Part One: Keeping Up Appearances

By Bud Abraham, Detail Plus 

Sculptors, they say, have it easy. They just have to cut away what’s already there to create their work. But it is not simple. The sculptor first has to visualize the image that he’s trying to create, and then execute the work by shaping the stone.  They must choose the right tools and methods to work the stone, even utilizing the right people to assist.

The Art of the Detail Shop 

Creating a detail shop is a very similar art. The right equipment, the right tools and the right chemicals efficiently shape the perfect shop.

You also must have the right building from which to create your idea of perfection. But what is perfect for one shop and its owner may not be acceptable to another.

Building the Perfect Beast

The perfect detail shop would include the following areas and key elements:

  • Shop Exterior: The signage, parking lot, landscaping, etc.
  • Customer Service Area: Where the customers can wait for their vehicles and be provided additional information that will help to sell/promote your business.
  • Sales: Where the customer and salesperson come together.
  • Computerization: What areas of the shop can you computerize and how?
  • Wash Bay: Where most detailers begin and which form the foundation of a strong and competent shop—typically a vastly underrated area.
  • Detail Bays: Where the real work is done.
  • Final Inspection Area: Can make or break a detail job.
  • Offices and Other Spaces: The shop’s image sometimes come down to these areas.
  • Stocking Your Shop: We’ve attempted to provide a list of what the perfect shop should have.
  • Profit Centers: Are there other extra services you can perform—or products you can provide/upsell—and where can you do this?
  • Managing Perfection: How you and your employees operate your shop will determine its likelihood for perfection.

Curb Appeal 

You and your detailers may be “detail gods,” your equipment state of the art, the waiting room snazzy, but if the outside of the shop looks like a dive, potential customers will drive by without ever knowing what lies inside those dingy walls.

This can create misconceptions that the detail business is staffed by sloppy, unskilled people, a label that many shop owners know is false. However, you can’t dazzle customers with your knowledge, equipment and talent if you can’t even get them inside your shop.

Therefore, the perfect shop must start with the exterior—the actual building and its surroundings, which act as bait to lure in customers.

Keep It Simple But Unique 

Keep exterior signs simple, clean and brightly colored.

While painted wooden signs and non-illuminated signs work, illuminated signs are preferred, because they continue to advertise your shop even after the sun goes down and during the winter, when it’s often dark by 4:30 or 5:00 p.m.

Ground level, pole or building-mounted signs are all exterior options to consider. While a permanent changeable letter sign shouldn’t be used to identify your shop, it can be effective for some on-site advertising for weekly specials.

The perfect exterior sign also incorporates the shop’s logo or graphics, which makes it less generic and more a reflection of that particular shop.

The Parking Lot

 Once a customer has spotted your sign and located your shop, the next hurdle to overcome is parking.

Parking can be, and often is, the deciding factor in whether or not a customer even comes inside. Nobody wants to figure out where to park when frequenting a business. Make sure you have as much space as possible for customer parking.

Have separate parking areas or spaces for cars to be worked on, for finished customer vehicles and for employee vehicles.

Reserve the spaces closest to the entrance for customers. You can also locate the area for completed vehicles close to the entrance where prospective customers can see clean and shiny cars.

Finished vehicles shouldn’t take up the best parking spaces, but they also shouldn’t be hidden behind your shop where no one can see them. Consider parking finished vehicles near the main road to serve as a free advertisement for your work.

Besides having plenty of parking you also need to provide proper distance between parking spaces. Otherwise, customers may be banging their car doors into other people’s cars, making for door dings and for a lot of complaints. 

Safety First

Beside driveways and parking spaces, well-maintained sidewalks are important. Broken, cracked or uneven sidewalks are an eyesore and also potentially dangerous. In the winter, snow and ice buildup make walkways and parking lots an even greater hazard. Keeping walkways salted and shoveled may take some effort, but the alternative is an even less appealing thought.

Lighting and Shrubbery 

Adequate lighting is also an important consideration. The better people can see, the less apt they are to slip on ice, trip over their own feet, hit another car, etc. Adequate lighting also helps to put people at ease when they’re walking to their cars at night.

Today, many smart detailers are evolving away from the junkyard look. Shops are now concerned with what the shop itself and its landscape look like. Rust is out, shrubbery is in.

Don’t get the wrong idea. The perfect detail shop isn’t a natural wildlife refuge. A few small strips of grass, several shrubs or even some potted flowers are enough to add some color and life to an otherwise dreary landscape.

After you’ve decided what greenery to add, regular maintenance is a must. Unkempt shrubs, overgrown grass, dead flowers and rotting trees defeat the purpose of planting them. If you or your employees don’t have the time to take care of all the landscaping, then hire someone to water, trim and weed. 

Little Touches Make a Big Difference 

Consider placing a bench in front of the shop so customers who are waiting can sit outside on warm, sunny days.

Also, keep the shop’s structure maintained. If you notice peeling paint, it’s time for a new paint job. Cleaning windows is another often-forgotten task that makes a difference.

Consider a welcome mat for your entrance. It’s not an extravagant decoration, but it shows people even before they come inside that you run a friendly well-kept establishment.

Beauty Isn’t Only Skin Deep

What’s on the outside counts. The perfect detail shop realizes this and prospers because of it. Customers won’t appreciate what lies inside your four walls if they are unimpressed by the outside.

By performing a facility facelift, you’ll ensure that people will not only like you for your abilities and professionalism, but also for how your business looks.

(Authors note: Parts Two and Three will appear in future installments.)

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