Auto Detailing Businesses – Surviving During a Recession Considered

Well, before I retired, I was in the franchising business, in the automotive service sector. One thing I had noticed over the years was that the economy was either doing well, or doing poorly. That is to say there was an expansion period or a contraction period, growth or recession. One thing I can remember is many of our franchisees complained when the economy was bad as it was hard for them to make money. In reality, by simply adjusting your menu and the types of services you offer it is rather easy to switch over to a low-cost high-volume business model and actually make more money during a recession. Okay so let’s talk shall we?

Indeed, I realize that is a very bold statement, but I can tell you from experience and real life observations that it is indeed true. All too often the wealthier crowd stops wishing to pay for $150 auto details, and the middle class finds other options, perhaps even doing their own car once in a while. One thing I can say that never goes out of style is the five dollar exterior car wash. You might say that’s crazy, washing a car for only five dollars. Nevertheless, during a recession, there will be plenty of business at that price point. Better yet, it’s not too difficult to do upwards of 100 cars per day in office building parking lots.

Why do I mention this now you ask? Well, our economic growth has only been about 1.7% in 2012, and I imagine in 2013 we will go back into a recession, and have a negative growth rate. This means that there will be fewer people with jobs, and less money floating around in the economy. It also means that many of your competitors will go out of business, and who knows, if you don’t follow my advice here you might as well. Of course, that leaves more business for those who are still in business because they were not too proud to try something new.

You don’t have to ruin your prestige or your auto detailing branding. You can simply call the new line of services that you do; mobile car washing. The rest of the time you can do auto detailing at the higher price. This way you are now offering two types of services, even though the auto detailing business will be much less than it was during the good economic times.

I think what you will also find out is that by having hundreds and hundreds of mobile car wash customers with significant volume, that through those economies of scale you will find more people willing to get a detail than you ever had in the past. Yes, you may have to lower the price of your full detail as well, but you should be able to stay in business throughout the recession without any problem. Please consider all this and think on it.

Car Detailing, Sound and Fury of Competitors in Auto Detailing

Many auto detailers say that the car washes with their quicken version of the complete auto detail; the Express Detail; has cheapened the auto detailing profession and is ruining the artistic value of today's professional auto detailing experts. I tend to differ completely from this line of reasoning. Having been on both sides of the Industry for some 27-years, I take a more observational and rational view. Let's discuss business and free market philosophy for a moment.

Saying that fixed site car washes have destroyed the meaning of the word 'detailing' may be true to some extent. Yet one must ask, "Did McDonalds destroy the definition of" breakfast "when it introduced the 'Egg McMuffin' in Santa Barbara, CA?" Comparing 'express detailing' with a complete detailing service is merely another apples and oranges issue. We as professional detailers realize that there is no comparison. Why does this make so many of us angry? Do we see it is as all those years of perfection being thrown out the window? We shouldn't; do not look at it that way. Look at it as an incredible opportunity. Channel the frustration and anger into energy and perseverance.

The fixed site car washes with their quick wax, 'express detail' have popularized the phrase 'detailing' to an entirely new group of consumers who normally might not be interested in your services prior to this introduction. It is up to us to expand upon this and take advantage of the fact that now the general workforce is buying detailing services. Sure it's inferior, but a need, a want and desire to spend money for detailing has been formally introduced. This has opportunity written all over it as Bud Abraham said in a speech he delivered at the ICA (International Carwash Association) annual conference in Las Vegas.

Many feel that this new spin on the old terminology of detailing has adversely affected the professional detailers retail business. Fixed detailers must adapt to this market challenge or loose a large percentage of their retail detail volume and thus have their profitability affected. By differentiating their service and educating customers to the definition of a 'Full Detail' or 'Complete Detailing Service' the professional detailer is able to cater to the ideal retail customer in the middle to upper income classes. Generally members of this market segment understand the difference and are aware of the value of a real detail versus an express service. This high-end crowd can be as much as 15-35% of the professional detailers retail clientele. Let's say that a Professional Detailer has 70% of its business in new and used Car Dealerships and other fleet customers who sometimes need detailing. Vehicles such as rent-a-cars, work vans, or sales cars for corporations and 30% in individual retail, the higher per car profit of all services offered. It is not good business sense for a Professional Detailer to simply ignore that much of their customer base, and therefore they must develop a strategy to help customers and clients understand the difference between the express service and full detail.

