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shane@detailedreflections

Clients and those who detail for dollars.

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So it’s been a while since I’ve written, but here I am. A potential customer called (and I’ll call him a customer, because he’s certainly not a client) and told me about his older Cadillac. Apparently it had some paint transfer on it from some kind incident and the inside needed to be cleaned as it was apparently pretty dirty. 
 

All of this isn’t a big deal for us and something we could handle. As soon as I gave him the price, he couldn’t get off the phone with me quick enough. 
 

This interaction got me thinking about different types of clients and how to handle them.

 

At one end of the spectrum you have what I call value shoppers. They’re looking for the cheapest price and the most amount of work. These customers tend to be difficult to satisfy and maintain clear expectations with. They are also the quickest to run around speaking negatively should anything happen to not meet “their” expectations. 
 

At the other end, you have clients who don’t care about price but care about the service and product. These clients usually come by way of referral and are quick to speak highly of your services and if there’s any issues, they’re handled quickly and without making a big deal. These are critical relationships to maintain. 
 

For us, there’s a difference between a customer and a client. A customer is a single time contact. A client has ongoing relationships with you. They come back. They tell people about you. 
 

The value customer brings up an interesting point too. When a client brings up cost or walks away over cost, do you offer a discount?  We don’t. We let them go. There are other companies that are price oriented, and they’re a better fit for that client. 
 

What we don’t want to do is to train our clients to dictate the cost of our service. We control that based on what we need to make to stay in business and be profitable. Once we start letting the client dictate price, we lose control of our business and profit margin. 
 

How do you deal with different types of clients?  

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HI Shane,

You brought up some good points and while my primary line of work is technologies, a client and customer are same as described above.  The size of the job does not make a difference in the type of person/business you are dealing with.  Sometimes the person/business who think will become a client, turns out to be one that you should have walked away from.  Whether it is the local Florist who needs a better tracking mechanism for their clients or the business that wants a geographically dispersed, multi-continent hosted system, it is either dollars or outcome that drives their choice of a vendor or partner.   

 

I have pricing guidelines for the systems that I do and the only thing that can change the price is to reduce the functionality.  I have also applied the same guidelines to the cars we flip and the ones I detail.  When it comes to the cars we flip, the one line that will never be crossed is safety.  Any and everything that needs to be done to ensure the vehicle is safe is a must.  While it rare that someone wants a vehicle before we finish, anything else would be an option to be done or not done, but not the price of doing it.

 

When it comes to detailing, the packages are set at different levels.  Exterior and Interior each have a package and the customer can select different levels at X dollars ranging from a simple wash to a full correction.  If the interior is selected, the number of options is reduced and there are up charges for exceptionally nasty interiors, dog hair and stains.    Because of my years in dealing with leather, I do have a package for conditioning leather seats and will do them even if I don't touch anything else on the vehicle.  The price is set at $75 per bucket seat, $125 per bench seat, if the center console is leather that is included with the price of the bucket seats.

 

I have done a couple of specials for exceptions, but not because I was asked to.  A friend was letting a couple use her vehicle for their wedding and honeymoon, not only is she a friend, but my wife and I were also attending the wedding, so I did a full detail for $100.   I will be doing my neighbors Red Miata in the next few weeks and it will be used as advertising since he goes to a lot of the local meets,  so I do not consider either of those to be a discount.

 

Just as important, you need to know when to do a no-bid. There are computer systems that I can tell from the requirements, it can't be achieved and will have a lot of change requests. There are cars that need work to be flipped and those that need to be crushed and recycled. Just the same there are vehicles to detail and those to walk away from.  I do not do any motorcycles other than my own, but I will do gas tanks and side plates if they are delivered off the bike.

 

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This is a great conversation. Thanks for your input @shane@detailedreflections and @RayS 

 

This is something that I would love to hear more input on from anybody and everybody.

