The detailing industry offers great potential for entrepreneurs. It can be a highly profitable operation with a low barrier to entry and low operating costs. On top of that, it doesn’t require extensive training, special licenses, and large initial capital!
In fact, anyone can start a detailing business with a little bit of cash and know-how.
This is because the detailing industry isn’t regulated by any authoritative body. There are no federal laws, standards, and licenses that apply. Hence, there is no credential or certification you must obtain to become a professional detailer.
Still, we are witnessing a huge influx of certification courses and trainings today. They’re popping up all over the place!
Organizations and individuals that run these courses are private and range from coating companies to seasoned industry professionals. The price of their trainings ranges too. Signing up will cost you anywhere from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars.
The question is: is this a smart investment, or just a waste of your time & money?
In this article, we’ll look at both the pros and cons of attending detailing certification courses. Then you can make an educated decision for yourself!
Pros of Detailing Trainings & Certifications
Attending detailing courses or trainings can help you seem more professional and position yourself as an authority in your customers’ eyes.
When a customer walks into your shop and sees a wall with your certifications hung up, they might feel more comfortable entrusting you with their prized possession and confident in your ability to do the job well.
Knowing that you take your work and education seriously may give your customers piece of mind, even if they don’t read what the credentials say. It’s a psychological thing, like a subliminal message.
Plus, the detailing market is pretty saturated in some areas of the country. If that’s the case where you live, having a certificate that shows your skills and knowledge are recognized by your peers and industry leaders can be a selling point. It can help you stand out from the crowd and get more work.
If your potential customers do some research on protective coatings prior to choosing a detailer and hear good things about a certain brand, finding that you’re a certified installer for their products might incline them to go with your business vs. others. Alternatively, if someone in your area inquires about installation directly with the coating company you’re certified with, the brand’s representatives will direct the customer to you.
Filling The Gaps
Many professionals learned the ropes of detailing through free online resources. They started their businesses without any formal education and might have knowledge gaps that need closing.
The reality is, however much you think you know about what you do and however much hands-on experience you have, there is always room for improvement.
Attending a detailing course or training can help you address and fill these knowledge gaps, allowing you to expand your skill set and build your competence.
As we mentioned earlier, the detailing industry abides by no standards. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.
Why? Well because anyone with a rag, car soap, and wax can call themself a detailer, diminishing the value of what professionals like you do in consumers’ eyes.
That’s where professionalization can help.
Professionalization is a social process by which a trade or occupation transforms itself into a true "profession of the highest integrity and competence."
A necessary factor in professionalizing the detailing industry is setting a quality standard that all members of the profession comply with. This could be achieved through a universal certification issued by an authoritative body to detailers that demonstrate a certain level of knowledge and practical skills.
Having such a universal standard would bring legitimacy to the industry and display the true value detailers provide to their customers.
Attending courses and trainings allows you to engage with your peers and meet people who share your passion for detailing. If you’re lucky, you can even get valuable insights from industry leaders.
Networking is essential for every entrepreneur. It’s a way to increase your visibility, build your reputation, grow your support network, improve your business practices, and make long-lasting relationships with relevant individuals.
The information you get, both tacit and explicit, by interacting with other detailers attending these trainings will be very valuable for your business. As a matter of fact, it will definitely be worth more than the piece of paper you’ll receive in the end.
Cons of Detailing Trainings & Certifications
Attending certification courses has no actual benefit for those who already possess the knowledge and skills to do the job well. For those who don’t, obtaining a certification doesn’t mean you’ll be equipt to do quality work in the real world.
A piece of paper doesn’t make you a good detailer.
Besides, you don’t need certifications to get business. Your customers don’t care about them. All they want to see is quality work and excellent service.
Put yourself in their shoes. Would you rather take your car to a detailer that has a bunch of certificates hanging on the wall, or to one with stellar customer reviews and a substantial portfolio of work?
The thing is, detailers solve customer problems. Whether it’s faded paint, a filthy windshield, stains in the interior, or prep for a car show. If they have the skills and knowledge to provide solutions to these problems, nothing else matters. The question of certifications will never arise.
If your phone is broken and your friend knows how to fix it, you won’t care that they didn’t go to school for it. You’ll let them do their magic and be grateful to have your phone back up and running! The same goes for detailers.
Oh, and another thing that doesn’t matter is the coating brand you use. If you did a poll on your customers to see which detailing supplies companies they’ve heard of, you’d see how ridiculous it is to only push a certain brand.
It takes a lot of time and effort to master the skills required for professional detailing.
Unfortunately, most commercial detailing courses and trainings are run in large groups and last a couple of days, five tops. Besides, you’ll spend most of the time there watching and listening, rather than doing. The amount of time you’ll be actively involved is minuscule - like half an hour.
So these detailing “trainings” can hardly be called that. They’re more like lectures. And we’re not saying that lectures can’t be useful. A lot of detailers could benefit from knowing the theory and science behind the practice. However, the majority of detailing courses available today don’t offer quality knowledge. These lesson plans are just assembled materials that are already available for free, online. You’re basically paying for someone to regurgitate them and put them together for you!
Even if you find a great course that provides valuable insights and engages you throughout, you still won’t have the experience necessary to go out and detail customers’ vehicles after you finish. Real life is very different from the controlled conditions in class. Plus, there’s only so much you can learn in a short amount of time. Thus, at its very best, a course will provide you with the absolute basic knowledge of techniques and methods detailing professionals use. That’s it.
Oh, and if you decide to become a certified installer for a specific product, coating company trainings are even more of a joke.
