Daryl Spencer began detailing cars in New Jersey at the age of 14 when his father’s best friend offered him a job at his Elizabeth car wash. Riding his moped to work, he became a sort of “painter’s helper” and was “mesmerized as he learned how to take old cars and make them look new.” He detailed cars throughout high school and then financed his college studies each day by detailing, eventually acquiring his B.A. from Kean College in Recreation Therapy. After using that degree briefly, he switched to a full time pursuit of his true muse, mobile detailing, and never looked back.
Today, Daryl owns and operates Chariot Sprucers, a one-man mobile operation which services clients right outside of New York City in the state of New Jersey. Chariot Sprucers (chariotsprucers.com) currently has strong relationships with over 50 body shops and important accounts such as the Mercedes Benz corporate headquarters and Classic Car Hotel. Daryl is on the road by 4 a.m. and has had no luck finding a new “painter’s helper” willing to work and hustle as hard as he has for most of his life. Without the need for a brick and mortar setting, Daryl runs his company via word-of-mouth referrals, long standing account repeat business and he uses National Detail Pros in Utah to keep his business rolling along.
With 36 years of experience under his belt — including buying and selling over 160 cars obtained as a detailer — Daryl agreed to sit down and share some of his knowledge and opinions with Auto Detailing News.
Bob Kuczik: Why do you use National Detail Pros these days when you have so much on your plate?
Daryl Spencer: About 2 years ago I hooked up with them because, unfortunately, there is not much repeat business these days… it’s a total 360 from the past. I think you get stale if you don’t recognize that the mobile detail business continues to evolve, and I see National Detail Pros as the “Uber” of our industry. It’s the perfect business model. Like Uber, they set the pricing. When necessary I can upsell in conjunction with what the customer needs and wants to pay. I select the jobs I want to work on my Chariot Sprucer schedule. If the customer needs more than the package they selected, I include an upsell on the work order and they pay National Detail Pros by credit card. I only take cash, so the customer has that option, too. It has been a great relationship. They are 75% of my work now. Not just cars, boats too and cycles, RVs, almost anything on wheels or that travels. It’s all bid-based.
As an early mobile detailer what advice can you give to someone starting out?
Be flexible. My passion has always been for old classic cars, but technology has sped along at a mind-numbing pace. I would say that the school of hard knocks has been my greatest advantage. For about 6 years we had the concession and I did all the prep for the Atlantic City Car Auction. For 15 years I did prelaunch prep for Mercedes USA in Park Ridge. They called multiple detail shops, and no one wanted the work, which was a lot of D camouflage and armor. It entailed in-house work and product shoots with studios in metro NY. Fun stuff! I was pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and meeting the right people. I hate to lose any job, always have, so I don’t turn much down if there is a profit and I can do it. When you don’t have a place of business outside of your home it pays to be very flexible. Everywhere I went I talked about car detailing.
You are saying that you cannot count on resting on a steady flow from regular accounts, yes?
The meet and greets, and mom and pop shops that I dealt with for 25 years are gone now. The dealerships are still around, but most are cutthroat and the payment structure, the way that they work, it’s just impossible to make it work. Basically, you must float them for three months for cost of materials because they give you free spots to work. Body shops only want to pay $20 for time. The days when they would throw in a professional detail are gone because the insurance companies tell the shops how much they are willing to pay and that is limited to 20 minutes or $50 so now they run the job through a car wash for $8. I still have a couple of shops that give my number out, but they are few and far between.
But you are still doing this so what makes you continue?
I have a daughter at the University of Vermont which eats up my spare classic car money and I would like to work until the driverless cars hit the streets.
Seriously, I always get turned on by the interior “WOW” factor when you take a real cruddy car and make heads turn after you are done. Cars that have been beat up after long trips, paw prints on windows, 15 pounds of Jersey Shore sand in the carpets make my day.
What has been your style of selling your services?
I ask questions right at the start to find out expectations and the history of the automobile. Why are you detailing the car? (I went out with my buddies and trashed the interior and don’t want to tell my wife)
- How is this vehicle used? (I have someone who transports barn animals)
- What are you looking to spend? (The price range that you are both comfortable with to do the work)
- Do you garage the car?
- Is it a spare vehicle?
- Do you have pets who shed?
