Dealer Ops

What's Your Detailing Paradigm?

Since Dr. Stephen Covey wrote his book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People", the term paradigm has become the buzz word among management consultants and businessmen into both personal and business improvement.

According to Covey, a paradigm is a "map," your perspective about something. That is, how you see it and act and react to it.

This Author's Detailing Paradigm!

Ever since I read Covey and "got into" the "Seven Habits," I've spent a lot of time considering my paradigms about many of things, including detailing.
Forgetting what detailing has been in the past, ignoring what it is today, I focused on its future. Seeing that, someday detailing will become a legitimate, consumer-recognized auto service business. First-class auto detailing centers in the better parts of town are advertising their services on major television, radio and in daily newspapers. I envision express maintenance detailing centers where the motorist can purchase a quick wax and carpet shampoo in 15 to 30 minutes. Car wash operations across the country are already offering these express services, reporting yearly sales of $300,000 or more, besides car wash revenues.

Yes Mr. Dealer, detailing, that little step-child in the back of your dealership, is no longer an, "ugly duckling." Things are changing!

Even as a "Wholesale service" detailing is changing. Industry trade publications report that reconditioning is becoming a key service in many dealerships.

The day is fast approaching where a dealer will have a full-fledged "Appearance Department" in the dealership to compliment the Service Department and Body Shop. This department will not only provide in-house services for new car and used car detailing, but it will offer cosmetic appearance services to the public. In fact, this is already happening in many dealerships today.

What is Your Paradigm?

So now that you know my paradigm about detailing, I ask you, what is yours? If you want to eliminate the typical problems you now have with detailing, whether you do it in-house or use an outside contractor, you must honestly evaluate your attitude (paradigm) about it!

A Case Study

To give you an idea of how important it is for you to have a proper attitude about detailing, let me tell you the story of a dealer who spent a lot of money to upgrade his detail department, but who didn't change his basic management paradigm about detailing and today has the most sophisticated and highly equipped "bucket & sponge" detail shop in the country.

Like most dealers, he had a typical in-house department for over 20 years. And, like most, it was disorganized, dirty and relatively inefficient. Plus, he contracted out other cosmetic services (gold plating, paint touch-up, etc.) After visiting a DETAIL PLUS booth at an NADA Show, the dealer decided this was what he wanted to (up grade) his detailing/reconditioning department to an "Appearance Department" for his three dealerships.

At a great deal of expense, a building was remodeled to house a four bay professional detail center. In addition, the existing three car wash bay was also upgraded. Next, high-tech equipment was purchased and installed that ergonomically organized the detail shop with operating room efficiency.

From his current management staff, he selected a person to head this new Appearance Department. The first thing the manager did was advertise for non-detailers to man the department. Interviewing over 75 people, he hired 4 for his initial staff. All had either graduated or attended college and were unquestionably some of the finest detailing personnel that could have been selected.

After 1 1/2 days of classroom instruction covering the philosophy of detailing tools, of the trade, chemicals, paint finishes and procedures, the staff went to the shop for hands-on training. By the end of the day, they were detailing cars unsupervised! By the end of the week, they were journeyed detailers.

Some were trained to operate the gold plating system, others, the paint touch-up system and most in windshield chip/crack repair

Today, the shop still has the high-tech equipment, but it is not being utilized properly. The paint touch-up system is tucked in a corner gathering dust.

Gone is the "manager of the Appearance Department," and the expertly trained staff. Both have been replaced by "detailers" who like to do things "their way."

In short, after thousands of dollars invested in facilities, equipment and personnel training, this dealer's detail department is about the same as it was before the investment and upgrade.

What's the Answer?

While a dealer must change their paradigm with regard to facilities (devoting a great deal of space to detailing/reconditioning) they must also change their paradigm about equipment. This is the 21st Century; you can't detail cars today with squeeze & spray bottles, a shop vac from Sears and a 10 lb. electric buffer. There is high-tech equipment and systems on the market that will increase productivity, reduce labor and ensure a higher quality job.

Personnel! If any paradigm must change it is this one. If you want to control detailing, make it efficient and improve quality with fewer problems, you can't hire detailers. The typical detail employee has been a transient worker, not looking for a long-term job with a future, but only a few months or weeks worth of work. They carry a lot of baggage that most dealers don't need. Yet many still hire this type of personnel. Like they say, "If you keep doing what you did, you'll keep getting what you got."

The most critical part of this paradigm shift on personnel is to appoint a manager, not a detailer, as the shop supervisor. Being a good detailer does not make a good manager. Would you appoint a mechanic as your service manager? You need someone who understands production, organization, planning, personnel management and motivation; someone who can meet performance standards. Certainly they can know how to detail, but that is not essential for a successful detail shop in a dealership.

Finally, and unquestionably the most important paradigm shift you as a dealer must make is the amount of attention and supervision you are willing to pay to your detailing department. Even if you make the paradigm shifts in facilities, equipment and personnel, this will all be for nothing if you do not provide personal management attention to what is going on.

Management Made Easy

What I am suggesting is that you pay no more time and attention to the detailing department than you pay to the operation of the New & Used Car Sales Department, Service Department or Body Shop. If you give the detailing department this same attention, after making all the other paradigm shifts mentioned, you will have exceptional and profitable results.


If you are an advocate of Stephen Covey and his "Seven Habits" you will immediately see the benefit of the paradigm shifts described here. If you are not, or you are but don't change your detail paradigm, then you will just continue to "get what you've always got."


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