Car Detailing Training: 3 Options

Survey:  How did the pros learn?

car detailing training surveyI wanted to know what made professional detailers the experts they are, so I asked then how they did it. I heard from someone who got pieces from the junkyard and set up an experimental lab in their yard. I heard from another person who got handed sandpaper and a dinged up Ferrari. Seems like a lot of the time, the detailing bug is genetic. 66 detailers, polled through four major online forums, reported how they learned to detail. Here were their four options:

1.) “I learned by attending a detailing school or seminar.”
2.) “I taught myself.”
3.) “I learned by working in a detail shop.”
4.) “I learned detailing by working at a car dealership.”

The vast majority of people said they were self-taught. In fact, it looks like there are two self-taught detailers working out there for every one detailer who learned either at a school, through a dealership, or by getting a job at a reconditioning shop. I have to admit, the results surprised me. This really says something about the kind of person who does detail work. Since I learned the art of reconditioning, however, things have changed. Out of those who said they were self-taught, a large portion said they did so by using the internet – videos and forums especially.

Follow these links to find the original polls:
http://www.autopia.org/forum/professional-detailer-general-discussion/139098-how-did-you-get-your-training.html
http://web-cars.com/phorum//read.php?1,43374,43397#msg-43397
http://www.autogeekonline.net/forum/how-make-money-detailing-cars/44973-how-did-you-get-trained.html
http://www.autodetailingnetworkforums.com/post/How-did-you-get-your-training-5652522

Introduction to Auto Detailing Training

Before you touch a customer’s car as a professional, be certain that you:

  • Learn professional detailing skills. These include: how to clean engines to like-new, how to remove carpet and upholstery stains, how to remove odors (food, dog, tobacco), how to polish and wax paint to a better-than-new finish, how to remove water spots, how to clean “nooks and crannies” (buttons, vents, switches, under seats, etc).
  • Buy professional equipment. Don’t overspend! There are only a few completely necessary items: wet/dry vacuum, Cyclo polisher/waxer, electric pressure washer, and an air compressor.
  • Learn professional marketing techniques. A modern detail business needs to have great relationships with local car businesses (dealers, mechanic shops, detail shops, and body shops) and have an aggressive and very visible website.

There are 3 resources for training available:

  • On the job.
  • Car Detailing Schools.
  • Train at home.

Lets take a closer look at these options.

Option 1: On The Job Training

This is, in my opinion, the most thorough means of learning the business. However, it is the most difficult to arrange.

It will require that you work for 6 weeks at an auto detail shop at least 1 hour from your home. Contact detail shops outside of your area and explain that you want to open your own shop. Emphasize that you will NOT be their competition even if you are starting a mobile car detailing business. Offer to work for minimum wage or less in exchange for complete training in the technical and business operations of their shop.

Your first few weeks will be spent performing actual detailing: in, out, and engines. You will encounter all the problems (food spills, dog hair, water spots) that come up at a pro shop. And you will become much faster at fixing them as the owner shares his best car detailing tips.

3 weeks into your training, you should begin to learn the business side of the shop: what supplies to buy, where to buy them, what to pay for them, how to advertise, how to run a website, how to sell to car dealers, how to greet customers, when to run coupons, how to handle complaints…all of the many issues that confront a detail business owner daily.  This half of your training is far more important than the first weeks in which you learn the basics of how to detail a car.

At the end of 6 weeks, you should have enough knowledge to venture out on your own. But expect a lot of new issues to come up in your first 6 months that you will have to fix on your own.

On the job training only works if you are willing to drive to a distant shop for 6 weeks, and only if you have a willing shop owner. You may need to work for free (ie, an internship) to get a shop owner to agree to this.

Pros: Completely thorough, hands-on training in a real detail business.
Cons: Very difficult to find a shop owner willing to train you.

Option 2: Detailing Schools

There are many detailing schools across the country that specialize in training detailing business owners with formal detailing classes and seminars:

Detail King in Pittsburgh, PA.
RightLook in San Diego, CA.
The Total Pros in Los Angeles, CA.
Detailing Success in Big Bear City, CA.

You should enroll for a minimum of 16 hours training courses, if not more. Expect to pay at least $1200, including travel expenses, and be away for at least 3 days. Be sure that you pay for and receive adequate marketing training as it’s marketing–not your ability to detail–that will make or break your young business.

I have heard great things about all 4 companies, but in particular, Detailing Success in Big Bear–run by Renny Doyle–has a superb reputation.

Pros: Hands-on technical and marketing training from teachers who have done and seen it all.
Cons: Expensive. Not a truly real-world experience where you can learn how to handle real-world customers and real-world problems (broken equipment, odors that can’t be removed, customer complaints, etc.)

Option 3:  Study at Home

There are several study at home options available:

  • Book: “Start Your Own Auto Detailing Business” ($14)
  • Book: “The Profitable Auto Detail Shop” ($17)
  • DVD: “Auto Detail Pro” ($25)
  • Train Online: “How to Start a Car Detailing Business” ($75)

The books and DVDs listed above offer great technical training. They do show you how to detail cars quickly and thoroughly. But they are a bit short on marketing training. They discuss marketing and sales, in general, but lack specific advice. For example, they still recommend paying for phone book advertising. Phone book advertising is essentially extinct in the car detailing business today.

How to Start a Car Detailing Business“, an online training system, is the first of its kind. I wrote it, so I’m obviously going to recommend it here, but for good reason.  It’s much more than a book of ideas and information.  Written in 2010 and refreshed in 2013 (the others were written and published many years ago), it covers current detailing methods and has the latest information on how to market on the Internet–the new “honeypot” for finding new customers.

Pros: Cost and convenience.  A practical use of your time and money.
Cons: Lack of actual hands-on traiing.

Conclusion

How you choose to train ultimately comes down to your budget and the time you have available. There isn’t truly a right or wrong way to learn how to run a detailing business.

I do have 2 important pieces of advice for new detailers:

  • Don’t overspend on supplies and equipment. You can do excellent work with just some basic equipment and chemicals.
  • No matter what method you choose to train, the most important training will occur in your first 6 months on the job. Every car is different. Every customer (and their demands) is different. After 6 months you will gain significant confidence. Don’t emphasize training TOO much, as the most learning will come after your training.

Good luck out there!

author of auto detail training book

Bob Keppel
Author: “How to Start a Car Detailing Business
Founder:  Ace Car Reconditioning
bob@startacardetailingbusiness.com

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