Detailing: Don’t be wishy-washy

When a customer walks up to the service desk and says their boat needs a cleaning, what do you do?

If the answer is panic or look around for the Armor All wipes in your trunk, it might be high time to think about figuring out a detailing solution.

Mark Bollman, president at Creative Colors International (CCI), said dealers should think hard about whether or not to do detailing themselves, or outsource it to someone like them.

“A lot of it depends on the facility and how well their staff is trained,” said Bollman.  “We find that most of the facilities that we deal with – the marinas and the boat dealers – their service department heavily relies on mechanical type issues and not so much the detailing or cleaning.”

He said that makes sense, because the investment in a hot water extractor, training and chemicals all add significant overhead costs, for what is typically a lower profit margin than mechanical service.

“That’s where they allot most of their time because it’s more of a profit center for them. The shop rate for that is much higher, of course, than detailing,” said Bollman. “We tell them, ‘Do what you’re good at, and we’ll do what we’re good at.' We’ll either compliment you or just outsource it completely.”


The danger of doing a lackluster job or leaving a seat sans luster is a big risk, and can affect your reputation.

“We’ve seen many times that guys in the service department will grab an acetone or a lacquer thinner or something that’s used for removing grease from engines or metal parts and they go ahead and use that on a vinyl or plastic trim piece and they screw it up because they don’t know the proper cleaner to use,” said Bollman.

“Don’t be wishy-washy about whether we should do it and have your technicians feel the same way about it. Because your customers, they can see it,” He said, adding that dealers should decide whether or not they want to invest fully in detailing service or leave it to a third party and focus on their specialties. “That way you can keep the dealer integrity in tact.”

“Either you’re in or you’re out, don’t go half way,” said Bollman. “It’s going to show.”

He said for dealers or marinas that do outsource their to detailing, the process is typically simple.

“We’d hope you have our company name on file already,” he laughed. “That’s number one.  They would call our company and say, ‘Hey, we got a boat with some damage.’ They would either describe the damage to us ahead of time; if there’s photos that can be shared we have them send us that for a quote before we dispatch a tech.”

He said a technician will be dispatched within three to five days, and can get right to work.

“We give them a price and we can do the work that day, or if they have to wait for approval from the customer, then we’ll come back and schedule it another time,” said Bollman.

Dealers and marinas who get a lot of customers asking about detailing or keeping their boats clean can actually turn detailing service into revenue.

“For some dealers that outsource 100 percent, it can be a profit center for them.  We come out, we charge our service – say it’s $125 to detail a boat – they may tack on 10, 15, 20 percent,” he said. “That’s typical in the service industry when you outsource – we leave that up to them to figure out how much they want to increase their profit.”

The bigger the boat, and the dirtier, the bigger the profit could be for the business.

“A boat detailing – if we’re just going to clean it up at the end of the season and get it ready for next season – it starts at about $125 up to $300 depending on the size of the boat and what’s all involved,” said Bollman, adding that they charge a la carte for cuts and damage.

He had some pitches for the customers too.

“All we’re trying to do is keep the piece in like-new condition, give it a shelf life that can extend to what it’s recommended useful life is – five years, ten years,” said Bollman. “But it all comes through proper maintenance, just like a car or a boat. Don’t expect to drive it and never get the oil changed.”

The first thing to do when looking for a detailing partner is vet based on for more than just price. Getting certificates of insurance and reading reviews on on experience and customer satisfaction is key. Again, if the customer sees shoddy work, it can tarnish your reputation whether or not the work was done in-house or outsourced.

“With any dealer, we recommend whoever they’re working with is a solid, reputable company and they have experience, been doing this a long time and have the proper insurance requirements to take care of it,” said Bollman. “There are some vendors that are out there that will not carry insurance and it’s at your risk. They’re scary.”

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