The Zymöl Detailer Experience - Final Thoughts
First major announcement of the new year folks. The following was first posted on Detailing World yesterday, and my original plan was going to just put up a link to that thread. However, upon checking I have just realised you have to be a member of Detailing World to see the section the thread is posted in, so I have decided to post the full lot here too. It may or may not be of interest to you, but it is news that affects our store....
At the start of 2007, when we first became licenced with Zymöl, we asked for permission from Zymöl Europe to write about our experiences as a licenced detailer (and latterly as an official reseller). For those that missed it, here is a link to the first thread we posted on Detailing World (DW) on this matter back in January last year...
At the end of the thread we promised to feedback to DW every so often with updates on our experiences. By the time the summer came, there was a lot of widespread bad feeling on DW concerning both the fixed pricing policy being implemented by Zymöl in the UK and their very heavy handed approach to dealing with anyone unlicenced who dared to write the word publicly (this ultimately resulted in the DW management team adding the word Zymöl to the DW swear filter, in order to protect DW members from possible legal action by Zymöl). We thought it sensible for us to add our thoughts to these matters, and here is a link to the second thread we posted on DW back in July last year...
Now that our first year is up, it is time for us to feedback to DW with our final thoughts about being licenced with Zymöl – that’s right, our association has ended. At the end of the first thread listed above I also asked the tongue in cheek question, “with life as a licenced company being so rosy, why would anyone voluntarily leave once inside the door?”. The aim here is to offer an answer and thus potentially help guide others who may be sitting on the fence trying to make a decision about whether it is worth it or not.
To recap a little, the main reasons for becoming licenced in the first place were: (i) to invest in our future and become ‘approved’ or ‘affiliated’ with a major brand (ii) to gain extra work at the high end of the market that would otherwise be lost, and (iii) to work with extremely high end products that would meet our needs for truly stunning finishes coupled with proven durability, i.e. something other brands cannot match. The first question is, were these desires realised, and did this add value to our business?
The answer is an emphatic yes. Looking back at the webstats for the first few months of last year, we saw a massive increase in traffic to the site - in both January and February the website took well over a million hits, from just under sixteen thousand unique visitors, which broke previous records for us. This translated into a surge of phone calls and e-mails regarding our services and as a result we were booked solidly throughout the year. In fact, this eventually became a problem, as by November last year we had developed an eight month waiting list! This sounds great at first glance, but the reality is that it means turning down some work and making a lot of people wait a very long time for detailing work to be done. Further hassles take the form of having to remember to keep enough free slots in the diary to cover all of our regular maintenance contracts, and also having to now remind everyone in advance that they have appointments booked (who remembers appointment dates when booked more than six months ahead?!).
In addition to seeing a significant increase in the demand for our services, we also saw a noticeable change in our customer base, with a greater proportion of luxury, prestige and performance vehicles being booked in, some of which were definitely on the back of being licenced alone. Uptake of our maintenance contracts for high-end vehicles also jumped and we now have ten contracts worth over £13k on the go, which has given us more security along with cashflow benefits. Of course, all of what I have offered so far in terms of positives has also been aided by our own actions, and in particular the regular write up’s we post on DW and the other club forums we sponsor. Putting your heart on your sleeve and showing off your work fully and honestly time and time again is without doubt one of the most important things you can do to attract both new and regular customers to your business.
The last point I wish to cover concerning the reasons for signing up in the first place is the quality of the products. I have said it before, and I will continue to say until such time as something else proves different, there is nothing out there that I have tried that is better than Vintage as an LSP. Yes, you can go one better with Royale in terms of claimed carnauba content, but in terms of looks there is no difference between it and Vintage (or so those people owning both have told me). We had the option of going down the Royale route, but in the end I could not justify spending the extra money based on the results Vintage offers. In terms of viability as a commercial product, it is a no brainer. With pad application, you will get at least 30-40 applications per pot. We charge £100 on top of our normal fees per application (and people happily pay this when they see the results it gives). Thus, it is quite possible to offer the best possible finish to customers and still make a reasonable profit.
Now that I have covered how reality mapped onto our expectations in terms of impacts on our business, I feel I should say a little about our experiences dealing with Zymöl behind the scenes, as this may be potentially important to others sitting on the fence trying to make a decision about whether it is worth it or not. At the outset, everyone at Zymöl Europe was very helpful and very attentive to our questions and requests. We enjoyed our official training course at their HQ in Dorset, which incidentally was worthwhile in terms of picking up a number of tips on products application techniques and business planning. We were then even invited to attend Retromobile in Paris to prepare vintage vehicles for auction (but had to decline due to being too busy – damn!). However, in early March an issue arose concerning our status as official resellers of Zymöl products, and things went sour soon afterwards.
