Be sure you do two things before you even touch a customer’s car:
Learn a set of professional skills, including: the best way to bring engines to like-new, best way to remove carpet and upholstery spots, how to destroy smells, how best to polish as well as wax paint to the point of a better-than-new look, how to get rid of water spots, how to detail “nooks and crannies” (dials, vents, toggles, under seats, etc).
Buy professional gear. Don’t spend too much! There are just a handful of completely necessary items: wet/dry shop-vac, Cyclo polisher and waxer, electric power washing unit, and the all-important air compressor.
Understand professional marketing tactics. Today’s detail business must have good, working relationships with local vehicle businesses (dealers, mechanics, reconditioning shops, and body shops). It must also have a professional, visible website.
There are 3 resources you can find for training as a detailer:
Car Detailing Schools.
Learn from the house.
Let’s take a moment to look closer at your options.
Option 1: Apprenticeship
If you asked me, I’d say that this is the most thorough means of getting the business knowledge. Simultaneously, it is also the toughest to arrange.
It will require that you labor for 6 weeks at an reconditioning shop more than 1 hour from where you live. Contact auto reconditioning shops outside of your area and explain that you want to start your own shop. Be clear that you will NOT be a competitor even if you do happen to be starting a mobile car detailing business. Offer to work at minimum wage or even less in exchange for total immersion in the technical and business workings of their shop.
For the first weeks, you’ll ideally be performing actual detailing: interior, out, and under hoods. You will encounter all the common cases (beverage spills, dog hair, food spots) that drive into a pro shop. You will get much faster at making them clean again as the owner shares his top car detailing tips.
3 weeks into your apprenticeship, you should start to learn the business aspect of the shop: what things to buy, where to get them, how much you should pay for them, how to get your name out there, keys to running a website, how to advertise to dealerships, how to treat customers, how and at what point to run specials, how to handle complaints…all of the plethora of issues that show up at a detail business daily. This portion of your training is far more critical than the first weeks in which you learned the fundamentals of how to detail a car.
At the end of 6 weeks, you should have adequate knowledge to do it on your own. But expect plenty of new issues to come up in the first half year that you will have to confront and succeed at fixing on your own.
On the job training only works – but only if you are ready to drive to a distant shop for 6 long, barely or not paid weeks, and only if you have a shop owner on board. I repeat: you may have to work for nothing (ie, an internship) to get a detail shop owner to agree to this.
Pros: Completely all-encompassing, hands-on learning in a real detail business.
Cons: Very hard to locate a shop owner receptive to training you.
Option 2: Reconditioning Schools
There are lots of detailing schools around the country which specialize in training prospective business owners with formal detailing lectures and seminars:
Detail King – located in PA.
RightLook – based in San Diego, CA.
The Total Pros – based out of L.A., CA.
Detailing Success – located in Big Bear City, CA.
Enroll for 16 hours in training classes, if not more. Be ready to pay at least $1200, including travel costs, and be gone for at least three days. Make sure that you pay for and get adequate marketing training – since it’s marketing-not your ability to do good detail work-which will make or break your business.
I have heard good things about these 4 companies, but at the top seems to be Detailing Success in Big Bear-run by Renny Doyle.
Pros: Doing based learning. Schools offer technical and marketing training from teachers who have done and seen everything there is to see.
Cons: A lot of money. Not a truly real-world experience in which you can learn how to deal with real-world customers and real-world issues (broken tools, irremovable odors, customer troubles, etc.)
Option 3: Learn at Home
There are books and DVDs you can find on Amazon.
Theses books and DVDs offer excellent technical training. They do show you ways in which to detail cars fast and thoroughly. However, they are mostly lacking in marketing training. They’ll cover marketing and sales, in general, however they offer not enough specific advice. For example, they recommend shelling out for phone book advertising. Phone book advertising is all but history in the car detailing business today.
Pros: Price and availability. A truly practical way to use your time and funding.
Cons: Doesn’t have a hands-on component.
How one chooses to train ultimately depends on budget and time availability. There isn’t objectively a right or wrong way to gain the skills needed to run a detailing business.
Here are 2 important pieces of wisdom for new detailers:
No need to overspend on supplies and equipment. It’s possible to do excellent work with only a few items of hardware and chemicals.
The real training will happen in your first 6 months as a detailer, independent of what method you used prior to going into business. Every vehicle is unique. Each customer (along with what they’re looking for) is different. After 6 months you can expect to have gained a whole lot of confidence.