 

I ran a design business for a short amount of time after I got out of school and I had a lot of trouble with it. I am not very business minded; add the fact that I was desperate for work, and I found myself compromising my pricing because I just needed the work. I sold it as if I could reduce the scope of work to fit their budget, but I just ended up producing the original scope of work for the reduced budget because I wanted to get my name out there, and I wanted my work to be seen as above and beyond despite the lack of pay. Even through all that it still ended up being unsuccessful.

 

I no longer run the design business, but I have been very inclined to officially start a detailing business. I'm afraid that I will run into the same issue since I have no name and client-base in the detailing community.

 

How did you guys get your start in the early years of your businesses (detailing or not)?

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1 hour ago, Yo-Yo Ma's Cousin said:

This is a great conversation. Thanks for your input @shane@detailedreflections and @RayS 

 

This is something that I would love to hear more input on from anybody and everybody.

 

I ran a design business for a short amount of time after I got out of school and I had a lot of trouble with it. I am not very business minded; add the fact that I was desperate for work, and I found myself compromising my pricing because I just needed the work. I sold it as if I could reduce the scope of work to fit their budget, but I just ended up producing the original scope of work for the reduced budget because I wanted to get my name out there, and I wanted my work to be seen as above and beyond despite the lack of pay. Even through all that it still ended up being unsuccessful.

 

I no longer run the design business, but I have been very inclined to officially start a detailing business. I'm afraid that I will run into the same issue since I have no name and client-base in the detailing community.

 

How did you guys get your start in the early years of your businesses (detailing or not)?

 

I'll be honest, I have a distinct advantage over some small business owners when it comes to pricing my work.  Detailed Reflections is a side business for me.  I'm a full time firefighter.  I maintain the business because I enjoy it (mostly), but more importantly than that I have two guys who work with me who somewhat depend on the money it brings them.  They both have full time jobs, but I know the money they earn from the business helps them significantly.  For me as an owner, that's no less important of a factor in making business decisions than anything else.  Marquis and Justin have been very good to me over the years, stepping up considerably when my family situation changed literally overnight.  I'll never be able to repay their hustle, but I can help make sure they have the opportunity to make the extra money the need or want.

 

With that being said, Justin and Marquis aren't "business minds." That component comes more from me.  I've been lucky that I've been able to include them in decisions, but also to help teach them my philosophies in how I run the business operationally.  It helps us to avoid conflict.

 

Being that this wasn't how I pay the bills, we were able to truly take a grass routes approach.  The idea for the business came from me taking care of my truck I owned at the time.  Then it turned into a couple friends asking if I'd do their car for them.  And from there it was their friends and so on.  It got to the point I saw the opportunity to make it a business.  I brought Marquis in at the urging of my wife, and it was the best thing I could have done for my business.  Those of you who have seen his work or know of him, know that he is worth every penny I pay him and more (he's well paid, don't worry about that).  From there we grew and got to the point where we needed more help.  We brought in Justin and taught him the ways and we are a solid team of three.  We aren't looking to expand beyond that.  

 

We have never really advertised other than one ad at a local golf course which I'll never do again given that it returned exactly zero return on investment.  We rely strictly on word of mouth.  This helps us in a few ways.  We tend to get people who are truly interested in us.  It also means they generally have an idea of what they're going to spend before contacting us eliminating sticker shock.  I'm very open with clients that we are not the cheapest around.  With that statement comes that we are one of the best equipped locally to handle given work.  We have seven or eight polishers, an assortment of pads/polishes/compounds, extractor, steamer, blowers, a lift and so on.  Our polishing and coating bay has in excess of 100,000 lumens of light in it.  Some clients take the time to listen and understand the value, some don't.  Honestly, I don't sweat the ones that don't  They were probably customers anyway.  They're looking for the most for less and process doesn't matter to them.  And being honest, in the world of detailing the average consumer doesn't understand the differences or the equipment anyway.  They care about what it looks like when it's done.