- How often do you bring the car to get washed? Weekly? Every two weeks? Monthly? Never?
- Are you looking to sell the car? Give it to a family member? Take to auction?
All of this factors in when I quote pricing and I have no set pricing … no prices on my website. By asking what a person is looking to accomplish and what they want to pay I can customize the job. And I find that this system works for me.
Since 75% of your work is generated online what else is different?
I ask for photos showing me the state of the car. They can email, text or send by snail mail, but the photographs are important. I want to land the job immediately, so text messaging works fast and effectively. Sales people are good customers since they use cars as offices and drink coffee, eat meals and transport their key accounts which makes having the interior clean very important. I notice that most sales people have dark interiors because it is so hard to keep the tan interiors clean with all that dirt getting ground up in the leather.
I quote based on time and materials. If the customer wants to provide the products I will use I will let them and just quote labor, but I dictate the product to be used and they rarely want to bring their own.
People always want to spend as little as possible, so I work with them to understand the costs associated with doing the work properly.
Speaking of products which materials are you using?
Heat is free and it is essential to my method of detailing.
Windows and wheels are most critical.
Prepping the car correctly is the key. So I swear by Prepsol, which is water-based. And I go to WD-40 a lot, isopropyl and the windows are easy to maintain with these products.
I have had success over the years with Mothers® products and this year I started searching for more products that are eco-friendly, non-acidic and biodegradable.
I always wear neoprene gloves, especially to get rid of bugs and tar, but I don’t want to breath in toxic fumes and I prefer not to wear goggles.
I need to get the wheels perfect as they are used by most to measure for the quality of the job so I have been using Wheel-eez for the past 6 months on rims and it does an excellent job removing brake dust and meets the safety criteria. Their products for cycles and boats are all effective. And I detailed about 85 boats this year as well. The profit in detailing a boat in a single day compares with my classic car jobs.
Very soft hog hair brushes are the best. Any type of brush will scratch, but with the correct technique it is not a factor with hog hair. A lot of manufacturers don’t provide the rubber cup which prevents the sediment at the bottom of the bucket from harming the surface. Spend the money on the version with a dirt guard or you will do more harm than good.
What about towels?
I use microfiber and let them air-dry. Make sure that you don’t use the same towels for different products and keep the chemical product on one side and buff with the other. And cut off the labels and tags as they can cause scratches. This is basic stuff everyone knows, but sometimes fail to follow.
Do you fix dings and dents?
No, I don’t take on any body shop issues. When a prospective customer reluctantly admits that they scratched a bumper or door while backing out of the garage, and since I am negotiating the job from a remote location, I ask them to use the rule of thumb test so that I can determine if the repair can be entirely fixed by sanding, buffing and polishing. A lot of people think that a scuff is a scuff and a scratch is a scratch.
Today a car is a piece of sheet metal, primer, base coat with the paint color, and the clear coat. Clear coat protects the surface and many body shops only use one layer of clear coat when the manufacturer specified two and the customer is not using a paint depth gauge to see how many applications of clear coat were provided. I stick to detailing and avoid dents and dings.
Why did you decide to stay entirely mobile and not have a brick and mortar location?
I would rather work at the customer’s location and I prefer natural light to work in. If it’s cold I use a waterless way to clean the car. With Prepsol and solvents I also depend on heat whether it is winter or summer. I can’t use the garden hose or pressure washers below freezing, but that doesn’t stop me from working.
Years ago, I would book work 2 months out, now it is two weeks out.
I take all kinds of work, even flood cars from down south like a brand-new Corvette recently.
I moved to boats, RVs, and anything that needs detailing. The 5-step procedure is what I do, but people don’t always want to pay for it.
Cut it, polish it, take out the scratches and swirls and compound it, fine polish, wax and glaze.
There are products that say you can compound and polish together, but I won’t use them.
I may be a dinosaur, but I don’t see ceramic coatings as a solution or a threat to what I do.
My website has 17 pages of images with my proudest work. That is who I am and that is why I continue to work as a mobile detailer.
By Bob Kuczik
Bob Kuczik is Director, Sales & Marketing Cork Industries/Wheel-eez Division with corporate offices in Jacksonville, Florida, and Folcroft, Pennsylvania. He is a member of IDA and ICA.