Indeed, I first got into the auto detailing business accidentally. You see, I started washing aircraft at age 12 and did quite a bit of waxing and polishing on planes. Back then (1977-1980), we didn’t really call it detailing in the aviation sector, but basically that’s what I was doing. Eventually, I got my driver’s license and put all the equipment I had in the back of a pick-up, later on a trailer, and started cleaning and washing cars, and doing waxing too.
Of course, being so young I guess I really didn’t know all I was getting into and kind of made a mess of things from a business standpoint, but you know when you are young you do a lot of wheel spinning.
Back then there wasn’t really any auto-detailing business to speak of except there was a company called Tidy Car, and later Wash-on-Wheels, which was more similar to what I was doing. Of course, those were companies on the others part of the country, and I was out in California with virtually little or no competition to speak of, yes, imagine that, business was good. In the early 80’s we were not getting upwards of $200 as the top auto detailers get today, but things also didn’t cost as much, so it was all good either way.
Our main business back then was washing fleets of vehicles and some cars at office buildings, always trying to coax our customers to pay for a wax job. The business was called Aero-Auto Wash, then later The Car Wash Guys and then a funny thing happened, you see, many of our independent contractors, this was before we started franchising across the nation, told me they didn’t want to only wash cars, they made more money “detailing” cars for high-end customers.
Coming from the aviation side of things, I understood the concept, wealthy folks with expensive cars wanted them to look “better than showroom” all the time, and they had the money to pay for whatever it took to make that happen. The Detail Guys was born, hey, it’s a simple, name, but I really couldn’t think of a better one back then, it’s interesting how business evolves, by happenstance, luck, seemingly chaotic or serendipitous events
Anyway, as the company grew, we got into wholesale detailing for car dealerships, auto auctions, bank repos, and car fleet detailing also. Later detailing boats, yachts, and even the Kentucky Derby Train, whatever the customer wanted we were ‘Johnny on the Spot’ so to speak. I often consider that this is how many companies of this type grow, and probably, no more like certainly more strategically than mine did back then. What I am saying is that if I can do it, muddling along, anyone can.
Over the years we increased our number of franchisees, and the types of customers realizing that auto detailing is means different things to different people, and the “Customer is King” so they should have whatever they want, as long as they are paying for it.
One of the biggest challenges (read: nightmare) we found was training and getting experienced technicians for our detailing shops and the mobile side of the business. Worse, we were constantly challenged by trying to manage all those crews on the mobile side, when they were nowhere around, boy was that a real bitch, whoops, am I even allowed to say that in an online article, well, too late now I guess?
Anyway, let me tell you from my experience; this was really a hard business to run, manage, and control, yes, it was a blast. I guess that’s why I am still doing a little consulting on the side at the periphery of the industry. If you decide to start such a business, I wish you well my friend. Please consider all I’ve said here today, and think on how you can do it better.