 

We are searchable online, so we do get business by way of google and social media but the word of mouth is where it's at for us.  We have clients who travel well over an hour from other states to have us do work for them.  For us, this is a testament to how we do business.  Like anything else, we have peaks and valleys in our workload.  Sometimes we are jamming.  Sometimes we are slower.  It all depends.  Every time I think we are running out of work, something happens and the schedule fills right back up again.  There's worse problems in life that we could have.

 

My advice to someone starting a business if you don't understand the back end of a business is to take a few college classes at your local community college about business basics.  It'll open up your eyes in how you need to set pricing, why you can't deviate a lot and make money...or when you can deviate and make money.  It's great background information that will pay off ten fold in how you shape your business.  

 

If you don't know better and you start offering discounts up front, you're training you customers that they don't have to pay full price for your business.  People will try everything to get the deal from comparing prices at other business to offering to pay cash.  The cash argument is one that's a personal peeve for me.  I record cash transactions even though it means I have to pay tax on the income and here's why.  When we do work, the business incurs expenses.  The guys get paid.  Products consumed.  If I don't record the income from the job, it skews the entire profit and loss of the business.  I'm recording expenses and not income.  At that point, how do I know how my business is truly performing?  The truth is you lose a lot of control and information in making decisions when you start cheating the books like that to save someone a few dollars.  There's more to gain for them than there is for you at that point.

 

One thing we are doing to help with some of that, is we are changing our pricing structure to reflect out the door prices.  The tax is simply built in, so it's not openly visible.  It also helps with things like gift certificates.  We offer those on our website, but people tend to buy based on the pretax price.  We have always honored it and done the work at the cost of the gift certificate because I don't feel it's fair to someone who received a gift to have to pay out because someone didn't read correctly.  We are hoping change pricing to tax included helps to alleviate that issue in the future.  

 

If you're starting out, do yourself the benefit of calculating everything out so you know up front what you need to make.  It'll be easier to train customers that they need to pay "y" for a service than starting them at "x" and going to "y" when you finally figure it out.  It's the "you've always done it for $100, why is it $150 now?" 

 

If anyone is thinking of starting out, I'm happy to have discussion about how we did it, how we do it, and what we learned along the way.  If you take a trip back through my posts, you'll find a decent number of business related posts or we can discuss it again with fresh views.  

 

 

 

 

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Fantastic information Shane!  

It is very easy in detailing to treat every car like you treat your own - like a showcar!  The hardest part for me was learning to give the customer just what they paid for.  The LEVEL of service does not change, just how much work is done.  When they become clients, I start doing a little extra (wipe and dress the engine, etc.) at no charge (or in most cases it matches the tip).

And it easy to drop the price to 'get the work', but as you say, those folks are 'customers', not clients.

I am the recommended detailer for my local mechanic.  I have gotten lots of work from them, but have also had some folks that thought I was too expensive.

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1 minute ago, mc2hill said:

Fantastic information Shane!  

It is very easy in detailing to treat every car like you treat your own - like a showcar!  The hardest part for me was learning to give the customer just what they paid for.  The LEVEL of service does not change, just how much work is done.  When they become clients, I start doing a little extra (wipe and dress the engine, etc.) at no charge (or in most cases it matches the tip).

And it easy to drop the price to 'get the work', but as you say, those folks are 'customers', not clients.

I am the recommended detailer for my local mechanic.  I have gotten lots of work from them, but have also had some folks that thought I was too expensive.

 

You bring up an interesting point there.  Do we treat clients different from customers?  I do...sometimes.  I have a client who gets a special deal on ceramic coatings.  Between him and his dad, in two years they've spent $18,000 with me.  That doesn't include a referral here and there.  So they get some special pricing for services they receive.  When they refer someone to me, I tend to hook it up at their pricing as well.  It's been a great relationship for us.  That's a special exception.

 

One other thing I do for my guys is I allow them the occasional "hook a buddy up" deal.  If they have someone looking for something, I'll allow them to make it happen and take care of whoever it is provided it's not abused.  I try to keep it to a job or two a year.  I understand we all have people in our lives that are near and dear to us and we want to take care of for whatever reason.  Could be family.  Could be a friend who helped when they were in need.  The why doesn't matter to me.  What does is that that practice isn't abused.  

