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Small business: In a way, even the term is a misnomer. As any owner can tell you, operating a business is anything but a small task. Though some operations may be small in employee count and customer offerings, these businesses still make up a large part of many economies. Further, the concept that anyone who has a good idea can, with plenty of hard work, turn a dream into reality is important. This idea alone provides hope and motivation to potential small business owners all around the world.
The carwashing and detailing industry is unique because it is a global market that is made up of thousands of small businesses. From lakeside washes in Africa to automated washes in Australia, locally-owned car care operations keep employees busy and cars clean on almost every continent.
One type of small car care business that can be especially challenging for operators is mobile detailing. Here, business owners must keep company work vehicles stocked and running, schedule enough work (but not too much) and find and train new employees. As if those issues were not daunting enough, mobile operations frequently have to battle weather conditions, traffic problems and increased competition as well.
Carbuffs Mobile Detailing is an operation based in Martin County, FL that has succeeded in the competitive car care market for 14 years. Owner Keith Antoon began detailing cars in high school, and today his business offers customers an array of detailing services and scheduled maintenance programs. Currently, Carbuffs’ list of single services includes:
- Express detail;
- Interior detail;
- Wash & wax;
- Full detail;
- Overspray removal;
- Headlight restoration; and
- Paintless dent removal.
Antoon revealed that Carbuffs’ specialty would definitely be the car maintenance programs that the operation sets up and schedules for its customers. Once a client enrolls in a program, the business performs regular vehicle maintenance on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. Full details are then performed on the vehicle every quarter. Customers that take part in the maintenance program are given a discount on the scheduled services, full details and other Carbuff offerings as well.
The operation also works to keep these regular customers educated on what their vehicles need. To this end, Carbuffs tracks when a vehicle was last waxed or when an interior was last cleaned and conditioned. The customer does not need to track the last time a service was performed or worry about it going “past due.” Carbuffs makes sure every service is up to date, and “customers love that we do that for them,” Antoon said.
Over the years, this maintenance program and service scheduling has built up trust with Carbuffs’ customers. Antoon noted that clients trust the detailers to take care of their vehicles. Thus, they have confidence when extra attention and services are suggested for certain areas of their vehicles.
“This benefits not only us but the client as well,” Antoon stated. “We have structured our business and schedule with this process to allow us to have a steady flow of income and a solid schedule. The benefit to the client is that they do not need to keep track of when they need to call us or remember to have a full detail service done every quarter.”
Going mobile and marketing
Antoon decided to make Carbuffs a mobile detailing operation for two reasons: The convenience and the overhead. Being a mobile operation offers customers the ultimate convenience of on-site service, and the setup also lowers operational costs. “I can run the business from my home office and do not need an expensive piece of commercial real estate. My van serves as my mobile office, workspace and moving billboard. It doesn’t get any easier than that.”
With no real estate presence and a frequently busy schedule, marketing can sometimes be a challenge for mobile operations. The best marketing tool that Carbuffs has discovered is their wrapped detailing van. Antoon described it as a moving billboard that attracts people’s attention, whether potential customers are driving down the road or living down the street from a current client. In fact, Carbuffs receives an average of four leads per day just from the contact information on the van alone.
“The second most valuable marketing tool we have is a happy customer,” Antoon said. “Word of mouth is very powerful in a service business, and we stay very busy because our happy customers tell all their friends and family.”
One marketing tool that never worked well for Carbuffs was the phone book. When the business started in 1998 that was the way many people advertised. Still it seemed that most of the phone calls the business received were poor leads. “We quickly learned that by just doing great work, our clients would spread the word and we would have all the business we wanted,” Antoon stated.
Van, equipment and chemicals
Carbuffs’ detail van not only serves as the business’ primary marketing tool, it is also designed and organized to save time and make detailing easier. Antoon figured out after just a few weeks in business that it was important for a technician to pull up to a vehicle, open the van doors and start working immediately. Now the van is set up so that, when the doors are opened, the washer can pull out the high-pressure hose and central vacuum hose and get started without having to waste time setting up equipment.
