One man and his van
Detailer Lou Spellos created his dream career using mobile marketing and industry networking.
In any occupation, it is always an inspiration to meet a professional who truly loves his or her job. While some people morosely go through the motions day after day, content and fulfilled workers attack any task with vigor and excitement. Further, a positive person’s attitude often can be contagious, influencing those around them with an infectious outlook and radiant smiles.
One professional who has fallen head-over-heels for the car care industry is Elias “Lou” Spellos, owner of Squeeky Clean Mobile Car Wash & Detailing. Speak with Spellos for just a few minutes, and it quickly becomes evident just how much he loves being a detailer. “I’m 61 years old,” he said during our interview. “If I die tomorrow I hope they bury me next to my van.” Now that is a dedication.
For seven years, Spellos and his flashy, customized detailing van have been car care fixtures in the Virginia Beach area. The van can be spotted around town in customer driveways, in a gas station parking lot, at a garage and at a local body shop. Since day one, Spellos has worked hard to keep his detailing dreams alive despite any industry-wide slowdowns.
One visible van
Spellos explained that his van has long been his “big drawing card” because it draws the attention of potential customers as he drives through the city. The bright, white van is covered with colorful decals that clearly feature the business’s name and contact information. Keeping this rolling billboard clean is priority one, and Spellos frequently washes, waxes, polishes and glazes the vehicle.
Thinking back, Spellos recalled that it did not take him long to realize the detailing van would be the business’s most valuable marketing tool. In fact, he easily figured it out the first night. As Spellos drove the empty but decal-covered vehicle to his cousin’s house, the phone started ringing. “People began calling us, and the first night we didn’t even have any tools in the truck or nothing, it was empty,” he stated.
One person who called that evening was the manager of a truck dealership. When he spoke with Spellos, he said, “If your work reflects in any way the way you market your business, you gotta be good.” The dealership ended up being Squeeky Clean’s first customer. The two businesses worked together for seven years, and the former manager is still a customer today.
But, the vibrant van is not only visible from the street. The vehicle also includes a roof decal Spellos said is meant for visitors at Virginia Beach’s coastal, high-rise complexes. The decal meant for potential condo customers ended up landing Squeeky Clean a surprise customer. According to Spellos, a Navy pilot called up for a detail service after seeing the decal while flying over the city. “It was just odd when that Navy pilot called me up,” he said. “We’re like half a mile from the Master Jet Base, they fly right over us. That’s how close they fly when they’re landing.”
What’s in the van?
Still, even with a flashy van, Squeeky Clean’s main job is leaving all customer vehicles expertly cleaned and polished. Over the years, the business has found quite a few products that help provide a high-quality final result. Currently, most of the wash chemicals and polishes come from a single supplier. Spellos noted that he has known this chemical company’s employees for years, and they have always been friendly and helpful.
Also, the products have enough research and development behind them that Spellos — and, most importantly, the customer — is always satisfied. Lately, he has been using the company’s complete paint correction system. This has proven to be a great tool for polishing and correcting car finishes. The system does a better job than most products, and it is easier to use because it does not require a polisher, according to Spellos.
One car care service that Squeeky Clean is especially known for is clay bar treatment. Since many customers may not be aware of the benefits clay bar treatment offers, Spellos frequently educates customers about the service using online videos. Frequently they are shocked after seeing the results of a clay bar treatment on their own vehicle.
“As a matter of fact, you know my supplier, out of all the years I was detailing, never had a clay bar until I kept asking for it,” Spellos revealed. “I used to get mine sent from a supplier in Arizona, and he said no detailer ever asked for clay bars until we started asking.” Squeeky Clean is so serious about the service that the van even features a personalized license plate that reads “CLAY BAR.”
Turning to technology
Since Squeeky Clean is a mobile service, the boom in portable technology has proven to be boon for the business. Currently Spellos uses the iPad’s video capabilities to teach his customers about the different car cleaning techniques he offers. The videos upsell customers by visually showing the benefits of services such as clay barring and paint correction. These videos are generally posted online by chemical suppliers or car care forums.
