Protech Detailing


Owner Shane Schoenthal grew up in Southern California. He made two moves during that time that put him in three different high schools and college in Oregon. With his father flying helicopters he had many unique opportunities during his college summers. Fighting forest fires and flying scientists into MT St Helens after the blast being sone of the more memorable.

He came to Montana from Oregon in 1983 via a help wanted ad in the Wall Street Journal. As one of 80 applicants, he was hired at Plum Creek Timber Company as an accountant. After ten years of promotions, different titles, job descriptions and special projects, it was time to strike out on his own.

In 1993, after being inspired by a magazine article promoting the top 10 new businesses of the time, one of which was professional auto detailing, Shane realized his passion for cars and background in automobile services gave him a strong foundation to enter the professional detailing industry. Besides, he was paid during high school to clean his girlfriends fathers (Jerry Noble) ’56 Ford Pickup for pocket money back in the day.

He proceeded to purchase a small detailing shop, renamed it Protech Detailing, and has been successfully expanding its business and services for the last 22 years. Protech eventually became on of the most successful auto detailing businesses in Northwestern Montana and has since expanded its services to sprayed in Rhino bed liners and Century Truck Toppers.

Protech Detailing was founded under the principles of hard work and treating every car as if it were their own. To this day quality and customer service is priority one.

Protech Detailing was featured in America’s Car Care Business Magazine

October 2002 Volume 2 Issue 10

Working The Numbers

His Own Boss

As with many small-business owners. Schoenthal put in his time working for someone else. However, also like many entrepreneurial spirits, this grew tiresome after a while.

“I really just got tired of working for someone else,” he says. “After more than nine years I felt it was time for a change.”

But what brings a longtime accountant into the detailing profession? The answer is research.

“When I decided that I wanted to go out on my own, I really didn’t have a good idea what I wanted to do or what type of business that I wanted to start,” notes Schoenthal. “Thus, I did a lot of research. I bought and read entrepreneurial articles on the top 10 growing businesses and car care and detailing both were mentioned a number of times so that is the way that I went.”

After researching a number of areas, Schoenthal ended up purchasing a small “mom and pop” type outfit that recently had been mismanaged by a new owner.

“The shop had been operating since 1975: however, over the last year or so a new owner had come in and really mismanaged the shop causing a lot of customers to look for alternatives for their detailing needs,” he says. “For this reason alone it took me a little while to get the business up and running the way I wanted to.”

Being an accountant for the past nine years, Schoenthal also had a lot of detailing experience that needed to be learned. For some of this knowledge, he turned to Bud Abraham and Detail Plus, as well as the trade publications and seminars that are offered throughout the year. However, what Schoenthal learned very quickly was there was nothing like first-hand experience.

“I really learned a lot from the magazine articles and seminars that I read and attended,” he says. “But I learned the most from just getting in the bay and doing the work that needs to be done.”

Building a Business

Schoenthal also learned another lesson very quickly about his new business – reputation can make or break a business.

“The volume the shop was seeing before I took over was not what it needed to be to be successful,” he says. “In addition, some of the competitors in the area were telling customers about the reputation before I took over the shop and it took a lot of hard work to rebuild that reputation.”

Schoenthal says that the reputation of detailers in the area, and in many places around the country, is that of an auto janitorial service.

“Over time I have changed that reputation to be that of a professional service that can allow a vehicle to last longer than if it wasn’t used,” he notes. “More and more people are realizing that a vehicle is their second largest investment that they are going to make and that they need to take care of this investment much in the same way that they take care of their house- with regular maintenance.”

Another huge step that Schoenthal took after he had established his business was brining in high-end clientele that were coming to the area and building second and third homes.

“Many people see this area as a place to get away, as the next Vail, Colo.,” he says. “We get a lot of professional baseball and football players who come here and build multi-million dollar homes where they live for three or four months out of the year. With them, of course, come some very expensive vehicles. Because of the reputation that I built over time, many of these clients have come to the shop to have their vehicles detailed.”

When asked how he had built that reputation, he says it really comes down to being a professional.

“I try and talk to each and every type of customer that we see at the shop and treat them with respect,” he says. “Living where we do in Montana, I see the whole spectrum of people. From those who have big trucks and do a lot of hunting and four-wheeling to the high end customers we talked about before who want their BMW’s and Mercedes detailed. You have to be able to work with all types of people and learn what their needs and wants are.”

Additionally, Schoenthal says his sales technique has evolved and changed over the years.

“With the experience that I have now, I have learned to evaluate the customer and their needs more than I did in the past,” he notes. “I also have learned that you can’t always perfect every vehicle. In the beginning, because we were trying to build a base and garner more customers, I might have promised things up front-such as getting a certain stain out of the carpet. What I have learned is that it is better to promise less and then over produce, than to promise something and then not be able to follow through. One of the most important lessons I have learned is always to give the customer more than what they expected.”

Another way that Schoenthal is expanding his business was the recent addition of the Rhino Lining Spray-in bed liners franchise for the area.

“The Rhino franchise for the area was with someone else for a long time; however, their production fell off and this was a service that I was being asked to do a lot,” he says. “Many of my customers who had just purchased new trucks want to have their bed liners taken care of so this add-on service really works for my customer base.”

Although Schoenthal has built his business and reputation over the years, he says that mainly he has attracted new customers through word-of-mouth, not through a lot of advertising; however, that is going to change.

“That is one part of my business that I really have to elevate,” he says. “Other than the Yellow Pages ad that I run, I haven’t done very much advertising. But with my business at the point that it is-adding the Rhino franchise- I have to let more people know about my business. Thus, I am going to start some newspaper and radio advertising which Rhino, through their co-op program, will help me pay for.”

Another challenge that Schoenthal has come across is finding and keeping good employees. Because of the area of the country that he is located in, many business can only afford to pay employees between $6 and $9 an hour. For that reason it sometimes is hard to keep good employees.

“With my business growing, I need to get to the point where I can offer my employees a better wage, as well as benefits, to keep them around longer,” he says. “I also am trying to attract a little more mature type of employee that is not going to jump to the next best thing when it comes along. I want employees that will be with me for the long haul.”

If he had to provide advice to other detailers about what it takes to be successful, Schoenthal says you have to be committed to whatever type of work you are going to do.

“I come into work each and every day looking to learn more about my business and my profession,” he says. “I think too many people believe they have learned everything there is to learn and won’t even take good advice that might help them detail a vehicle better or become a better businessperson. Whether you are learning from trade magazines, conferences, seminars or on the detailing floor, continuing education is a must in any profession.”

Where does Schoenthal see his business going over the next couple of years?

“We are right on the cusp,” he states. “I have room for five detail bays; however, with the Rhino linings franchise coming in, that takes up one of the bays. My goal over the next couple of years is to establish the Rhino franchise and then maybe start looking to expand. Right now I have a “C” location, but it is serving its purpose well and I need to continue to build my client base and then eventually move into a bigger and better location.”

-America’s Car Care Business (ACCB)

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