Auto Detailing Network
"Bringing the detailing industry together since 1996"

Bob Keppel


Article by Bob Keppel

Bob Keppel started Ace Car Reconditioning  in Portland, OR in 2004 and used Google, Yelp, Craigslist, and Angies List to grow Ace into the largest reconditioning shop in Oregon.

He now runs 3 companies servicing the reconditioning industry:

1.  Applied Colors.  Manufacturers of paint touch up systems for car detailers and PDR techs.
2.  SEO 4 Detailers .  Website design and marketing for reconditioners.
3.  The Car Detailing Blueprint. Operations and marketing guide for auto detailers.

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Meet the detailer whose image is as polished as the cars he shines.

Mark Barger’s Southern Illinois detail service, VisualPro Detailing, gets attention.  The bright graphics on his truck and trailer, and the design of his beautiful website say:  ”You can trust your car image to me.”

When we talked to Mark he was very candid about his experience jumping into car detailing full time, revealing.

Read the interview and discover:

  • Why working at a car dealership was the wrong starting point.
  • His unique ideas about marketing.
  • His greatest mistake.
  • His plans to make more money.
  • His advice for newcomers.
car detailing truck and trailer

The custom paint on Mark’s truck and trailer makes his company recognizable and memorable.

Why did you choose to enter the car detailing industry?

I started off by working for a car wash that did a little detail work on the side. I felt I had a knack for detailing so when I learned of a full time detailing position available at a nearby dealership I took it. I worked there for almost two years.

Working at a dealership is how I learned NOT to detail. I didn’t receive any formal training at the dealership, just kind of had to grab the chemicals and go. I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I was making things up as I went. After two years I moved on to a different job. I’d gotten tired of the 9-5 grind and went looking for freedom.

After leaving the dealership I continued to do detail work for friends and family. About two years ago I finally decided to get back into detailing as a business and told myself, okay, if I’m going to do this then I’m going to do it right.

So I did research. I learned the correct ways of detailing and was horrified to remember the way I’d been detailing at the dealership.

Tell me more about the cars you cleaned back at the dealership.

I used improper technique back then because they hadn’t trained me. I have just one part-time employee at the moment and I do the technical stuff by myself. If I’m going to sell myself as the face of this business, the trained expert, I can’t have employees doing the skilled stuff like applying sealants.

You’ve done an excellent job at making your service look professional. How’d you do it?

Like most beginning detailers I got my first five jobs from family and friends. That’s how almost everybody starts. When I decided a couple years ago that I was going to start my own business, I knew I had to be serious about it. I decided to put some money into the business. I paid for a professionally-designed website, professionally-designed logo, paint-job on the work truck and the best equipment I could afford at the time.

If I was going to be a professional detailer people would KNOW that that’s what I was doing. You can’t show up in a rusty truck – even if you’re the best detailer in the world.

Most people think of marketing as advertising – ads in newspapers, flyers, that sort of thing – but in reality marketing is the culmination of everything you are and everything you represent. From day one that’s something I’ve wanted to focus on.

What has been your greatest challenge?

The biggest mistake I’ve made is I made was not studying the fundamentals of business.

Here’s how I should have done it: I should have hit the books, learned the psychology of the market, my specific market, the demographic of demand, because this is what marketing really is – it’s understanding what problem I can solve for people, and why they choose me to do it.  This is the biggest challenge.

Give me one eureka moment from your experience in car detail marketing.

Oh I can think of a couple. For one, I realized that a lot of detailers work too hard at being just a detailer. You have to also focus on being a manager and entrepreneur and on that side of the business.

Also, and this is something people that are new to detailing often don’t realize, it’s not all about having perfect shiny paint. A large portion of the clients in my area want their daily drivers to have a clean interior. They don’t care as much about the shiny paint. In my market, the segment that wants detailed paint work is such a small percentage of demand for detail overall that you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities if you market just to the paint segment.

Taking the jobs that aren’t as glorious but are much more numerous makes a big difference in your sales totals.  So if someone wants to start their own car detailing business they need to be an entrepreneur and at the same time take the jobs that aren’t as glorious.

If you could start over, how would you do it differently?

I would take a much closer look at the demographic of the market where I live and make my advertising more targeted. In my area a detail costing over $100 is uncommon. It’s almost unheard of around here. If you’re going to offer a $200 plus detail you don’t need to be advertising to the $100 dollar payers. You need to be marketing directly to that higher-end segment.

Think of the little shop downtown that’s offering a $20 detail and has been doing it that way for years. If they make money, great, but you can’t do that if you’re starting your own business.

Are you happy with your income?

I am happy with my income, and I am also happy about the potential for that income to increase in the coming years.I’ve been able to make more money detailing cars by offering add-on services to the detail I provide. 

What advice do you have for people new to the business?

For any new detailer my advice is this: if there are things coming out the pipeline that are new and creative and improve your ability to offer high-quality services to your clients then you’re going to lose money by not looking into them.

I’ve added several high-quality add-ons to my service this year. Here’s an example: the Drivepur system – a system which removes odors and kills bacteria. This is really important to people, especially if they watch the news, since it’s becoming clear how full of bacteria our cars really are. I plan to continue adding exciting new services to my list as time goes on.

If something is becoming the next big thing in detail, I want to offer that to my clients. I want to make sure that I’m the one in this market that’s able to offer that service.

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