Some of the communication problems come into play when a customer is convinced that the $ 50.00- $ 60.00 (sometimes as low as $ 35.00) he or she paid for an express detail is the same service they will get when they pay a $ 100.00 + complete detailing service. Even when the higher price comes from a professional and reputable detailing establishment and not a 30 minutes 'express service' from a car wash. Unfortunately unless otherwise educated, perception becomes reality. Think on this when looking for ways to set yourself apart from the competition.

Mobile Auto Detailing Public Relations and Promotional Events

Many times small business mobile auto detailing companies fall short in their promotions and public relations. Generally one could attribute this to the fact that business is always good and cars in the United States are quite plentiful, even more than people. In fact there are 1.2 cars for every man, woman and child in this country, including all the school buses, postal jeeps, delivery vans and police cars. Think about it; all the boats, motorcycles, trailers, motor homes, SUVs, mini-vans and cars? Sure there is a lot of business to be had indeed. But certainly since it is a cash business for the most part, there is no reason you cannot run it like a real business and grow it to a large endeavor. Here are some promotional ideas:

Call up a radio station.

Find out when their next event will be. Offer to wash everyone’s car who shows up. Tell them you will even wash the radio station van. They will announce on the radio all week that “Joe’s Mobile detailing and Car Wash” are washing cars at location X for free. Show up and bring the whole family.” Yes, you will be working your little rear end off all day, but the referrals and good will and future customers will be enough to add a second or third unit to your little company.

Blood Drive.

Offer to wash anyone’s car that shows up for a blood drive providing it will be a big turn out. Challenge your local car wash and any other competitors to a competition, who can get the most people under 25 to donate blood. ‘Alert the media’ to the event. Use a public official – the mayor, etc. – to judge the contest. Don’t charge customers. Make it a real big event. Go for quality and number of units washed in one hour or in thirty minutes. Even if you lose, it’s great publicity.

Look if you want to win the promotional game, you must think out side the box, so what are you waiting for anyway? Embossment on an invite; please that is ridiculous. Get out there and kick butt.

Auto Detailing – What Does It Involve?

Auto detailing is not the same as washing your car. When you have your car auto detailed, they will clean your car inside and out. When finished, your car will look as if it is brand new. Some of tasks involved in auto detailing include polishing, waxing, and cleaning of the interior and exterior of the car along with removing debris and stains. To become an auto detailer you need to have a keen eye for the tiniest of details.

Exterior auto detailing

When detailing the exterior of your car starts by cleaning your rims and wheels of dirt and dust. Once this is done, the detailers will treat the tire sidewalls and polishing the rims. If there is any wax residue is left around the chrome plates or decals on the vehicle it is carefully wiped away. They may even treat the windows with a rain repellent. They will also clean the engine using degreasers or by steam. The underside of the rails and hood are polished after being cleaned. They will wash, clean, and wax the exterior of your car, including cleaning the lights.

Interior auto detailing

When detailing the inside of your car they will thoroughly vacuum your car, including the upholstery, and mats. This part of the job can include using a number of different products. It depends on the condition of the inside of your car. They can use rug shampoo, spot cleaners, and upholstery foam cleaner. If the car has cloth seats they may use a wet/dry vacuum on them to help remove most stains. It also makes your seats and carpet look new, with the exception of existing physical damage. The vinyl areas inside your car like the console, dashboard, and door panel trim are cleaned. Then they are treated with conditioner in order to keep the vinyl pliable. The gas and brake pedals are also cleaned. They are not conditioned to prevent your foot from slipping off the pedal. The covering over the speedometer, gas gauge, and other gauges are also cleaned. To ensure that the slats of the heater and air conditioning vents are clean they often use Q-tips. Q -tips also are used to clean the seams in the console that collect dirt and dust. All of the interior glass is thoroughly cleaned and washed, making sure that there is no film or streaking that can reflect impair the driver’s vision from nighttime headlights or low angles of sunlight.