 

Those are some exceptions to the rules for us.  

 

You also hit on provide the service that's being paid for.  Does it need two steps but they're paying for one?  They get one and it is what it is.  We are guilty of sometimes spot correcting a scratch on us or something similar.  But it's a quick thing and at your discretion.  We try to manage our clients expectations.  

 

Managing expectations brings up yet another point.  I always try to paint the worst case scenario.  If we find it's not as bad as we think or what we were told, I adjust the bill down.  We look honest (which we are), and the client gets a nice surprise.  It's easier to tell someone they're paying less than that they're going to have to pay more.  

 

One other topic that could become open for discussion is how do you pick what products you use?  

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Shane brought up some really good points.  I started my side businesses, there have a few, when I was still in the Military. I can tell you from experience, that not everything will be a success, there will be bumps in the road and you'll go through some Feast and Famine times.  If you are looking to have the business be your sole income, ensure that you have a solid 3 months of bills and living expenses sitting in savings and this is outside of any ongoing liabilities for the business, such as a lease, payroll and payroll taxes, etc..

 

One of the points that Shane brought up is about the business books.  You can get a high priced financial adviser that doesn't know squat about the business or you can marry an accountant that takes care of small businesses for a living.  My wife not only keeps our business in check, she also keeps our family budget in check and they have to go hand in hand.   I also work for a global company with good pay and benefits and do not take on any job that could be remotely considered a conflict of interest.  To Shane's point, no matter how the money comes in it has to be accounted for and don't mix personal money with business money.   Keep the accounts separate, the credit cards separate and anything else that can have a liability or tax associate with it.  You can hire an accountant or bookkeeper according to what you are doing, but never let them touch the checkbook, that is your job to manage and pay the bills.

 

As Shane pointed out, there is no better advertisement than word of mouth.  If you are interested in detailing as a side job, take your vehicle to the local swap meets, street car shows and Saturday night cruises and impress the people attending.  You might get a few competitors that are interested in hiring you, but you've got a better shot at getting those just attending.  Pick your conversations and don't try to oversell, honesty will get the most interest.  If you've been detailing your own vehicles for 5 years and do select clients as a side business, don't be afraid so say so.  Know your limitations and don't try to take on more than you can handle even in adverse conditions, since you have to deliver what you promise.   If you don't have the tools, equipment and skills of Marquis to take a nasty interior and get it back to show room condition, don't promise it.

 

Keep in mind, that one bad review can cost you 10 potential clients and if you are honest and document the expectations and limitations, you are less likely to get a bad review.

 

Another thing you can do is create a niche area, like I have done and I can show countless pictures of Red vehicles that have everything from Buttery, Americana, Patriots, Ceramic Paste Wax and Ceramic Spray Coating and every combination in between - take your pick.   I have another person in the area that I'll send Black vehicles to and he sends me Red ones, this is picking your expertise, focus and perfect it.  

 

I have one other hobby and I have to call it that since there are no costs or money that comes in and it is the one that gives me the most pleasure because I hate seeing people ripped off.  I'm into technologies and am a firm believer in ensuring that everyone has an educational opportunity.  Any student or parent of a student that needs their computer upgraded, all they have to do is pay for the parts or bring the parts and I'll do the upgrade or repair for free.  The only condition is that I get to keep the old parts so I can give them to someone else who cannot afford parts.  I get whole computers donated on a regular basis and I clean them up, repair them and provide them to students or teachers who go to rural schools to teach.   The point, I'm try to get across on my hobby is the passion.  Whether it is a business or a hobby, if you are passionate about it, you'll be good at it and it will be rewarding one way or another.

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I'm curious as to whether or not you guys who detail on a pro basis are also dealers?  I mean, do you offer products for sale for your clients to maintain their details?  Detail Spray, Ceramic Boost, etc?  