The iPad also allows Spellos to save and study online videos of new detailing techniques. “Plus, I take pictures and I show other customers, using modern technology, things that I’ve done,” Spellos stated. “I show them, [on] the iPad or on my iPhone, the pictures and movies.”
Still, promotion is the name of the game, and Spellos also has added a couple of high-tech, attention-grabbing features to his popular detailing van. In the van’s back windows, there are two digital picture frames installed. These frames play fast-moving slideshow infomercials that highlight Squeeky Clean’s offerings.
The frames are turned on at night, but not every night. Spellos said he’s afraid to use them every night because he does not want a distracted driver to rear-end his van. Spellos often receives calls due to the slideshows, including calls from other business owners. “I’ve had business owners call me up,” he explained, “they go, ‘Somebody thought this up and thought about it outside the box.’”
Other eye-catching features installed on the van include a scrolling LED marquee as well as colorful neon lights in the wheel wells. But, are all these customizations street legal? Spellos went down the list, explaining that the LED marquee and neon lights are not legal. Surprisingly, the digital frames are. According to the law, the frames are the same as having a DVD player in a vehicle.
Before detailing, Spellos worked as a manager in his cousin’s restaurant. That changed when his son, Michael, talked him into trying detailing. The pair traveled to seminars at Detail King in Pittsburgh, PA, and from that time on they were hooked. At first the two worked together, and Spellos was happy to acknowledge the early advice and help he received from his chemical company as well as from high-profile detailers like Mike Phillips and Richard Lin.
Another way Spellos has been able to meet and network with other mobile operators is by attending the annual International Mobile Tech Expo. Over the years, Spellos has enjoyed getting to know the top 10 detailers in the country, noting that the detailers have proven to be the “epitome of good people.” He stated that the people in his industry are good and kind to each other, and they all share a wealth of knowledge.
Last year, the International Mobile Tech Expo held a special surprise for Spellos. During the expo, he was awarded “Person of the Year in Detailing.” Previous winners of this award include Mark Meguiar, Jason Rose and Mike Phillips. “I was shocked and I was surprised,” Spellos remembered. “Yeah, it was humbling. All I know is that somebody nominates you, but I had no idea.”
Spellos is no stranger to Internet networking since helped create the Detail World page on Facebook. Professionals meeting and communicating on the site have formed something of an international detailing “family.” Spellos has stayed involved with the group and now knows detailers in China, Korea, Brazil and Argentina as well as across the United States.
Even in online forums, Spellos admits that his van is still the star of the show. “I get compliments, I tell you, from China to Timbuktu, and we get noticed even on Facebook,” he said. “They’ll always compliment how the van looks, and they want to [use] the same kind of ideas, where it sticks out like a sore thumb.” The van has been featured on Jay Leno’s website and the USA Today website.
Even though Squeeky Clean is Spellos’ main source of income, his work is not only about the money. “It’s more than just work for me, it’s a passion,” Spellos stated. The business frequently gives back to the Virginia Beach community by participating in dozens of charity carwashes. Also, World War II veterans and Navy Seals are not charged for wax services on their vehicles.
In the past, residents in Virginia Beach may have seen a famous, jolly character detailing cars during the holiday season. While Spellos no longer dresses up like Santa Claus every year, he has dressed up for a couple of parties for his customers. During the summer, his van always has water guns and water balloons for the customers’ children as well. “Most of our customers have been with me for years, and we’re just like a family. So summertime is like hose fights, squirt gun fights and water balloon fights.”
From Christmas parties to water fights to washing and waxing customer vehicles, Spellos is enjoying every minute. “I just have so much passion for detailing … I’m having the time of my life right now,” he said. “I’ve waited all my life to find the career that I would love … the last six, seven years have been the best time of my life.”