Cost of auto detailing

Auto detailing can range from $100 to as much as $275. It depends on the size of the vehicle, the package you choose, and if you want to add any extras such as a special conditioner. Some shops may base their price on how dirty your vehicle is.

Water Softener Use In Mobile Auto Detailing

What is considered hard water and what are the degrees of hardness? Well very hard water would be 10.5 grains per gallon and 180 parts per million and above. But you need to realize that even moderately hard water of 3.5 to 7 grains per gallon and 60-120 parts per million will leave hard water spots. Slightly hard water such as 1 to 3.5 grains per gallon and 17.1 to 60 part per million will not leave noticeably hard water spots that you cannot cure with a chamois. But really as a professional auto detailer you are really looking for soft water of less than 1 grain per gallon and 17 parts per million.

What Makes The Water Hard?

Hardness in water is caused calcium and magnesium ions that form insoluble compounds; sometimes iron and even aluminum. There are many ways to soften water. Some are more complicated than others; Aeration, De-Ionization or ion-exchange, Distillation, Reverse Osmosis or Softening.

Softening by use of a water softener is the simplest concept used today; water softeners replace hardness ions like calcium and magnesium with sodium or non-scaling ions. The ion exchange resin used in the process is recharged periodically with salt drawn from a storage tank. Many water treatment experts agree and Lance Winslow concurs that softening can be most cost effective when the water has as few as one to five grains per gallon of hardness. Most mobile operators will be happy with one to three grains per gallon of hardness and probably won’t even purchase a softening unit until the hardness is five plus grains per gallon. Their theory is well taken because, if the total dissolved solids (TDS) is that low, there will be little water spotting on cars anyway.

One reason to put in a water softener even if your water is 5 gpg or less is because you wish to prevent scaling in the coils of your steam cleaner or save your pressure washing pump on your auto detailing rig. On a cold water machine, this is not as important because 5 gpg or less won’t ruin a pump. More than five can over time.

Hardness also hinders soap from doing its job. You may notice that your soaps are not cleaning properly. That’s because they are cleaning the water first and combining with the compounds in the water rather than the dirt on the car. You see, the hardness in the water has a tendency to neutralize those cleaning compounds and you have to actually use more soap to offset the neutralizing effect of the hardness minerals.

With hard water, you will use more soap and the cars still aren’t clean. I encourage you to talk to your soap vendors for helpful advice on water chemistry and treatment requirements. Your soap strategy should be custom tailored to your city and the hardness of the water you put in your tank.

Most independent auto detailing professionals agree that areas with hard water will also cause a film on cars that are washed when no softener is used. They also agreed at the annual conference that the decision to purchase a softener should be based on a real water test. You might wish to contact a water treatment dealer such as: Rain Soft, Culligan, Apollo, Calgon, Rayne water Systems or the Water Man in your area. They can help you by having the local water tested or ask city water authority for information on their supply. Once your decision is made to purchase a softener, selecting the proper equipment is easy. Softener sizes should be based upon two factors: Flow Rate (GPM) and Grains Per Gallon (GPG).

Flow rate would typically be six to eight gpm (gallons per minute) with your hose at your residence. We recommend you change your pressure regulator to 90-110 PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch). This would give you approximately ten gpm. So you need a water softener that is a little bigger than the basic model.

Water softeners are basically like refrigerators; says Car Wash Guys Founder Lance Winslow;

“They could last two years or twenty years…and a lot depends on how much goes in and how often it comes out.”

This is why you should monitor softening equipment. You can test the hardness with a testing kit or just pay attention when you’re washing cars. Steel softening tanks last for years. Fiberglass units last well also. Plastic units crack. You may need to change resin every couple of years.

Chances are you will choose to rent softeners for $30 per month and let the exchange company recharge them for you. Be careful when hiring water softener vendors. Ask us for help. You may even be able to trade services for water softening rental plus make money on the account because water softener rental companies have lots of delivery trucks. In any case think on these issues when considering a water softening strategy for your mobile car wash or auto detailing business.