Sometimes, it seems like there are no rules in the wild and woolly car care industry. First timers find out quickly that there is no set path to follow when starting out. In fact, almost all owners and operators can recount unique origin stories from their early days in the business. Further, once an individual is in the industry, there are no set rules that can truly guarantee success.
Detailer Adam Cote began his successful venture with a visit to the doctor's office. Cote had graduated college, and he soon realized that he was not cut out for the typical corporate desk job. During a visit to the doctor, he overheard the office staff discussing how unreliable their mobile detailer was. "I told them I could be back in two weeks to detail their cars," Cote said. "I purchased $7,000 worth of equipment that weekend, and the rest is history."
What started with this spur of the moment decision has now grown into a business that features a mall parking lot location and two mobile detailing vans. Still, even the mall location was a gamble for Cote. "I was anxious as all heck before we signed the lease there," Cote admitted. "It was just an opportunity that sort of fell in my lap. As scared as I was to make the leap, I couldn't pass up the chance."
Before the mall location, when the business only offered mobile detailing, 5 Point Auto Detail already had a significant following and was very visible online. According to Cote, 5 Point is the top rated company on Yelp.com in San Diego.
Mission Valley Mall had the business location open up in its parking lot after a string of businesses failed in the spot. Based solely on 5 Point's reputation, the mall's property management company called 5 Point in for an interview, and then offered the business a lease, Cote said.
The parking lot setup at the mall is very much like a typical detail shop other than the fact that it is open air on one side. In addition, it offers some advantages over mobile detailing or a traditional shop. "We are in the most convenient location in the city geographically," Cote explained. "The mall offers endless things for our customers to do while we work on their cars including restaurants, a movie theater and shopping. We also get a significant amount of new customers and endless amounts of exposure."
Still, while taking a few risks and chances, Cote never gambled with wash quality or customer care. No matter the location or service, caring for the customer was always 5 Point's most important job. This care is what allowed Cote and his crew to develop a documented reputation, and they continue to protect this reputation with hard work and dedication.
Cote said, "5 Point has literally been built one customer at a time. Most detail shops seem to search for ways to cut corners to save on costs. The focus of my business has always been quality, customer satisfaction and customer retention."
One way they protect their reputation is by not using cheap wash products. Instead, Cote said the best way for owners and operators to save money on wash product is to not be wasteful. This means 5 Point employees are in constant training to learn the proper amount of product to use.
"Another lesson that I have learned the hard way is that no matter how much you want to please every client it doesn't pay to sell cheap or to underbid." This is especially important now, because the costs associated with owning a detailing business can get high, and they seem to be going up quickly, Cote explained.
California is known for having very strict environmental laws. Cote is a surfer, as reflected by the wave in the 5 Point logo, and he's seen firsthand what pollution does to the area's beaches and ocean. The business first began catching all of its wash water after some "encouragement" by the local authorities. "In 2005 we received two wash water fines in the same month totaling over $600," Cote said. "I found a way to build excellent wash mats, and I purchased some berms and ended that problem."
In addition, the business uses a high-performance, no-rinse product for car washing, and all of the other chemicals used are VOC compliant. Also, Cote said, at the very least, car care employees should be trained to always spray a car in one direction. During a wash, an employee should start on the top rinsing the driver's side then the passenger side. This simple step can cut water usage in half if an employee normally just sprays away.
When it comes to cleaning services, Cote said the "5 Point Detail" includes hot water carpet extraction, and the cracks and crevices of the interior will be blown out, brushed out, deep cleaned, conditioned and protected. Other services in the package include leather cleaning and conditioning, clay bar treatment, dual action machine polishing and a polymer sealant.
The business also offers permanent paint protection. "I'm hesitant to say the name because it's still a fairly exclusive product," Cote said. "Let's just say it is the best paint protection on the market, hands down."
The business is unique in that it stopped running any form of print advertising in 2006. Instead, 5 Point reaches out to new clients through excellent search engine optimization and up-to-date social media listings, according to Cote. 5 Point also uses email campaigns to retain current customers.
Cote said his biggest worry in the detailing business would be employee issues. "If those guys only knew how hard I work to keep their paychecks coming, maybe they'd take it a little easier on me." Cote is also proud of the fact that he has never bounced an employee check.
When it comes to professional groups, Cote said he is a member of BNI, a business networking group in San Diego and around the world. "The biggest things that I've learned there are how to talk about my business, that givers gain and that farming for new business will always work better than hunting for it," he revealed.
Regardless of business struggles, Cote said he has always been the type who thrives on the pursuit of success and is very results driven. "The fact that my team and I can work on a car for a few hours and literally bring it back to life is still exhilarating." And Cote has a plan to continue pursuing success in the future, "Honestly, my goal is to become a household name in car care in San Diego."