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Thread: Interesting Read
01-07-03, 10:22 #1
Detailers realize dream with carwash offering
By Sara Cooper
When a new customer arrives at Hermosa Beach Car Wash and Detailing in Hermosa Beach, Calif., the ticket writer prints "NC" on the ticket. This is the signal for Mimi DiMassa to begin the welcoming process. She introduces herself, offers the customer a cup of coffee and radios Dan Yap, the carwash manager. Yap is always ready to greet the customer, talk with him and answer questions with what Mimi calls his Hawaiian charm. If the customer has selected a detail service, he has the option of taking the company shuttle to the beach, nearby shopping areas or a local restaurant. Each member of the detail team who takes the vehicle from this point has undergone vigorous training by Robert DiMassa, often lasting up to six months and covering detailing basics outlined in the training manual created by Mimi.
This is all part of Robert and Mimi DiMassas' commitment to quality that has earned them a sterling reputation in the entertainment capital of the world. It has also earned the trust of loyal customers such as Kobe Bryant, Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Ray Liotta and Gabrielle Reece to name just a few of the celebrities who insist on the DiMassas for auto detailing.
If anyone was made for auto detailing, it is Robert DiMassa. He began detailing cars 20 years ago in the lot behind his childhood home in Sunset Beach, Calif. A friend would purchase cars from auctions, and he and Robert would clean them up for future sale.
"Most everything I learned in the beginning was trial and error. Maybe it came naturally. I clean my tennis shoes with a toothbrush," he laughs.
Robert started his own mobile detailing operation in Venice Beach, Calif., mainly as a way to pay rent. The makeshift operation has since grown into a lifestyle, especially with the addition of his wife, Mimi, to the business in 1995. Today, the two own and operate Superior Car Care LLC, which, in addition to Hermosa Beach Carwash and Detailing, includes mobile detailing, a detail shop and hand wash at Gold's Gym in Venice, Calif. and an indoor auto detail shop and hand wash at The Parking Spot at LAX Airport.
Hermosa Beach Car Wash is a conveyorized auto hand wash that typically serves about 225 customers per day during the week and 300 per day on the weekends. The wash components are lammscloth, similar to the material of a hand-washing mitt, which is easy on vehicle paint and less costly than employing hand washers. The DiMassas were hired by Hermosa Beach Car Wash in 1999 to run the detailing business. The existing owners were having a difficult time selling the detail service and enlisted the DiMassas' help. It didn't take long for the couple to recognize the problem.
"We realized the reason they weren't getting a lot of detail customers was they weren't washing the cars properly," Mimi says.
They began training the carwash employees on proper chemical use and wash techniques. The employees were receptive and before long the business was bringing in more detail customers. The couple had been operating the detail shop for two months when the carwash company asked if they would take over carwash operations as well. This was their first venture into carwashing.
Mimi feels the business is a successful example of how conveyor carwashing and specialty detailing can coexist. She adds that in order for an operator to cultivate a harmonious relationship between the two, they must first revisit their wash techniques. They need to make sure employees are washing vehicles correctly so they are not fixing their own mistakes in the detail shop.
Converting carwash customers to detail customers starts with education. Mimi has found that dissatisfied carwash customers can become your most loyal detail customers if given the right information. When she encounters a customer complaining about a spot left on the vehicle after the carwash process, she explains how certain types of grime require more than just a carwash to remove.
"Most people just don't know. They have no clue about car care," she says. "Once you educate them and let them know the truth about car maintenance, they are usually grateful and choose to have their car detailed on their own."
Mimi doesn't believe in bullying people into getting their vehicles detailed. Instead, she will often demonstrate, on one section of the vehicle, what a certain service can do for the vehicle's appearance. For customers who are apprehensive about spending $100 on an exterior detail, she has prepared a home detailing kit, complete with a bucket, miniature detailing products and an instruction manual that they can take home and try out at their leisure. She will even explain the process to the customer herself. She finds this to be great for business.
"If somebody does all the work we do on their car without the same expertise and equipment, they will be grateful to pay $100 for someone else to do it," she says.
Mimi would like to see customers view professional detailing the same way they view an oil change--a vehicle-maintenance service that should be performed every three months. She sees too many vehicles that have been neglected so long that it is difficult to bring them back to showroom appearance.
"People need to respect that they have a really nice car, even if it isn't an expensive car. By keeping it clean and nice, the customer is going to be happier with their vehicle," she says.
If an operator wishes to run a successful carwash and detail shop combination, Mimi recommends having a separate detailing manager, carwash manager and store manager.
Yap's 20 years of carwashing experience has proven a great asset to the business. A retired carwash operator and engineer, he is fluent in every aspect of carwash operation, from customer service and employee management to equipment maintenance and washing technique.
Mimi says with the right team of people, even a small detail operation can bring in $15,000 a month.
"Once you get everybody trained, it is beautiful," she says.
Here, there and everywhere
Robert and Mimi are continually on the go, moving back and forth between their four businesses. While this can mean long days, neither would have it any other way. They pride themselves on being hands-on operators.
