The Devil in the Details

Dec. 22, 2017
How to get the most return on your detail department

Consider all the changes to the collision repair process over the past 10 years: From new materials to new repair procedures to the rise of OEM certifications and training, it’s a completely different landscape than it was even a few years ago, says Lee Rush, manager of business consulting services at Sherwin-Williams. Now, consider the changes in the detail department. Can you think of any, he asks? While companies have improved their detail products, the core processes and procedures have remained largely the same. And that’s a problem.

“I wouldn’t say [detail] is ignored but it’s certainly the one we spend the least amount of time and technology in,” Rush says. “We take it for granted. It takes a team to restore crashworthiness to the vehicle and an important part of that, especially to the consumer, is the fit, function and finish. The consumer sees the finish. They see the fit and the function of components and windows and mirrors, but they really see the finish. Very few consumers look under the hood and say, ‘I’m not sure about that rail sectioning repair.’ But they do see that final finish.”

All of your team’s hard work could be completely negated by a poor detail, he says, and that’s why it’s so important to maximize that department and its myriad opportunities. Rush outlines the top four keys to getting the most out of your detail department.

1. Establish a quality assurance process.

Typically, the detail department is the last stage of the repair process, so as the last hands to touch the vehicle before the final quality control and test drive, Rush says it’s an opportune time for a quality assurance process.

“There is an opportunity there to develop and improve the training for the people in that department so they are truly the last line of quality assurance inside of production,” he says. “Think of it as a last line of defense, the quality assurance technician or detailer performing that final inspection. They’re capable. They probably have a desire.”

The benefit to doing this, Lee says, is that you reduce the number of mistakes caught only when the vehicle is brought out for the final QC and test drive. The final inspection doesn’t have to be incredibly in-depth either, he says. Instead, it should look at fit, function and finish; at that point, things like structural integrity and weld integrity should be established, so this inspection should ensure the functionality of those components, overall cleanliness of the vehicle and cosmetic appearance, and that the panel adjacent to your work is acceptable.

“It’s not a high level of technology,” he says. “I’m expecting them to ensure the customer has a completely functioning vehicle.”

2. Try to pre-detail as much as possible.

Another common occurrence in most detail departments, Rush says, is that the volume of work is virtually non-existent in the morning—and then flooded from 3-5 p.m. when vehicles are ready for delivery.

“Ten technicians will deliver their reassembled vehicles to the detail department in the afternoon,” he says. “It’s a mad house back there.”

Instead, the goal should be to spread out that workload, ideally so one car is delivered to detail every 30 minutes to an hour. In addition, Rush says that shops should be looking for opportunities to perform the detail at the beginning of the repair process. During damage analysis and blueprint, he says to look to vehicles that could easily be detailed before the repair or while waiting on parts. You’ll be surprised how many vehicles qualify for this, specifically express repairs or front-end hits. At the very least, he says, it should almost always be possible to clean out the interior of the vehicle and remove trash, vacuum, clean the interior glass or do a heavy clean on the wheels. For a heavy hit, it’s a good idea to remove the heavy debris ahead of time that requires more attention to remove.

“That’s not going to impede the repair,” he says. “The question is, how much of the interior of the vehicle can I pre-clean to reduce the amount of detail time at the end of the repair?”

That way, when it reaches detail, only a light wash, rinse and shammy is required, versus the full process.

3. Take advantage of up-selling opportunities.

The detailing department should also be an easy opportunity to create an additional profit center, Rush says. While the process is conversationally called a “detail,” in reality, the process is mainly a “wash and vac” versus a $100-plus true detail, Rush says. That creates an opportunity to not only set customer expectations, but also create up-selling opportunities with menu-based pricing.

“A lot of times, [customers] are like, ‘I’ve had this accident, I’ve had these repairs, I might as well get the car detailed,’” he says.

Rush recommends setting different tiers. For example: A $29.95 detail that includes a complete interior spot clean, a steam clean of the floor mats, and a spot clean of the seats; a $49.95 detail that includes an additional exterior orbital polish and sealant; and a $129.95 that includes all the previously mentioned items as well as a deep clean of the engine and trunk compartments. The trick with pricing, he says, is that customers need to feel they received what they paid for. You need to explain the features and benefits of the detail, so that a customer does not expect more than what the $29.95 detail entails. The menu-based pricing also allows you to set expectations of what the customer should expect from your shop’s free detail. One helpful tool for selling those details, Rush says, is using visual tools, such as a headlight that’s half cleaned.

4. Create career paths for detailers.

For many shops, the detail department is notorious for high turnover. Very few people aspire to be detailers for their whole careers, Rush says, which is why you need to pay special attention to the career paths of your detailers. Detailing isn’t a particularly technical job, so it’s more important than ever to hire for attitude and motivation in this department, versus skill level, he says.

“The hope is they would come in and they would develop into something like damage analysis,” Rush says. “I want to hire the best people and move them forward in my business. If you start hiring like that, you’re going to get a higher quality of detail and detail product out of those employees.”

If you identify detailers that could potentially become long-term employees, Rush recommends allowing them to spend time in other departments during slow periods. For example, have them assist the parts manager and outline all the functions you would like to see them perform.

“He or she is then developing parts skills that one day we might say, ‘Let’s make them a parts coordinator,’” he says. “If they have technical skills, often we use them to disassemble vehicles. That’s a possibility to move employees forward.”

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