Tips and Tactics for Running a New Detailing Operation or Streamlining an Existing Business, Part 2…

By Bud Abraham, Detail Plus

In the first installment of this two-part article, we addressed 10 critically important steps for setting up a new detailing operation or expanding an existing business. We concluded with the three wise men or women—your banker, your accountant and your lawyer—who will play an integral role in your company’s growth and success.  Here, in Part 2, we will look at some of the other ingredients you should consider.

11. Define Your Target Market: Who are you going to sell to and why should they buy from you? If you don’t already know the answers to these two questions, stop and think about them now. Successful business people don’t just print business cards and buy an attractive sign—there needs to be a focus on key message points that conveys great value and superior service to whomever the potential customers may be.

Knowing who your prime customers are is essential to any start-up or existing business. Ask what can your company offer that’s not currently available to this target market? How can you differentiate your detailing business? This will be your best marketing tool to get and keep the business.

12. Know Your Competitors: In every business there are other companies that will compete for the same customers. The secret to your success is not to ignore your competitors, but rather to know as much about them as you can.

Who are they, where are they, how big are they, how do they market their businesses, and what are people saying about them? You need to investigate before you open or expand your detail business. You want to know how to be better at what you do and how to add value to the detail services you’re selling. Be a prospect and contact competitors. Visit their websites often to see what they are doing. Don’t be caught off guard and think you have something new when it’s already being offered.

13. Business Hours: Operating a successful detail business means being available when your target market wants and needs you. It does not mean working when you feel like it, just because you’re the boss. Sure, you can say that your website is available 24/7, but it’s a one-way street if you’re not available to quickly answer questions, provide feedback or make appointments. When potential customers need you, be there—or you can be assured that one of your competitors will be.

14. Office Layout: If you have a fixed location, be certain to have a designated area for your desk, files, fax, computer, printer and other essentials, rather than scattered around the shop. If possible, have an office door with a lock. Lock it when not working or you are out of the shop. Keep employees out of your office and close your door when working. There is nothing more distracting than being on the phone with a customer and having them hear a noisy vacuum or buffer in the background,

Remember, number 1 on the checklist. You made the commitment to be successful and now you must act like it and operate like a business person.

15. Design Your Website: Work on this in advance of opening your detail business, so you have a working home page and links to other pages.  Start out without a working website and customers may question your ability to serve their needs—a page that says a website is “under construction” leads folks to think the business is not yet up and running—or maybe in transition.

You can either design the website yourself using many available software packages or get someone else to help you. As a low-cost option, contact a local college computer instructor and ask if any students would like to assist you. Students may be able to get course credits for doing this. Whatever you decide to do, be sure the site is working properly when you open your detail business. You can always change or upgrade, etc. as you grow. I

Grand Opening celebration of store with balloons, banner and confetti

16. Host a Grand Opening: This is your one-time opportunity to make a splash and flaunt your new detail business. You can hold your opening at a restaurant if you want to meet people or have an online party to attract attention. Try to have some type of bonus or giveaways for your first customers and another bonus for referrals.

A grand opening is the best excuse to jump-start your detail business when you need sales and cash flow the most. Invite local media or a radio station to join in, and if it’s a slow news day, you might get some publicity. Send or post community announcements to all the newspapers and websites you can find. This is the one time that people won’t question that you are new in your industry.

17. Use Social Media: This is a big advantage over starting a detail business just 10 years ago. Participate in free forums where you can talk about your detail business and interact with other interested people. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are the most popular, but there are also many other social media sites that are not as well known. Sign up for free and use them daily to keep people interested in what you are doing.

Also start a blog (also free) and post useful information about car care. Post at least three times a week and don’t hold back on any of your secret ideas. Give readers something they can use, and they will be back for more. Using social media in a detail business is not just a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity.

18. Establish Cross Promotions: Who has the same target customer that you do but is not a competitor? Find other automotive businesses that offer the same high quality and service that you do. Partner with them to refer business to one another. Supply flyers and brochures and consider offering a small discount to people who are sent through cross-promotion partners. This is a very inexpensive way of marketing a detail business, especially in the beginning when advertising dollars are few and far between.

19. Advertise or Direct Mail? How will you promote your detail business and where will you spend those limited marketing dollars? You first need to decide what will give you the most bang for the buck.

Advertising is expensive and must be tested for results before you jump in with both feet. Direct mail will work effectively if you have a targeted list, but start small—test 10 at first. Offline marketing is a necessary part of building your new detail business, and no one method is the total answer. When you find the way that works best for your business, keep using it and expand on it— but do it slowly.

20. Get Publicity: This is a way to develop your new detail business at little or no cost. When you speak to groups or write articles for the local newspaper, you will become an expert in your field, and everyone likes to deal with an expert.

Email your name, company information, background and expertise to all the radio stations, television stations and newspapers in your selling area—tell them you are available for expert commentary in the field of car care if the need arises. Write helpful articles and send them to the carwash and detail industry trade publications. At your local library, you can find many places to send articles in Bacon’s Magazine Directory. Always be ready and available to talk about the detail industry and car care, keeping things generic, but mention your business name when you can.  

21. Offer a Guarantee: It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling bird houses, fixing furnaces or detailing vehicles—always guarantee that your service will satisfy the customer. But guarantees are only as good as the people and companies that stand behind them.

Always be sincere and stand behind your work. Customers may expect a few problems once in a while. But it’s the quick and effective way you make things right that determines customer satisfaction and loyalty. That’s what you want—loyal customers. Make your guarantee big and bold on all your advertising.

22. Establish Contingency Plans: Many business owners, especially those who are new to business ownership, don’t bother with doing this, because they think nothing will ever go wrong. But you need a plan of action should something unexpected occur, because it may happen when you least expect it. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Your shop floods or burns down.
  • Your van is in an accident or your mobile trailer gets hit or stolen.
  • Your computer crashes and files are lost.
  • Your supplier goes out of business.
  • You get sick and can’t work for a while.
  • There’s a family emergency.
  • You lose your best customer.

23. Have Employees or Not? You may not have a firm answer to this as you start your detail business, but it’s worth thinking about. If business suddenly booms and you need help to complete the work, where will you get help? How long will it take to train employees and will they perform up to your standards? Just like the contingency plans, have an idea of what you will need to do. If you turn down business because you are shorthanded, you may not be able to get it back later if you need it.

24. Outsource Whenever Possible: Many small and even larger businesses outsource their accounting and banking services, but what about other things? The less you do yourself, the more time you have to market and grow your detail business. As you begin your new detail business, look for tasks that can be done just as well by someone else. Many outsource companies have trained employees and equipment that you just can’t afford, especially as a start-up business, so relying on these companies can be of benefit.


These are just many of the items for your detail business start-up checklist, and you should add at least two or three more that pertain to your specific personal situation. It may seem that there is a lot to do before and during your start up, and there is. But owning your own business is one of the greatest feelings you’ll ever have. If you ever have doubts along the way, just go back to number 1 on this check list.

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