Originally, we hadn’t planned to become official resellers, as we didn’t feel we needed to add another range of products to the store. However, it quickly dawned on us that (i) many of our customers receiving Zymöl details wanted to buy top up products from us, and (ii) that we could buy products for our own professional use far more cheaply if we became official resellers (licenced detailers get just 10% off, whereas official resellers get +40% on most items). As has been alluded to before on various DW threads, Zymöl does indeed operate a fixed pricing structure that must be adhered to by official resellers. Any deviation from this results in an initial warning and then dismissal. We had concerns over the legality of this part of the contract in relation to the UK Competition Act, and we sought legal advice on the matter, in addition to asking Zymöl for clarification on the matter.
We never did receive a clear cut answer from Zymöl, but they suggested that their pricing policy was fine because the resellers are all essentially franchises (note though that this goes against an official letter we secured from Zymöl at the outset confirming that we were not entering in to a franchise relationship with them – go figure). Despite this remaining a grey area in our eyes, our own solicitors advised us that from a legal point of view Zymöl would be held responsible for any breach of the UK Competition Act, so we decided to proceed and add the products to the store in early April. Despite efforts to make it clear all we were doing was protecting our own business, the upshot of all of this was that Zymöl were pretty annoyed with us for perceived rocking of the boat, and ever since we have had very limited contact with them, mostly only to cover administrative matters and to place orders for products.
So far I have covered the topics of what becoming formally licenced did for our business, and what it was like dealing with Zymöl. It should be clear that becoming licenced offered many benefits and did what was expected; it significantly boosted our profile, brought in a lot more work at the higher end of the market, and easily paid for itself in just one year (despite the extremely high initial signing up fee of $10,000, which incidentally is what each annual renewal now costs). It should also be clear that Zymöl were not easy to work with, and paid little interest in us after the initial honeymoon period – not good given their reputation and what you expect for such a high joining fee. What remains to be discussed is why we have decided to end our association with them.
In three words; cost, benefits and respect. Starting with cost, our contract with Zymöl clearly stated that our annual renewal fee would be $5000, not $10,000. We also have e-mails on file from various Zymöl representatives confirming that our annual renewal fee would be $5000. True enough, Zymöl changed their rules in early 2007 so that anyone signing up in 2007 would be paying a flat fee of the full $10,000 per year, but we signed our contract in late 2006, and never received any amendment. Clearly we could have contested this, but Zymöl would undoubtedly have said “pay in full or shut the door on your way out”, and legal action would be pointless given the costs involved. If working with Zymöl had proved to be easier and more rewarding then paying $5000 may have been worthwhile and I would have seriously considered a further year with them. However, paying $10,000 for what essentially amounts to being able to use their trademarked logo and copyrighted images with little else thrown in makes no sense when you are established as we are.
Moving on to benefits, one of the big plus points of becoming licenced is supposed to be protection in the form of Zymöl taking prompt action against anyone using their trademarks or images illegally, thus ensuring that the market for Zymöl services remains focused on licenced detailers. Clearly such a policy is hard to police, and in the UK it has failed completely. Plenty of formerly licenced detailers have carried on marketing their services using Zymöl products and Zymöl have failed to prevent this from happening, despite bullish claims and threats. In fact, their heavy handed yet poorly backed up (in terms of proper legal advice) approach to doing this has probably hampered their aims, as many people have taken offence and dug their heels in further. A far better approach for Zymöl would be to take the time and spend money marketing their licenced detailers by focused advertising, rather than wasting time issuing threats – why not offer a carrot to potential customers rather than a big stick to former detailers?
The third point to cover is respect. Licenced detailers past and present work hard to make the most out of the licence, but in doing so they also work hard for Zymöl promoting the brand. Very hard. I know that Clark puts in a lot of time outside of work writing up his details, and yes this is good for us and good for him, but it is also very good for the Zymöl brand. Other licenced detailers do the same. Is this ever recognised? Do licenced detailers ever receive a call or an e-mail saying “thanks guys and girls, keep up the good work”? It seems not. For all the hard work and effort put in, very little is ever offered in return, and that just doesn’t seem right given how important licenced detailers are to the brand image. Put simply, we don’t feel wanted, and that’s after paying our $10,000!
In addition to the above, there is one final concern we have that contributed to the decision. It was shocking to see another premium wax manufacturer effectively cut dead its UK distribution network at the end of last year. Given all of the above, and the focus Zymöl places on revenue, we would not be surprised if Zymöl followed suit in time. Could you imagine being cut dead after several years of paying expensive licence fees and becoming heavily reliant on Zymöl product sales for profit? Not a scenario I wish to be exposed to, so better out than in methinks, just in case. Of course, one could argue this could happen with any brand, but we have developed great working relationships with our other suppliers, who seem to want (and value) two way working relationships.
The last thing to say is sorry to everyone who has been converted and ordered Zymöl products from us over the last 12 months. There are other decent resellers out there who will serve you well in the future, and we will happily point you in the direction of them should you need help. For customers interested in our detailing services, nothing has changed and full details of the options available can be viewed on our website. Onwards and upwards as they say.