In the detailing industry, most of the information that we receive from trade magazines and seminars focuses on specific everyday detailing issues--how to remove over spray, what kind of polisher to purchase, or how to market your business. Sometimes, as in any profession or endeavor of life, it is necessary to take a few steps back and to view the whole picture and remind ourselves of who we are, what we are doing, and why. Doing so helps us to re-focus our goals and re-determine where we are going. This is important because, if you do not have a vision of where you want to be in five, ten, twenty years, your business might not be around in five, ten, twenty years!
First, it is necessary to define "detailing." Each seminar that you attend and each book, article, or detailing manual that you read will have a slightly different dictionary-style definition of detailing. Which definition that you put into use is not important, just so you have a definition in your head that both defines and guides your day-to-day operations and also helps you explain to the customer what you do. More importantly, the definition you use should also demonstrate to the customer that you are a professional who has a clear understanding of the business.
The definition that I propose here is the one I use on a day-to-day basis and helps me answer the nearly daily customer inquiry, "What is detailing, anyway?" It goes like this: Detailing can be defined as the systematic rejuvenation and protection of the various surfaces of a vehicle.
Let's break this definition down into its components. "Systematic" refers to the fact that, as we detail a vehicle, we use specific procedures and place those procedures in an order that allows us to do the work in the most efficient and effective manner. "Efficiency" is a measure of the quickness of the procedure whereas "effectiveness" is a measure of how well the procedure actually works. For example, anybody can wash and wax a car. Most home detailers, however, would spend an entire Saturday doing so. Because we are systematic in what we do, we can (1) complete the same activity in two hours or less (efficiency), while (2) yielding a product that is far cleaner and better protected (effective) than the average home detailer would have ever dreamed!
"Rejuvenation" refers to the procedures that we use to return the vehicle at or close to showroom condition. These procedures range from removing the excess dust from a collector's vehicle that is permanently stored indoors, to all that is necessary to re-vitalize a never-cleaned mini-van that has taxied four sloppy kids for ten years (ugh!!!). I purposely do not include "restoration" in that range of activities because detailing activities on a restored vehicle (e.g., a '62 Corvette pulled from a junk yard) really occur only after the restoration activities (repair, re-construction, and re-surfacing) are complete.
"Protection" refers to the procedures that we use that will help to keep the vehicle looking new after we leave. That is, when the rejuvenatory activities are complete, we apply protectants that, for example, keep the paint from oxidizing, keep the leather from drying, and keep the tires black.
"Various surfaces of the vehicle" is in reference to the fact that a vehicle is made up of dozens of surfaces (e.g., paint, exterior trim, wheels, carpet, seating, interior trim, etc.), each of which has any of a number of possible compositions (e.g., paint: polyurethane, lacquer, enamel, clear-coat/base-coat, conventional). It is the responsibility of the professional detailer to understand how to rejuvenate and protect each of these surfaces, regardless of the specific surface composition. For example, leather seating is rejuvenated and protected in a completely different manner than upholstered seating.
With this definition, we have a way of communicating and educating the public (potential customers) as to what we do. Hopefully, this examination will also provide you with an overall view that will allow you to analyze your specific activities in the context of an overall definition of detailing. That is, "how you detail depends on how you define detailing." A real-world example of utilizing your definition of detailing: If your definition of detailing includes the word "systematic," then you are constantly balancing efficiency and effectiveness to satisfy the customer while at the same time maintaining an acceptable profit margin.
In conclusion, whether or not you use this definition or create your own, please have one that will allow you to both think clearly and also project a professional understanding about what you do.
Copyright 1998, Prentice St. Clair
This article first appeared in the October, 1998 Issue of International Carwash Association Update