I’ve worked in the automotive industry for many years, and I’ve loved cars my entire life. Starting my own paint protection company was a natural fit for me.
But just because it was a good fit doesn’t mean it was easy! There’s a steep learning curve in building a business from scratch. Many people helped me over the years, and I’m always grateful for the opportunity to do the same for other fledgling entrepreneurs. Here are my top 12 tips to start your own detailing company.
1. Be curious and passionate. Learn about the craft and profession of automotive detailing. Always seek to improve your skills.
2. Go to reputable training. I train my employees in my shop. But I'm always willing to learn and take classes myself. I’ve been trained by guys with decades worth of experience, and these are the guys that really know their stuff. We are fortunate to go to Las Vegas for their annual SEMA, a huge after-market autoshow—not to party but to find out about new products and meet people in the industry.
3. Watch out for scams. I’ve watched an explosion of shops offering training on some really shady stuff from chemical companies. Understand there are no shortcuts in this profession. It’s a tough job that requires hard work. Guys who don’t want to do the hard work either quit—or sometimes offer their services as “trainers.”
4. Connect with colleagues and mentors. When you go to a training, seek opportunities to make connections. I was able to have Mike Phillips come to our shop and present a Road Show. This was special to me because my dad and I watched some of Mike's original tutorial DVDs on how to use a Porter Cable DA polisher. My dad has since passed, and so it was a real high point for me to have Mike in our shop—a “wish you were here to see this, Dad” moment. At many trainings I’ve attended, I’ve made some friendships, and now I have people I can bounce ideas off of.
5. Dress professionally. You are professional, so show up looking like a professional. People judge you by your appearance. Wearing a simple black polo shirt with black slacks or golf pants can show your clients you’re serious. Your clients are going to pay you good money to care for their vehicles. That tells you they care how they look. If they care how they look, they will likely care how you look, too.
6. Talk and act professionally. Remember that every contact you have with a potential client is an opportunity to make an impression. The way you speak and carry yourself matters. Speak clearly and respectfully. Stand confidently and use proper professional manners like shaking hands and holding doors open. For example, when customers enter and exit my shop, I make sure to open the garage door for them and stand by with a smile and a wave to greet them and bid them goodbye. Also talk with the customer’s wife if she is there. Ask if she has any questions and talk directly to her.
7. If you don’t know what to say, keep your mouth shut. This is about honesty and building trust. People are trusting you with one of their largest investments. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say that. Don’t fudge it. Then go find the answer and get back to the client as soon as possible. Returning with an answer shows that you are dependable.
8. Make your business legitimate. At a minimum, you need business insurance and a business license. Your local small business development council can be a great resource for this.
9. Network. Rather than paying expensive marketing “gurus,” learn how to sell your services face to face. Consider everyone that you meet to be a potential client. Then treat your clients well, and they will be your best sources of repeat and referral business.
10. Learn how to work for and with other people. There's a common misconception that owning your company is awesome because you can do what you want whenever you want. That’s social media nonsense. When you own your own company, you’re going to work really hard, and pretty much everyone is going to be your boss. Treat your customers like they are your boss–because they are. Having a servant mindset is the right attitude. Busy people with disposable income are happy to pay if they know they are going to get solid service from someone who is dependable and trustworthy.
11. Know your numbers. You want to own a business not have a hobby, so get serious about the financials. Do research online to help set your pricing. Track your time and materials on projects to determine your actual costs. Understand the value of your services and know your worth. Set up and create a business plan.
12. Cuss, cry, pray. When I started my business, I said some colorful words as I tried again and again to perfect my craft and polish out and get a coating just right. I cried a few times, wondering where the next job was coming from before the shop rent was due. One morning after weekday morning mass, our pastor pulled me aside and asked me why I was at church midweek. (He already knew the answer, truth be told.) He kindly shared some priestly words of encouragement, and a few hours later an Aston Martin rolled into the shop, and the rent problem was solved.
For paint protection film and ceramic coating packages, pricing, and more visit us at immaculatepaintprotection.com.
About the author: Bill Fetter’s passion for cars started at an early age, as he loved anything with wheels. Through his childhood, Bill observed his dad’s work as a mechanical engineer turned marketing manager and proud lifelong employee of General Motors. During high school, Bill honed his passion for cars by hand-washing and detailing his neighbors’ vehicles. Knowing he wanted to be in the automotive industry, Bill earned a degree in Industrial Engineering from Kettering University in Flint, Michigan. He’s worked as an engineer in the automotive manufacturing, medical device, steel industry, and pharmaceutical manufacturing fields.