Dealer Ops

Cosmetic Car Care...Old Services With A New Future

If anyone asked you what business you are in, you would probably say "I'm an auto dealer." That is probably true if all you do is sell cars. But today's auto dealer is more than a car salesman.

You, for a number of reasons (mostly economic) are in the car care business. That is, you not only sell the car, but provide a full line of car care services to maintain the vehicle after the sale. Tune-up, brakes, major overhaul and so on.

You are taking complete care of the vehicle. Or, are you??

What About The Appearance?

Think about it. Until recently, the only appearance maintenance service (apart from collision repair) the motorist could purchase was a car wash and vacuum.
What we call auto detailing services were almost exclusively done either by or for you, the auto dealer. You did not offer the service to the public, and most detail shops did not either.

If a motorist wanted to have their vehicle polished and waxed or the carpets shampooed, they had to do it themselves.

Existing detail shops, auto dealers, body shops and car washes were really not geared to service the retail customer's demand for cosmetic car care services.

It has only been in recent years that the motorist's growing demand for these cosmetic care services (auto detailing) has moved some existing detail shops and car wash facilities to turn attention to customer needs.

What About The Dealer?

By and large, auto dealers have been quite slow to embrace the potential this market offers. Why? Because most dealers, if I may speak for you, see detailing as a problem, an expense, a necessary evil, something they have to do to tolerate with all its problems. And, in most cases, the dealer himself stays away from this part of the business, leaving it to the used car or service manager to handle.

God forbid that detailing could ever be a profit-center in a dealership.

Time For A New Perspective

Well, whether you want to see it or not, detailing is moving out of the back alleys, warehouses and garages and assuming a legitimate position along side other automotive service businesses. What we call detailing will soon become the Cosmetic or Car Appearance Industry, which will include: auto detailing, paint touchup, gold plating, glass repair, vinyl and leather repair, pin striping, etc.

Those dealers foreseeing the emergence of this new industry and how it naturally fits their business will enjoy unbelievable profits.

A Pre-Paid Investment

Think about it! You already have a commitment to the cosmetic car care business. You either have an in-house detailing department for your new and used cars, or contract with an outside shop to perform this work. Either way, you are in the business but not really enjoying the full benefits.

Look at the pre-paid investment you have already made to the business:

  • Existing Location & Facilities
  • Loyal Customer Base
  • Customer Recognition
  • Existing Management

There are other advantages that give you a huge head start over anyone trying to establish a freestanding detail shop.

Yet, there are many very successful freestanding detail shops across the country making huge profits off these services; profits you could be enjoying.

Requires New Technology & Methodology

However, you cannot offer 21st century cosmetic car care services with 60 year old methodology and personnel who advocate "that's the way we've always done it" philosophy. Therein lies the reason that most dealers are experiencing problems with detailing either in house or with outside shops. You are dealing with poorly trained personnel, primitive technology and methodology.

Could you operate your service department with equipment technology that is 60 years old or personnel trained in that technology? Of course not! Yet, this is how most, if not all, detailing departments in most dealerships, are rune.

Closing The Window Of Opportunity

You have a tremendous window of opportunity to use your superior resources and business skills to get a running start in the emerging industry of cosmetic car care, but it will not stay open for long.

Why? Look at the trends:

  • Automobile prices have been and are continually increasing
  • Length of ownership has gone up
  • Motorists are more protective of their leisure time
  • Leveling off of "do-it-yourself' car care products

What this means is that the motorist has no choice but to spend money on the cosmetic upkeep of their vehicle. They need it and do not want to do it themselves. And, they have the disposable income to pay for it.

Yes, the window of opportunity is closing as farsighted investors and big corporations wake up and "smell-the-money" this industry offers.

Just as Ray Kroc of McDonald's woke up to the fact that people had less time to spare for cooking and were ready to pay for convenience, the "fast food" industry was born.

If he hadn't possessed this vision, if he hadn't recognized that he was not selling just a hamburger, but "convenience", he would have probably been consigned to the dumpster of business history.

It's true! Over 100 years ago the nation's then most powerful industry, railroads, ultimately "de-railed" themselves by not seeing that their real business was "transportation", not railroading.

Where To Go From Here

If you buy into my thinking then you still have time to take full advantage of your inside track position in this sleeping giant, the "Cosmetic Car Care" industry.

To do it, however, requires the same kind of commitment to quality and professionalism you have made to your dealership.

You must establish a separate "Appearance Department" in your dealership that is equipped with the latest technology and manned by carefully selected and well-trained personnel. You cannot run a profitable "Appearance Department" with casual labor or "detailers" using squeeze and spray bottle technology.

Down To Specifics

An important first step in establishing an appearance center in your dealership is to dedicate sufficient space to handle your own in-house needs and projected retail business.

As a successful business person you know the best way to manage and coordinate all aspects of your dealership. Apply these to an "Appearance Department."

You must organize all the steps involved in appearance maintenance into an efficient, systematic process that maximizes productivity and minimizes wasted motion.

Ideally, a professional "Appearance Department" in a dealership should occupy at least 3 to 4 work bays, plus a wet-bay to wash cars and clean engines.

Equipment must be selected that puts everything attendants need to do the work at their fingertips, and allows them to perform the work quickly but efficiently.

The technology is out there. You only need look for it.


It is only through such a systematic approach to this business that will allow you to enjoy the potential profits.

And, cosmetic car care will not only bring in new profits, but will create more satisfied customers who will refer your dealership to their friends and relatives.

The potential is there. You only need to recognize it, and be willing to make a commitment. .

About the author
Bud Abraham

Bud Abraham

President & Founder

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