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What do CAR DEALERS think of their VENDORS?

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Late payments, no payments, haggling, and “miracle” requests. Sound familiar? These are the troubles we accept from car dealers in exchange for steady, predictable work. But…what do they think of us? What’s the other

Car dealers struggle to find good vendors.

side of the story?

A Florida car dealer talks about his vendors.

Traci McMillan Beach is a freelance writer from Sarasota Florida who we asked to find a car dealer who would talk about his experiences hiring cosmetic vendors (PDR, interior, touch up, and detailing). She found Mike Bonner of Southeast Auto Wholesale who spoke about his 12 years of experience hiring PDR techs, detailers, interior techs, and touch up techs.


  • Bonner reveals that there are no contracts: any vendor can show up, do a demo, and get the job.
  • He tried in-house detailing briefly. Too much management…”it was a headache.”
  • Pays $100 for a full detail.
  • Has had detailers ask him for personal loans, borrow his buffer, ask for rides to work.
  • Advice for PDR, touch up, interior techs: never stop “knocking on doors.” Dealers are always looking for more options.

The full interview:

Traci: I’m actually working for a website that’s for car detailers, and we’re trying to talk to a few dealers in the area just to kinda figure out what you guys look for when you’re looking for cosmetic services…

M: She’s recording us

B: A website for car detailers?

M: I told her we don’t do no detailing here, but we send them out.

T: Well that’s actually what we’re curious about because we want to know about kind of how you make your decision on vendors.

M: We used to have on-site.

B: A nightmare.

M: Total mess, it was just messy, very dirty. Our facility in Bradenton had a six car garage and two bays was set up just for detailing. And it was dirty. So that’s why we got away from it and now it’s all offsite detailing.

T: How did you pick vendors?

M: We just, word-of-mouth. They solicit us.

T: What do you think is the most important thing to find in a vendor who is doing cosmetic services?

M: Car’s gotta look brand new.

B: In a timely manner too.

T: How do you rate price and reliability…

M: Prices are pretty much…

B: Pretty much across the board, the same everywhere.

M: Usually 100 bucks or around there [for a detail]. 85 to 110, around there, depending on what all you want done.

T: Okay and how do you find the new vendors, you just find them straight through them approaching you?

M: Yea, pretty much. We only need like two.

T: What were the two that you said? You said Tropical?

M: Tropical and what’s the other one on Pickney’s?

B: Eh, we just call him Henry

M: Yea, it’s actually a little private detailer that does it for a couple detailers or dealers, it’s not like open to the public.

T: And when did they approach you?

M: Couple years ago. Three or four years ago. Actually we approached them., we heard about them and talked to them and we gave them a try. We’ve tried other ones since then, but you’ve gotta be up to our expectations.

T: How would you suggest that vendors approach dealers like you?

M: Go out there and knock on doors. Just like anything else…

T: What can they do? Can they give you brochures or tell you about themselves? What can they say?

M: Usually what they do is they do a car, some will do a car for free, or they’ll do a car for like half-price. You know, no one wants to do anything for free, so instead of $100, I’ll do one for 50 and give you a try.

T: Then you can check out their work?

M: Yea, we usually just let them try a car. If it’s a $20 detail, and we still pay you $100, we’ll never do you again. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I’ve been through a lot of detailers.

T: You know what’s good and what’s bad.

M: We had eight of them [detailers] at one time. We used to sell 100 cars a month at one time. Going back years ago.

T: Really. Do you have any good stories?

M: I have a lot of stories.

T: Vendor stories?

M: There’s tons of them. I repo’ed cars for nine years, I’ve done it all.

T: So what have the nightmares been?

M: I mean, you know I could just go on and on and on. Detailers are like tow truck drivers. They are not the best caliber of people. They’re not the most reliable, so…There are some out there that are dedicated to their work and run a tight shift, but most of them are day-to-day.

T: Which service do you find most necessary- between detailing and dent repair and paint repair…

M: You need them all. (phone ring) We have a process we go through when a car comes in here. You know if it has a scratch on the bumper, it gets touched up. If it needs to be painted, it gets painted. It’s just a process. We have dye guys, we have detail guys, we have touch-up guys, we have paint guys. A guy was just here a couple hours ago, he painted this black Impala SS, painted the front and rear bumpers. Like I said, me and Brad, we used to do over 100 cars a month.

T: So when you had eight different vendors, was that just because of the sheer number of cars?

M: How busy we were, yes. You know not all of them will take all of your work. Some of them will say, look I can do two cars a day for you. If you are doing 100 cars a month, 25 cars a week, and one guy can only do two a day, well that’s only 10 cars. So we’ve gotta have other people to you know

T: Do you go to one guy for everything?

M: Nah, everyone does something different. They usually come on Thursdays. The Ding Doctor, the paint guy, the touch up guy comes on Tuesdays.

T: Do you have any advice for vendors looking for new clients?

M: Go out there and knock on doors. Just like I tell the Ding Doctors, when they come in here and are like, I’ve lost this account, this account, this account and I’m down so much a week… Well, you have got to go out and find new customers. The way you do it is, if you are a Ding Doctor or a touch-up guy, you just come up and say, hey, I’m looking to take on a couple new accounts, do you wanna give me a try? And that’s what they do.

T: Well this has been really helpful. Is there anything else that you think we should know, that we should be aware of?

M: Like I say, you’ve got to prove yourself. Just go out there and give them a try.

T: And when you were saying $100, was that for detailing?

M: Full detail. You know if someone comes on this lot and says, hey, I’ll detail your cars for $45, you are not getting a good detail. And you can’t do, one guy, one manpower, person, can’t do more than three cars a day. I don’t care how good you are; it can’t be done. If you say, me, myself, Traci, right? Traci says I personally can do five cars a day for you…you can’t, because they are not done right. You can only do two-and-a-half to three cars a day, at most, in an eight-hour day. If you are going to work 15 hours, well guess what, the cars are not going to come out good. A real detailer. You’ll see carwashes that say hey, detail, $49.95, well guess what, they ain’t gonna buff the car, they ain’t gonna polish the car and they ain’t gonna wax the car. They’re just going to put a butter wax on there, run it through the car wash and that is it. It is not a real detail.

T: Any more stories?

M: As far as horror stories, I mean, it’s just you know, stuff you wouldn’t expect. Like I said, detailers are not rocket scientists, so they come up with the stupidest stories. I can’t come into work today because, you know, my car won’t start. Well, you only live two blocks from here, you know. Comes to work, my buffer ain’t working. Well yea, so, go rent the buffer for $15. Well can you loan me $200? What so you can buy a buffer? If I give you 200, I’ll never see you again. It’s just you know, I’ve heard it all, I’ve seen it all. Show up with the two kids and the wife, I’m like, wait a minute, I hired you, I didn’t hire your wife and two kids. I’m not your babysitter. This ain’t a daycare, it’s a business. I could go on forever.

T: Do a lot of your friends and stuff, do you guys all use the same vendors?

M: No, there’s not a lot of competition here. There’s all big dealers here that have their own detailers in house. We’re like the only independent one here. Just Brian across the street there, did you see him?

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How We Started

It was 2006. A car detailer couldn't find affordable, easy-to-use add-on equipment to grow his business. So he made it himself.

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