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It actually sounds like an independent movie script. An Army vet is denied benefits after an injury and a medical discharge. He realizes he needs to support himself, so he grabs some equipment and starts a car detailing business out of desperation. Over the years, he studies and learns different ways to promote his business. And, even after he experiences the onset of Parkinson’s disease, his business succeeds due to hard work and inventive thinking.
Sure, it sounds like a movie, but this twisting tale is the actual life story of Martin Wright, owner and founder of Wrights Highend Detailing & Refinishing in Jacksonville, FL. The detail shop is a one-man operation where Wright frequently rolls up his sleeves and lets his experience and equipment make grimy, scratched cars glimmer and shine once again.
Wright’s medical discharge from the Army was the result of a 1980 jumping accident that occurred during a training exercise with the Royal Marines in the Netherlands. Wright was in a coma for six months after the accident, and he was crippled by the injury. “I found myself in a bad predicament after I got out of the Army and tried to apply for my benefits…I was denied compensation because of a pre-existing condition I had when I was 7 years old,” Wright explained.
Wright began detailing cars in 1981 to try and support himself, and he worked in the insurance industry for a number of years as well. He made the move to detailing full-time when he developed Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s made it so Wright could no longer write well enough to fill out the required industry forms.
“I’d always been good with cars, attention to details, you know, things like that,” Wright said. “I was able to start the business up…with relatively low overhead. A hose and some soap, you know, off and going, a little cheap vacuum cleaner and a can of wax.”
“No one taught me the business at all,” Wright continued. “Everything was self taught, you know. I started out at the bottom. As I learned the business, I ended up investing more in equipment and better chemicals. It’s taken a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication to the business as well. And, you know, I’ve been very, very successful.”
The shop’s success is a direct result of marketing, according to Wright. “What’s made me successful in this business is understanding that about 70 percent of the business is all sales and marketing,” he said. “If you just go out and do detailing, and you don’t do anything else, your business isn’t going to survive. When you can’t work and this is your only source of income, you’ve got to be a step ahead of the other guys.”
One traditional marketing channel that recently paid off for Wright’s shop is the Yellow Book. Wright placed an ad in the latest Yellow Book, and he received a response soon after it was released. “I got a job from a dealership within a week after it came out for $400,” Wright said. “That one phone call covered the cost of my ad right there.”
In college, Wright had earned degrees in marketing and business management, and he said these degrees have helped him develop unique ways to market his detailing business. Also, Wright ended up teaching himself how to use the Internet for marketing, and he estimates that 80 percent, or more, of his current business comes from direct Internet marketing.
“I have three computers set up on my desk right now,” he said. “I’ve got wireless (Internet) and they’re all networked. I’m working them all the time. I’m always placing ads on Craigslist and things like that. I mean I work hard at this. I’ll work until one, two, sometimes three o’clock in the morning marketing my business on the Internet.”
YouTube and Google
YouTube and Google are two websites that Wright uses to prospect for customers. “I have the world’s largest detailing site on YouTube,” he said. “I’ve got over 80 videos on YouTube and all of my videos…are educational videos that teach and help people to do things on their own. If you go on my YouTube page and you look at the comments, I have nothing but praise (from) all over the world.” Google also uses some of Wright’s videos. “I’ve got Google ads too where Google actually pays me on very popular videos that I have also.”
The reason Wright chose to create videos is that there are a number of upstart competitors working in his market. Wright said the videos on his website and on YouTube are important because they allow potential customers to actually see the before and after of the detailing services that he performs.
In addition to the videos, Wright has learned how to list his business successfully on Google. When people Google “car-care services” in his area, three to four ads for his business appear before any other car-care businesses.
“The more you pop up, the more people are going to recognize you and see who you are. Everyone wants to know how … I’m doing it. I get these marketing companies up in Atlanta, Chicago that want to sell me a $150 service a month to do what I’m doing right now, and they can’t even guarantee me to be on the first page of Google.”
When it comes to detailing, Wright will work with just about any vehicle. “The detailing I actually do are the jobs that no one else wants,” he said. “These are the jobs that are very hard to do, usually.”
“My detailing that I do now is more into paint restoration and paint refinishing where I’ll have a vehicle from anywhere from a week to a week and a half where I have to sand down the whole clear coat and refinish it to brand new,” Wright continued. “And, you know, like I said, I’ve got Parkinson’s disease right now, and that’s extremely difficult for me to do. Looking at my capabilities, I’ve learned truly what the art of auto detailing is all about.”
Wright said he’s a paint damage specialist, and he has developed this skill over the years. He started out doing minor paint damage repair, where an area of clear coat with scratches had to be sanded out and refinished. He realized he could save customers from having to have re-sprays done, so he worked to develop this aspect of his business.
“I’m really the only one in Jacksonville, FL, that does this kind of work, because it’s just, you know, extremely hard to do,” Wright said. “It takes a lot of detail work and concentration to sand a complete car … without messing it up somewhere.”
Wright also refinishes cloudy headlights. He said he charges $35 to $50, and he gives a five-year warranty from future fading or yellowing. He said he can offer this warranty because he coats the refinished lights with Glassplexin.
Passing it on
In addition to his detailing work, Wright also operates a “very, very high-end and a very intense detailing academy.” He offers a one-week basic detailing course as well as a two-week detailing course that goes into advanced detailing techniques.
Wright said he has been training other detailers for quite a while, but he just recently started marketing the class. “I’ve always been training people,” he explained. “I got my star student that came down from Pittsburgh … I’ve gotten a couple of galleries for him and a couple of YouTube videos on my page of him as well, too, you know, performing work.”