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9 hours ago, Rich said:

I'm curious as to whether or not you guys who detail on a pro basis are also dealers?  I mean, do you offer products for sale for your clients to maintain their details?  Detail Spray, Ceramic Boost, etc?  


We do have the ability to offer resale. We do a little, but it’s extremely limited. I’ve thought about offering more, but the clients we have aren’t as interested in maintaining their own vehicles. Those that are, I’ll order in advance if we’ve talked about something they need or want. 
 

There is a huge barrier for us in resale. I’ll use Adam’s as an illustration. Being a small shop, we get a discount on product. It’s a decent discount, not spectacular. The buy in to get to the deeper discounts would be hard for us to ever reach. That’s okay, so we take the smaller discount that fits our volume. 
 

Adam’s sells direct to consumers. Adam’s also has discounts or sales they offer to customers. We are now in competition with Adam’s. Adam’s makes money if they sell to us, and they make more money if they sell to the end user. They clearly have more profit margin to play with and still be profitable. 
 

To be honest with some of the sales offered, we would be reselling product for zero profit or even a loss when you figure expenses in if we were to match the sales. If we don’t match the sales, in the age of quick shipping what’s the incentive to buy from us?

 

Retail is a slippery slope and one we choose to stay very limited. I have no desire to compete with the manufacturers or importers of product for sales. They’ll crush us and still make money. 
 

 

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18 hours ago, Rich said:

I'm curious as to whether or not you guys who detail on a pro basis are also dealers?  I mean, do you offer products for sale for your clients to maintain their details?  Detail Spray, Ceramic Boost, etc?  

While I don't fall into the Pro category, I do not sell any chemicals.  If someone is interested, I let them know which local Chevy dealers have the products in stock and refer them to the Adam's site.  Personally, I have zero interest in ever getting into a product retail situation again.   

 

Anyone need some mice with a PS2 connector?  I'm sure I've got a box of a 100 or so still sitting around.  For the young ones on the site, I'm not talking about a Play Station either.

Then there are the 4x IDE CD burners and the 8 bit soundblaster cards.  Honestly, the inventory is gone, some donated to schools, youth centers, libraries and anyplace else that would take them, the rest went to recycling.  Once you get stuck with a decent inventory and zero market, it will make you gun shy of the retail market. 

Edited by RayS

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4 hours ago, Rich said:

What is a mouse with a PS2 connector??  

 

It's a type of connector (round with pins) used for mice and keyboards, circa late 80s. Some were green or purple.

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12 hours ago, falcaineer said:

 

It's a type of connector (round with pins) used for mice and keyboards, circa late 80s. Some were green or purple.

I'm an old man.  Never heard of it.  :oldman:

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I use to be terrible about cutting deals with potential customers who were ready to walk away when I told them the price. I thought if they saw the quality of my detailing they would become converted. A few yes, but most stayed a cheap skate who would not expect to low ball me. And like OP said, they never seemed overly happy with the work, even at the big discount I'd give them. I refuse to budge on my pricing now, but if a potential customer's being reasonable and just trying to save a little cash. I will offer them an "upgrade" that doesn't cost me any more $$$. Like instead of the spray sealant I'll use a ceramic infused liquid carnuba wax.  Or I'll throw in a small extra like a quick spraying of Adam's Odor Neutralizer.  I won't come down on what I charge, and I won't listen to "can you switch the spray wax to a spray sealant?" Nickel & dimers are the worst to deal with on any regular basis.  If a person's starting to walk away immediately after I tell them a price, I wave good bye. My town has a hundred white detail van guys who will gladly do a $20-25 wash on a big s$$ F250. Nope, not me! I see a man and woman white van team, they do what seems like half the cars in my neighborhood. They must do 30 vehicles a day. One's doing the outside while the other's doing the inside. I'm sure at the end of the week they have a decent bank roll, but that's a looooot of constant work. I don't mind working all day, but I'd prefer to do 2-3 3 hour details and not 15 15 minute quicky ones. 

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