Interiors: A Very Detailed Report

Apr 1, 2012

Cleaning, detailing the interior before you return a vehicle back to its owner means extra income, but means even more to your clients.

Every time I pick up one of my vehicles from being serviced at my local garage I wish that the interior looked better than when I brought the car in. Not that the mechanics soiled the seats, steering wheel or floorboard more than it was when I dropped the car off; it’s just that a detailed cleaning inside and out would be nice. And I wouldn’t mind paying extra for that service; it saves me time.

And there are stains from spilled drinks, animal nausea, tree sap, etc., that are difficult to remove without the right tools or proper cleaners on hand.

A dealership might have detailing services, but it’s rare that I – or many folks I know – go to a dealer for servicing or parts or aftermarket accessories; I prefer the specialists.

I do vacuum the interior, and wash and wax the exterior, but unless I make a separate trip to a detailer, the vehicles look the same when I leave the garage, even if they’re mechanically better. If only the garage or the aftermarket shop offered an optional detailing service…

Vehicle detailing, interior and exterior, is one of those services that many clients and prospective clients enjoy because they can get that “new-car” look and feel that will last a long time. And if your shop can give its customers that new-car look and feel, especially after other interior or exterior work has been done, just think of the impression it will make. And just think of the return business it will engender.

Restyling got in touch with a few detailing specialty companies and their top people who understand what’s involved to enter, promote and succeed in the detailing business.

Here, we focus on the interior, first asking the experts to discuss what appearance interior reconditioning/detailing areas restylers should be getting into and why.

Why detail an interior?

For RL “Bud” Abraham, founder and president of Portland, Ore.-based Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, detailing should include exterior and interior work, and he firmly states that most consumers as well as companies supplying a detailing service want the complete service. As such, Abraham notes that interior “cleaning” might be the preferred term. In that context he begins the discussion.

“Today’s motorist recognizes the need for better car care because they are paying more for their vehicles, keeping them longer and have less time to maintain them and, in fact, don’t want to do it yourself,” says Abraham. “They are a ‘do-it-for-me’ consumer. That said, if a restyler were to consider detailing, it should be both the exterior and the interior because a vehicle has many needs.”

Focusing on the interior, “some vehicles might need only a carpet shampoo, others just a seat shampoo and yet others a complete interior clean and shampoo,” Abraham adds.

“If restylers want to start slowly and test the waters, so to speak, they can choose to offer only maintenance services which would be done on newer vehicles or vehicles in good condition. That is, a simple wash and wax only. Or a maintenance carpet shampoo. Nothing more. These services do not require a great deal of equipment nor chemicals nor a great skill level.”

Several people from the Meguiar’s Inc. organization fielded our questions. Noted one expert: “Cleaning, conditioning and protecting interior surfaces is just as important as detailing the exterior of a vehicle. For the most part, cars are [used] more than [just as] ‘Sunday drivers.’ -¦ Most of the time cars are commuter vehicles, taxi cabs for the kids and pets, recreation vehicles for the weekends and even act as pseudo-trucks for those weekend projects. With all these ‘faces’ a car can wear, an interior can be bombarded with food spills, dirt, grime and odors in no time.

“Since we spend a large amount of time inside our cars, it is important to keep it clean for a sense of pride and passion. That said, offering services such as cleaning, conditioning and protecting carpet, cloth, vinyl and leather as well as removing odors is possible.”

Barry Berhoff, president of Shurhold Industries Inc., Palm City, Fla., agrees: “Inside is just as important as the outside of a vehicle. Since owners actually spend more time inside looking out, the appearance of the inside directly affects how they feel about their vehicle.”

The clean sweep: What tools, products might be needed

A variety of tools are needed, note the experts at Meguiar’s. “To start with, using the right products is extremely important to quality results. Each surface needs and requires specific products to maximize cleaning, conditioning or protecting. For example, if you are working on vinyl, you will need a product designed for vinyl. -¦. If you are working on leather, a product that is designed for leather is key.”

Further, the Meguiar’s folks say, “A commercial vacuum, air lines, a variety of towels, razor blades, brushes and applicators are also vital tools for an interior detail. In addition, depending on the depth of services offered, you may need a carpet extractor and an ozone machine.

“Keep in mind, the most important tool needed for a quality detail is education and the desire to exceed the expectations of the customer.”

Berhoff, of Shurhold, reminds us that “leather, vinyl, plastic, carpet and glass are the main components of an interior,” and that detailers “need to look for products that are easy to use and that clean these specific areas.”

“Look for products with a mild, pleasant or no fragrance. Since [the vehicle interior] is a confined space, too much chemical smell or strong fragrance can be overwhelming.”

For a “shopping list” of tools, supplies and cleaning compounds, see the sidebar article, “Tools for the Interior Cleaning trade,” from Detail Plus’ Abraham.

But is interior cleaning/detailing profitable?

Abraham points to the numbers in the “Tools for the Interior Cleaning trade” sidebar. “The ROI question is not possible to answer, since the restyler is already in business and this would be an adjunct to his existing business. He would have labor, materials and amortization of equipment costs; but in most cases, adding the detail service, in this case, interior cleaning would not increase overhead or burden costs,” Abraham notes.

“You can charge from a low of $29.95 to $39.95 for a carpet shampoo, $39.95 to $49.95 for a seat shampoo, or you could charge from $100 to $150 for a complete interior clean and shampoo. What you make is dependent on how many you can do per day, week, month.”

