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The Professional Detailer
What is Detailing, Anyway?
- Examine the profession of detailing.This article provides
information on how to upgrade the professional image of
the industry. (Read More)

What Does a Detailer Do, Anyway?
- Systematic procedures of how a professional detailer combines chemicals, equipment, knowledge of vehicle surfaces, industry standards, and customer requirements. (Read More)

Professional Detailer as a Business Professional
- Four points on what makes a well-rounded detailing business professional and increasing customer traffic. (Read More)




The Professional Detailer: 
"What Does a Detailer Do, Anyway?"

Prentice St. Clair

(This is the second in a three-part series of articles that examine the profession of detailing--who we are, what we do, and how we do it. The goal of this series is to provide information that individual detailers can use to help upgrade of the professional image of the detailing industry as a whole.)

In the first part of this series, we stepped back from the day-to-day operational issues in order to take a look at our industry as a whole. We defined detailing as follows: Detailing can be defined as the systematic rejuvenation and protection of the various surfaces of a vehicle.

This definition answers the question "what is detailing?" but it does not answer the common question, "What does a detailer do, anyway?" To do so, it is necessary for us to dive deeper into this definition and take some other factors into consideration as well. I propose the following statement to describe what a detailer does:

A professional detailer combines chemicals, equipment, knowledge of vehicle surfaces, industry standards, and customer requirements into systematic procedures that yield quality service and ultimately a delighted customer. (Please see Figure 1.)

Figure 1: The Art and Science of 
Professional Paint Touch-Up

In a sense, this statement points out the "art and science" of detailing; the "science" is the concrete elements such as chemicals, equipment, vehicle surfaces, whereas the "art" is the activity of combining these elements into a procedure that works for the specific situation.

"Chemicals," of course, refers to all the cleaning and protecting products that we use in this profession. The professional detailer should have on hand a set of products that, individually or combined, will handle virtually any vehicle surface problem. The professional detailer will have contact with at least one distributor of quality chemicals designed specifically for the detailing industry and will supplement these chemicals with other products that are more generally available (i.e., from major retailers). There is tremendous convenience in working with a local detail supply shop, not only in acquiring supplies but also getting quick answers to everyday detailing challenges. However, the professional detailer also actively investigates and tests other product lines through other distributors or direct contact with the manufacturer. Ask for samples or purchase new products with a money back guarantee as often as possible. Learning about new and different products comes through regular examination of the various trade magazines as well as contact with other detailing professionals both in the field and at conventions and seminars.

"Equipment," refers to the tools of our trade, for example, polishers, extractors, air compressors, and power washers, to name a few. Within each category of equipment is a large range of options. For example, in the polisher category, there are high-speed polishers, random orbital polishers, dual-head polishers, and others. Typically, information about detailing equipment will come from your local detail supply shop, trade magazines, trade shows, equipment manufacturers, and other professionals in the industry. Take advantage of all these sources of information when making decisions about what equipment (e.g., a polisher) you need as well as what type of each piece of equipment (e.g., high-speed, random orbital, dual-head) you need.

"Knowledge of vehicle surfaces" indicates that, as mentioned in the last article, it is the responsibility of the professional detailer to understand how to rejuvenate and protect each of the many varied surfaces of a vehicle, regardless of the specific surface composition. Again, actively and regularly pursue the information sources suggested above to become an expert in vehicle surface cleaning and protection.

I add "industry standards" to cover not only "that which is expected of a good detailer" but also to make specific reference to the fact that International Carwash Association (ICA) is in the process of developing standards of excellence in our industry. Please pay attention to this effort by maintaining active membership in trade organizations like the ICA, reading the various trade publications available to our industry, and attending ICA and other conventions. This area might also include the requirements of the local municipality within which you work (e.g., environmental laws).

Probably the most important element of this equation is unfortunately the most often overlooked. That is, "customer requirements." Especially when dealing with new customers or those that are unfamiliar with our service, I will often ask such questions as, "When was the last time the vehicle was detailed?" "Do you want basic clean and protection or do you want the vehicle to look like it just rolled off the showroom floor?" "How much were you expecting to spend today?" or "What is your budget for detailing?" and "Is there anything special that you would like us to take care of?" The 
answers to these questions have a tremendous impact on what procedures you will use to service each customers' vehicle.

"Systematic procedures" refers to the fact that, as we detail a vehicle, we use specific procedures and order those procedures to allow us to do the work in the most efficient and effective manner. Using systematic procedures also reduces variation in our results because we can set up specific procedures for each set of circumstances. For example, if customer X desires to have her six-month-old clear-coated vehicle (knowledge of vehicle surfaces) looking showroom new forever, regardless of the price (customer requirement), we will wash, lightly clay, and apply a high-quality, non-abrasive paint sealant (chemicals), either by hand or using a dual-action orbital (equipment).

If your procedures are made up of appropriate chemicals and equipment, and carried out with respect to customer requirements and industry standards, those procedures should "yield a high-quality service that ends up delighting the customer." A delighted customer says things like, "this car has never looked this good" or "it looks better than when we first bought it." One addition is necessary, here, however: "Delighting the customer" also means adding a little bit more to the service than the customer was expecting. This will bring this customer back with many friends who speak highly of your service.

In conclusion, the model shown in Figure 1 can help you to determine where your service is weak. For example, if your customers complains about a specific problem (e.g., wax "plaque" left in a molding crevice), then there is probably something wrong with one of the procedures (e.g., wax removal), which means there is something wrong with one or more of the basic elements (lack of carrying and using a detail brush during wax removal).

Copyright 1998, Prentice St. Clair

This article first appeared in the November, 1998 Issue of International Carwash Association Update


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