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Why Dealers Have Problems with their Detail Department

If the title of this article offends you because you don’t have problems with your detail department, then please do not read any further. This article is for those dealers who can honestly admit they have problems in the operation of their in-house detail department.

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Bud Abraham is the founder of RL "Bud" Abraham & Associates.

If the title of this article offends you because you don’t have problems with your detail department, then please do not read any further. This article is for those dealers who can honestly admit they have problems in the operation of their in-house detail department.

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Seeing the Problem, but Doing Nothing

You are not unique among business owners/managers who see problems in the business but end up not doing anything to eliminate the problems. For a variety of reasons, business owners will recognize problems, but simply learn to live with them.

At the risk of being presumptuous, let me give you my opinions why dealers have problems with the operation of a detail department. However, why they do not do anything to eliminate the problems will be left to you to answer. After all, it is your problem isn’t it?

I believe many dealers simply do not know what to do.

Faulty Paradigm

To begin, dealers have an incorrect paradigm of detailing. In short, the detailing department has been, and for the most part still is, the “step-child” of the dealership. It is there, it may be needed, but it is largely ignored and disrespected. Why else would it operate and look like it does in an otherwise organized, pristine-looking dealership?

If a dealer wants to eliminate the problems, they must see the detail department as a truly important and critical part of the dealership. This means ensuring that the proper management time is devoted to it; it has the latest and best technology; it is supervised by a competent manager (not a detailer); it is staffed by well-trained, competent employees; and performance standards are established for the operation of the department.

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Bad Management or Lack Thereof

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

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

If there is an overall manager of the department (be honest now), it is usually someone who does not want the job in the first place. It is usually the used car manager or the service manager — neither of whom sees the detail department as a part of their responsibility.

The typical detail shop manager likely has had no formal training in the “art of detailing” and certainly no training in management, production, quality control, profit and loss or the other critical skills a department manager/supervisor should possess.

In my nearly 20 years in the detail business, several as the owner of two detail centers, I can say without reservation that detailers are “typical” and are not the type of personnel most businesses would hire. In fact, I have asked dealers, “Would you hire this type of person for a position anywhere else in the dealership?” The answer is always no, so why hire them for the detail department?

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Most would say for their experience. The problem here is that their experience is informal, and only good if you let them do what they want. In other words, each and every detailer in your dealership is in charge of what they do and how they do it. 

This type of situation was what caused Mike Gold of Gold’s Chevrolet – GMC in Newport, OR, to say to me, “I’ve been a slave to my detail department until you came along.”

If you are going to overcome this people problem, you have to set hiring standards. Then, once you have a staff of competent people with potential, train them with the skills they need to be journeymen detailers or car appearance technicians.

Primitive Technology and Lack of Organization

What you see in most dealership detail departments, or any detail shop for that matter, is primitive technology, which results in disorganization and inefficiency.

It stands to reason if the dealer does not really care about the detail department, they certainly are not going to invest any money in modern technology and equipment. Even if they do care, they may not be aware of the type of equipment that is needed. 

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The biggest culprit in a detail department is the method of handling and using chemicals in small squeeze and spray bottles. Aren’t they always lying around here and there, unmarked and often uncapped? This is not only an OSHA violation; it results in chemical waste and theft, chemical misuse or an expensive mistake on a high-end vehicle.

How are carpets and upholstery cleaned? Typically with a bucket of shampoo and a nylon scrub brush. The result: inadequate cleaning, wet carpets and upholstery, etc.

Vacuuming is done with a cheap shop vacuum. Does this sound like high-tech equipment adequate to do work on a $30,000 vehicle?

Yes, dealers are purchasing extractors (carpet and upholstery steam cleaners), but one unit for a shop with three or more bays will cause nothing but inefficiency and distraction. In addition, these systems are only one part of carpet and upholstery cleaning. You need pneumatic friction shampooers and hand scrub brushes used in conjunction with the extractor.

Then there is the paint. Few detailers know the difference between single-stage and clear coat/base coat paint finishes. They likely don’t know how to ID paint finish problems, and do not know the proper tool, pad or chemical to use to correct the paint. The typical paint finishing tools are the archaic 10-lb. electric buffer and wool-cutting pad, which were great for lacquer type paint finishes of the ’40s and ’50s.

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This discussion could go on, but suffice it to say, few dealers are aware of the new, advanced technology and methods that are available to upgrade a detailing operation that will keep a shop organized, efficient and turning out quality work in a reasonable time frame.

This article may have raised more questions than it answered, and it may be harsh in tone but that was intentional. As an advocate for the professional detailing industry, I have a passion to see this industry grow and prosper. 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.

Click here to view more solutions from Bud Abraham and RL “Bud Abraham & Associates.

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