This article is for those auto dealers who recognize they have problems in the operation of their in-house detail department and want to do something about it.

Without a doubt, some dealers do have problems in the operation of their detail departments, serious problems. All one has to do is look at the entire dealership and then look at the condition of the detail department: an embarrassing, disorganized mess. This is astriking contrast to the other departments that are clean, organized, well run and staffed with well groomed, efficient personnel.

Why is this? Read on.

Seeing the Problem but Doing Nothing About It

Auto dealers are not unique among businessmen who see problems in their businesses but do nothing to change them. For a number of reasons business owners recognize problems, but they simply live with them.

This article will present some thoughts on why dealers have problems in the operation of their in-house detail department. But, why they don’t do anything to correct the problems will be left to you to answer. After all, it is your problem, isn’t it?

A Faulty Paradigm

To begin, most dealer principals and everyone else in the dealership hold a faulty paradigm about the detailing service. In short, the detailing department is the “stepchild” of the dealership. It is there; it is needed; but it is largely ignored and disrespected. Why else would it look like it does in an otherwise organized and pristine looking dealership?

So, if you want to eliminate the problems in the detail department, you must view it as an important and critical part of the dealership. This means insuring that the proper management time is devoted to it; that it has the latest and best technology; that it is supervised by a competent manager (not detailer); and finally, that it isstaffed by well-trained competent employees (not typical detailers).

Bad Management or Lack Thereof

Ask any business owner the most important aspect of their business, and they will tell you its people. A dealership is no different. It is top sales people that sell the cars, well-trained technicians that service them, and it is highly skilled managers that supervise these people.

Unfortunately, the detail department in most dealerships has none of these.

If the dealer principal hired someone to oversee the department, like a service manager, or used-car manager, they really don’t want the job in the first place and do very little to manage it effectively, if at all. They do not see the detail department as a part of their responsibility and even if it were, “who wants the responsibility of that pig pen?”

Then there is the detail shop manager, typically a detailer who has had no formal training in the “art of detailing” and certainly, little or no training in people management, production, quality control, profit and loss or the other critical skills a department manager/supervisor should possess. They prefer to have their face in the side of a car, detailing, certainly not managing anything.

Staffed by Typical Detailers

In over 30 years in the detail business, as the owner of two detail centers, I can say without reservation that detailers are “typical” and are not the type of personnel anyone should hire. In fact, as I have pointedly asked dealers themselves, “Would you hire this type of person for a position anywhere else in the dealership?”

The usual answer is “no!” So why hire them for the detail department?

Most would say, experience, but the problem is that their experience is only good if you let them do what they want. In other words, each and every detailer in your dealership will be in control of what they do and how they do it. Is it any wonder there are problems when the inmates are running the asylum?

This situation was what caused one dealer to say to me, “I’ve been a slave to my detail department for years.”

Selective Hiring & Training

If you are going to overcome this people problem, you have to set hiring standards. And once you have a staff of competent people with potential, have them trained in the skills they need to be journeymen detailers.

Primitive Technology & Lack of Organization

What you see in most dealership detail departments is the most primitive technology one can find in any auto service business. It is this technology that results in the disorganization, inefficiency and mess in most shops.

It stands to reason if the dealer doesn’t really care about the detail department , they certainly aren’t going to invest any money in modern technology and equipment. Even if they do care they don’t have any knowledge of the type of equipment that might be needed on where to purchase it.

They certainly cannot ask the detailer; they know less than the dealer. They are the ones still using the primitive technology; they know nothing else.

The biggest culprit in a detail shop is the method of dispensing and using chemicals in squeeze and spray bottles. Check out any shop, there are hundreds of bottles lying around here and there, unmarked and often uncapped.

Not only is this an OSHA violation, it results in chemical waste, theft and chemical misuse, which can result in an expensive mistake on a high-end vehicle.

How are carpets and upholstery cleaned in most shops? They are cleaned with a bucket of shampoo and a nylon scrub brush. The result: inadequate cleaning, wet carpets and upholstery and moldy smells. Vacuuming is done with a $50 shop vacuum.

Some dealers do purchase soil extractors, but one unit for a shop with three or more bays will cause nothing but inefficiency and distraction because the detailers are always “waiting for the extractor.” Then, they are standing around being paid for doing no work.

An extractor is only one part of the carpet and upholstery cleaning process. Also needed are pneumatic friction shampooers and hand scrub brushes to be used in conjunction with the extractor, as well as proper chemicals. Many detailers use engine degreaser to clean carpets.

Then there is the paint. Few detailers know the difference between single stage and clear coat/base coat paint finishes. They don’t know how to identify paint finish problems, and they don’t know the proper tool, pads or chemicals to use to correct the problems. This results in swirls in the paint finish.

The typical paint finishing tools are the archaic 10-pound electric buffer and wool cutting pad which are great for the lacquer paint finishes of the 40s and 50s.

The discussion could go on, but to not belabor the point, suffice it to say that few in a dealership are aware of the new, advanced technology and methods that are available to upgrade a detailing operation that will keep a shop organized, efficient, turning out quality work in a reasonable time frame.

This article probably raised more questions than answered. And, it might be a bit harsh in tone, but that is intentional. As an advocate for the professional detailing industry, I have a passion to see this industry grow and prosper. And, because dealers are so critical to the growth of the industry, I challenge you to look seriously at this problem-child in your dealership and realize that you can solve the problems and create a professional appearance department in your dealership, but you have to see and care.