Inside, the van has a 2,400 PSI Honda pressure cleaner with a 50-foot hose and a 3,500 watt Honda generator that powers the Hoover central vacuum system which also has a 50-foot hose. All of the chemical spray bottles are in racks mounted on the rear doors for easy access as a technician works. “The bottom line is that time is money, and we don’t want to spend it getting stuff set up when we can be working,” Antoon said.
One piece of equipment that saves Carbuffs a lot of time and money is the pressure cleaner. Instead of losing time trying to scrub and remove stubborn dirt, bugs and tar from a vehicle or the inside of a rim, a technician can simply use the high-pressure system. Antoon stated, “It does a lot of the hard work for you.”
Carbuffs uses a combination of cleaning chemicals from Auto Magic and Griots Car Care. Antoon explained that the “Special Cleaner” from Auto Magic can be used to clean everything from tires to bugs to carpets, and using it for multiple applications saves the operation time and money. Carbuffs prefers Griots leather care spray because it cleans and conditions leather at the same time, and it does not leave a greasy residue.
Treat them like family
Since Carbuffs uses customer service to set its operations apart from the competition, there are service rules that the company’s employees must follow. First, the technicians always arrive on time, if not five minutes early. “We have a structured and strict schedule [that] helps our day to run smooth and lets the client know we will be there on time,” Antoon said. “You beat 50 percent of the competition by showing up on time.”
Also, Antoon and his employees return every call received on the same business day, and employees call or text to confirm every appointment the day before — even if the client is on the maintenance program’s weekly schedule. Finally, employees are always dressed professionally, the work vehicle is always clean and client cars are cleaned with top of the line products to produce the best results possible.
“The main issue I think about the most is customer satisfaction. I want to make sure that we treat every customer like they are family,” Antoon said. “A satisfied customer is the best advertising any business can have. If our customers are happy, they will tell their friends and family and our business will continue to grow.”
This family-based approach to business definitely made sense after Antoon explained how he got started in the detail industry. “I always loved cars and knew that I wanted to work with cars in some way. I remember being in elementary school and going around the neighborhood cleaning people’s car windows for $5,” he said. “I bought my first truck at 16, and I loved cleaning it. I knew then that I wanted to start a detail business.”
With the help of his parents, Antoon purchased a water tank, a pressure cleaner, a generator and other detailing supplies. With the help of his uncle Chris, he created a logo, a service menu and a business name. Uncle Joe printed up business cards and T-shirts so the operation would look professional, and Antoon started out cleaning cars for friends and people that worked with his parents.
“I was a junior in high school and owned my own business and loved every minute of it. I continued detailing through college and grew my business to a level I never thought possible,” Antoon stated.
Now Antoon is looking to pass on his detailing experience through a Carbuffs licensee program. This industry exclusive program allows Carbuffs to expand their operations and, at the same time, gives people looking to get into the detail business the tools and support they need from a company with over 14 years of experience.
Antoon said the Carbuffs Authorized Licensee Program includes:
- The use of the Carbuffs logo for marketing materials, vehicle graphics, apparel, etc.;
- A protected home territory;
- A listing in the Carbuffs Directory of Authorized Detailers;
- A full marketing package with business cards, T-shirts and advertising banner flags;
- A detail training manual and DVD;
- Carbuffs exclusive How To Guide and Blueprints Package on setting up a detail system; and
- A discount on equipment and detail systems from Carbuffs’ sister company.
The secret to success
“I feel that the secret to my success is getting up every day and loving what I do. I have always had a love for cars and to have the opportunity to work on them and make a customer happy at the same time is amazing,” Antoon said.
To this end, Antoon treats every customer’s vehicle like it is his own and, in turn, that has made the customers happy. After being taught his whole life that hard work will bring success, Antoon has built his business over the past 14 years on hard work and passion, and the business has never been more successful.
“We set ourselves apart from the competition by always being on time, friendly and doing a great job. There are a lot of people that start a detailing business because they think it is easy … just because you can clean a car doesn’t mean you can run a business,” he said.