When the DiMassas started their detailing operation at Gold's Gym in Venice, they were working out of a pop-up tent about two to three hours a day. Once Gold's Gym management began to see the number of customers the business was attracting and the quality of service offered, they were happy to allow a permanent detailing canopy. The business quickly became an all-day, seven-days-a-week operation. The detailing equipment is kept in a trailer that is stored in a garage each night.
The Gold's Gym clientele have proven to be ideal detail customers. Many celebrities, including a number of LA Lakers players, work out there. Most of them own high-end vehicles and have about an hour to leave them for detailing. The detail manager will also shuttle a customer home if he wants to leave the car at the site all day. The operation details between 15 and 20 vehicles a day.
At the airport parking facility operation, detailing is offered as a service for traveling customers who choose to store their vehicles there. Superior Car Care does about 60 to 80 cars a day at this location.
The mobile business represents the DiMassas' introduction to detailing and has continued to grow over the years. Robert personally details Lakers star Kobe Bryant's seven vehicles weekly. He is also regularly invited to detail vehicles for movie shoots and commercials.
Repeat business and word of mouth account for nearly all of the DiMassas' customers. Mimi has experimented with marketing strategies such as coupons in the past but says their customers show little interest. Instead, the couple makes the business known in the community by participating in local events such as the Abbot Kinney Street Fair in Venice. Each year, Superior Car Care has a booth where they perform detailing demonstrations and display before-and-after pictures of customers' cars. Mimi also recently put out her first detailing newsletter.
It's all in the training
Providing good service starts with training. Once Robert has selected an employee, he begins the training process by finding out about him.
"I like to figure out what they have done in other jobs," he says. "I try to look at that background and see how I can take auto detailing and apply it to what they already know."
Someone who has worked in a kitchen, for example, might be better at interior detailing, he explains. A veteran of the construction industry, conversely, might do better at exterior work. Each employee starts out differently depending on his strengths. They then begin the training process, which can be a challenge for some. The company has between 35 and 40 employees, many of whom have been with the company for anywhere from two to six years. Robert says about one out of every 10 new employees stays.
"A lot of people say, 'I can detail cars,'" he says. "But their idea of what detailing is is really different from ours. It is really hard to get people to stop their bad habits."
Some new employees think the answer to every detailing problem is the high-speed buffer, he adds. At the DiMassas' shops, detailers are taught to begin with the least-abrasive method, such as a light clay, and work up in intensity from there depending on the vehicle's unique needs. Mimi will often have a new employee detail a car, identify his mistakes and then start over from scratch until the job is done right. The employee may not be let loose on a car without supervision for six months. Mimi says an employee is not useful to her if he has only had a couple of days of training before being placed on the lot.
"A lot of people ask for just Robert. He can't do them all, so it is really important that the guys who work for us do just as good a job as Robert does," Mimi says.
Robert says one challenge of working in the detailing industry is there are few set standards. Everyone has a different idea of what detailing is. To avoid damage, he has found it necessary to develop his own methods, streamlining business and creating systematic detailing procedures.
"There is a lot of science involved in detailing a car correctly," he says. "We have come up with a recipe that works for each vehicle."
If a vehicle comes in with a lot of oxidation, fallout or another problem that seems particularly hard to handle, Mimi will explain to the customer that she plans to bring in a specialist to handle the job. Robert is often called in for these vehicles as well as for any wet sanding, paint touchup or bumper-scuff repair that is required.
About 30 percent of Superior Car Care detail customers are impulse customers. These individuals may be picking up their boss from the airport, getting ready for a date or looking for a quick fix to a milk spill in the backseat. Mimi tries to fit these customers in whenever possible, and they are often grateful.
Women make up more than 50 percent of the business' customers, especially at the carwash. Many of them appreciate having a woman on the lot to talk to about their vehicles' needs.
"Women, in general, get taken advantage of in the automotive industry. So do men. By me being there and being honest and teaching my employees to be honest, she has more power to make up her mind and feel comfortable with her decision," she says.
Not to mention that Mimi is one of few women in the business who can hang with the guys when it comes to shop talk. While detailing is something she probably would have never imagined herself doing, she finds it challenging and fun.
"I like teaching people about their cars because they appreciate their car more," she says.
The DiMassas must occasionally deal with negative perceptions of detailing held by some new customers. Those visiting the business for the first time will sometimes ask, "You aren't going to put swirl marks on my car, are you?" It typically doesn't take long for the DiMassas to gain these customers' trust. In fact, Mimi says these people often end up being life customers because they can appreciate the service the business provides.
It all comes down to caring about the customers. The DiMassas learned long ago that since you can never tell who you're dealing with, it's best to be extra helpful to everyone.
"The whole reason I got into auto detailing was to take a nice car that was dirty, clean it and get the satisfaction of the owner," Robert says.
With prospects of other carwashes ahead and a detailing business that is continually growing and diversifying, there are likely many more satisfied Superior Auto Care customers to come.
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