell an entirely different story. In the age of the airbrush, can we ever really believe our eyes?
Photoshop CS5 Content Aware is a simple and easy program that allows users to ‘de-saturate’ the background enough so there is still colour; Selective Colour this will make the ‘subject’ more vibrant than the background without being too obvious, or fill in parts of the photo that are not desirable and allows easy manipulation of images, but just be careful what claims you make for a product with ‘enhanced’ photographs (i.e.’ Truth in Advertising’ ) as a professional detailer you will be expected to replicate this in your work

Very subtle differences in shadowing are often a give-away. Identifying exactly where the shadows fall on an image reveals where the light source must have been to have created that shade. Re-touching: sharpening blurred or under lit detail, but proportions of basic colours in sequences of pixels are often not balanced after a re-touch.

Lighting -by analysing all shadows in an image, scientists can tell whether a shot had a single light source. RAW pictures; uploading jpeg images to a computer allows its hard drive, which is much bigger than the camera’s, so that you can manipulate the picture on a computer, which is not possible on a camera that simply records .jpeg images.
Is this then cheating? Liken it to the ‘air-brushed’ photographs of fashion models or celebrities, it has very little to do with reality, you are creating an illusion that people ‘want’ to believe.

Recommended reading-
1.        Start Your Own Automobile Cosmetic restoration  Business by Eileen Figure Sandlin
2.        Selling The Invisible" by Harry Beckwith
3.        The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
4.        What Clients Love: A Field Guide to Growing Your Business – Harry Beckwith
5.        Mentored By A Millionaire by Steven K. Scott Amazon Books
6.        Think and Grow Rich!  by Napoleon Hill
7.        How to Start a Home-based Car Detailing Business  - Renny Doyle
8.        The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
9.        Starting a Business -  info from IRS website Starting a Business

Recommended Software-
·         Service CEO - ServiceCEO Auto Cosmetic restoration  Software - Service Business Software - ServiceCEO
·         Quicken Quick Books - Accounting Software - QuickBooks
·         Executive Coaching and Business Coaching Martin Brossman is a personal coach operating in the Raleigh, Durham and the Washington DC Area's. Client referrals have extended his practice nationally and internationally. Coaching areas include, personal coaching, executive coaching and business coaching.- Personal Coach Martin Brossman serving Raleigh, Durham and the Washington DC

I would like to think that these articles become an asset to anyone who is new to detailing and to professionals alike, as well as industry experts who seek to advance their knowledge.
I hope the above article was informative. By having some understanding of the ‘What’ and ‘Why’ as well as the ‘How’ along with a little science to help you understand how the chemicals we use react, you can achieve the results you desire.

I would appreciate it if you would share this article as it helps other detailers further their knowledge.Questions and/ or constructive comments are always appreciated.

Copyright © 2002 - 2012 TOGWT® (Established 1980) all rights reserved

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