You’ll literally be charged just to get your hands on their product. They’ll tell you all about the coating’s amazing properties like scratch resistance & increased longevity. The lecture will be embellished with industry buzzwords like hardness and bogus claims about ceramic technology. And the point? To teach you the most important lesson of all - that no other product compares.
We’re not saying all coating companies are like this, but franchise-style ones certainly are. Their trainings are designed for one purpose only - to push their brand. Hard. It doesn’t matter if what the instructors are saying is the truth or a lie; if it’s genuine or misleading. The point is for detailers to believe their claims and convince their customers to believe them too.
The issue here is that overpromising is a slippery slope. If you oversell a coating’s properties to your customers, it will fall beneath their expectations at some point. Then you will have to deal with angry customers that don’t trust you or the coating brand you promote anymore.
Detailing certification courses and trainings aren’t cheap. “Premium” ones will cost you an arm and a leg.
You can, of course, pick one on the lower end of the price spectrum. But what about travel expenses, accommodation, food & drink, and the lost days of work? Yeah, it’s going to be a very expensive couple of days.
And hey, why would you pay hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars to get “trained” in something you already know how to do?
Do you honestly need someone to teach you how to wipe on a coating? At that price?
Coating installation trainings are just another thing companies make money off. They get you to pay for the “education”, and then to spend more money to actually buy the product. A cash grab. Nothing more to it.
We’d love to see the detailing industry professionalize. However, for that to happen, there needs to be an overseeing body recognized by federal law and regulations. And that body doesn’t exist - not at home, or anywhere else.
So certificates issued by organizations like the International Detailing Association (IDA) carry no weight. These private institutions aren’t accredited by the state and hold no authority. You’re just paying for an expensive piece of paper.
How can somebody that’s not certified certify you?
Furthermore, the IDA’s phase 1 certification is obtained through written tests on different topics from prep to safety. Anyone can go and Google the answers as they take the test. How is that going to bring quality standards to the industry? And what does the recurring $100 annual fee bring to detailers and their businesses? Networking on a platform not many know exists?
If we genuinely want to professionalize the detailing industry, apart from being recognized by relevant authorities, we need to educate customers on what a detailing certification means. How is IDA going to do that? If we look at auto mechanics and the ASE which has been around for a long time, we’ll see that most consumers still don’t know what an ASE certification means. Do you expect the situation to be different for us detailers? Yeah, we highly doubt that.
Our Advice on Detailing Trainings & Certifications
It takes a high level of expertise and a lot of hard work to run a successful detailing business. There are no shortcuts. That’s because detailing is like any other trade. To learn, you need to do. So put the hours in, make mistakes, and learn from them.
If you’re a seasoned professional with years of experience in the industry and your detailing business is doing well, you won’t benefit from obtaining certifications and attending trainings for things like coating application.
On the other hand, if your skill set is satisfactory but your business isn’t doing well and you struggle with things like profits, overhead, getting and retaining customers, consider signing up for a business course. You don’t need someone to teach you how to spread a product. You need someone to teach you how to sell it. How to close deals. How to be an entrepreneur.
Hands-on is Best
For those of you who are taking your first steps in the detailing world, our top tip is: invest your money in supplies and equipment, rather than certification courses. Teach yourself. There is so much information online that can help. Watch Youtube videos and soak up as much information as you can. Learn the proper techniques and then go put them to practice. Work on your own car, on your friends' and family members’ cars. If you’re worried about messing up, buy a junkyard hood and practice on that.
Remember: no training can replace trial & error in real-life work.
Even better - find a good local detailer and ask to be their apprentice. Work the weekends, or part-time until you’re confident enough to venture out on your own. This way you’ll learn the ropes of detailing and get paid, instead of paying someone else. Plus, you’ll have the chance to experience the business side of things too, and you’ll certainly pick up a lot more tips and tricks than you would in a weekend class.
What Really Matters
The important thing is that you build a portfolio of work that you can show potential customers. It’s like with tattoo artists. You don’t ask to see their certificates, you ask to see their tattoos! That’s what determines your decision on whether they’re actually good or not.
When you do start your business, put a lot of effort into providing quality service and gaining customer trust. Customer satisfaction goes a long way. Even if it’s just a couple of people, if you take great care of their vehicle, many will become regulars. Plus, they will tell others! Then you can start building a loyal customer base and a good reputation that will help you grow your business.
Let the quality of work be your certificate, and word-of-mouth your marketing force.
If you still believe that a certificate can help your business and you have money to blow on it, please do some research first. Don’t just sign up for the first thing you find. Chat with people who have completed these courses. If they tell you that the one you’re looking at isn’t very valuable, ask for recommendations.
The thing is, there are trainings out there that are worth your time. But the detailers who host them usually don’t invest a lot of money in marketing, so you won’t find them on the first page of Google search.
Or go to Canva, find a template, edit it, print it, frame it, and hang it in your shop. Boom. Done.
Having the knowledge and skills to do the job is all it takes to run a successful detailing business. To acquire them, you need real-life experience. No course or training program can give you that. No certification can guarantee that.
Anyone can pay, do an online test, and get certified. But that certification carries about as much weight as the paper it’s printed on.
That’s why here at Undrdog we don’t do certificates. Instead of making you jump through hoops, we jump. You see, the whole “Pro coatings” thing is about gatekeeping, controlling access to a company’s best product. We’re not here for that. Everyone can purchase and use Undrdog products, pro or amateur.
The goal? To give you, our customers, 2 freedoms. The freedom from obstruction, requirements, lock-ins, and unnecessary certifications; and the freedom for growing your business, supporting your family, and growing professionally the way you see fit.
You like that? Great. You don’t? No hard feelings. There are many “certified installer only” detailing product brands out there that you can work with.