For detailers, says Berhoff, the “costs of detailing supplies is minimal versus the labor. So don’t go cheap on your supplies. Pick good-quality, easy-to-use products. Very little actually gets used on each job, so any product that makes the job quicker and easier helps bring down the true real cost: labor.”

The Meguiar’s team offers a formula to use as a baseline: “Total cost for each service (approximately) equals 15% materials plus 85% labor.” Of course, “depending on the part of the country you’re in, ROI will vary,” they add.

Speaking of profitability and ROI, how much work should a shop need to make the cleaning/detailing service a viable, profitable one? And how should the restyler consider whether it’s time to bring the service in house or work with an experienced, local detailing pro? “Depending on the initial investment, you can see a profit in as early as two months,” says a Mequiar’s pro.

And “with regards to doing the job in house or subbing it out,” Mequiar’s representative continues, “it really depends on how bad the interior is degraded and damaged. Light- and moderately soiled interiors are easily done in house. But for severely soiled or damaged materials, refer out.”

Adds Abraham: “That [the amount of work that can be brought in] is really up to the restyler. If he grossed an additional $1,000 per month on interior cleans, that might be enough but for another person to invest in the equipment, supplies and chemicals mentioned [in the sidebar]. He might feel he would want to gross at least $4,000 to $5,000 a month. “Viable” is relative to the operator himself.

Available training

Training can be found at a variety of locations, says a Meguiar’s specialist. “Local community colleges often offer detailing curriculums. In addition, there are videos and online courses available by many manufacturers. You might even reach out to the local supplier as someone there often has hands-on courses in the region.”

Berhoff concurs that educational sources can be found. “The Internet is a great resource for training and in most cases it is free,” he notes. “With a little time and practice, detailers will acquire a good level of proficiency.”

And Abraham reminds businesses that want to add cleaning/detailing services to their mix that there are “numerous consultants that offer training. And, it is well worth the investment in a couple of days’ training at their shop, training as many people as possible.”

By way of example, Abraham cites this: “To shampoo and clean the interior, one person could easily learn what’s needed to know in two days. Cost will run from $500 to $750 a day for training from a qualified, professional trainer, plus airfare and expenses.”

A detailed look

With more than just carpeting and seats and a dirty steering wheel to be renewed what interior areas that should be part of the detailed cleaning?

“If one is doing full restoration cleaning and shampooing of the interior,” Abraham cites “it would include these areas of the vehicle: headliner, trim, dash, panel, steering column, glove box, console, carpets, seats, door panels” and be sure to clean the front and back, as well as third-row areas, if part of the vehicle.

“If one is offering only maintenance services,” Abraham continues, “then all that would be included are: carpet shampoo of floor mats and carpets, only front and back; and seat shampoo for seats, only front and back.”

Berhoff reminds to “vacuum everything first, then work top down. Make sure windows are perfect,” he admonishes.

Moreover, Abraham wants those who make a detailed cleaning of the interior to note the following: “There are no tricks to proper cleaning and shampooing; there are methodologies to be followed. This is not like shining shoes. It is professional cleaning that anyone who is doing it would need to have the knowledge and expertise to do.”

“You do not clean vents or deodorize unless you are doing full-restoration interior detailing,” he continues. “Air vents are cleaned with an air blow gun, vapor steamer, detail cleaning brush, among other things.

“Deodorizing an interior is a full-service restoration service, not a quick maintenance service. Odors come from bacteria. You kill the bacteria, you remove the odor. So, you remove the vomit, the feces, the milk, etc. Then you shampoo and clean the offended area and then use an ozone generator. Ozone is an invisible, non-odor gas that kills bacteria. Just put it in the car, turn it on and let it run for one to two hours depending on the odor. Or, you use a biological odor eliminator chemical which will kill bacteria – but it has to come in contact with the bacteria.”

Ultimately, adding detailing -”
interior and exterior – can add to your profit center as you add to your customer satisfaction quotient. It’s an investment, and one that has great dividends.

And, remember, as the Meguiar’s pro notes, “There are several services that can be offered at different price points. They can range from simply dusting and protecting to cleaning, conditioning, protecting, as well as odor elimination.

The best tips we would suggest is to not cut corners, and always use the right product for the job.”

Tools for the Interior Cleaning trade

RL “Bud” Abraham assembled a “shopping list” of items that can allow a shop to be a full-service interior cleaning operation.To clean and shampoo an interior you need the following equipment, supplies and chemicals:

Stain removal kit:………………………….$50
Ink removal gel:…………………….$15/tube
Extractor shampoo:………….$15-$16/gal.
Carpet and upholstery shampoo:……$12-$13/gal.
Leather and vinyl cleaner:….$12-$13/gal
Glass cleaner:………………….$10-$12/gal.
Dressing:……………………….$18-$20/ gal.
Leather conditioner:……………$18/½-gal.

Heated soil extractor:………$700-$2,000
………..(depending on size and features)
Small vapor steamer:………$100-$1,500
………..(depending on size and features)
Rotary shampoo tool(this is a hand-held
power scrubber):……………………….$300

Nylon scrub brush:…………………..$4/ea.
Detail brush:……………………………$2/ea.
Scrubby pads:…………………………$2/ea.
Dressing applicator pads:…………$2/ea.
Microfiber Towels:……………….$1.50/ea