The ongoing COVID-19 health crisis has disrupted the entire U.S. economy, forcing many “non-essential” businesses to close their doors and wait out the pandemic with no timeline on when they can reopen.
Greg Channel (left) and Chance Hollon (right) are partners at American Detail in Houston, TX.
The outside of the 6,000 square foot detailing facility.
Curing a ceramic coating under the lights.
American Detail does high-end work for local luxury dealerships.
The shop specializes in collector cars.
The American Detail logo.
Getting into every nook and cranny.
High-speed polish is the key to a quality detail.
Luckily, for those in the car care industry, many of its businesses have been deemed essential and have been able to continue operating, but it has been far from business as usual.
Car washes and detail centers around the country have been forced to implement major changes to their operations just to continue servicing their customers. Whether it is reduced hours, going exterior only, or increased personal safety measures, no car care business has gone undisrupted.
American Detail in Houston, TX was seeing its sales double every month for three straight months prior to the pandemic, which put an instant halt to its phenomenal rise since moving into a new facility.
“We were really on an upward swing and then Corona hit,” says owner Greg Channel. “We probably had four people cancel and then the phone just went silent for a little while. But it has started to pick back up again.”
While business slowed down, Channel and his partner Chance Hollon didn’t panic, rather they put in place some procedures to ensure a safe a healthy environment for their customers and workers once detailing resumed.
“People are starting to come back, but we are taking a lot of precautions,” Channel says. “We have an Optima steamer which is the Cadillac of steamers. It blows at 394 degrees which would kill anything. We steam the entire interior before we start working a car, even if the client doesn’t’ pay for that service. I don’t want myself or my guys getting sick.”
Once the car is sanitized, the crew at American Detail can get busy with what they do best, making cars look better than showroom new. The fixed-location shop specializes in paint correction and ceramic coatings for high-end and collector cars.
Channel pinpointed the need for the service in his market while looking to get one of his own cars ceramic coated. The self-proclaimed car guy was calling around town to get one of his Sunday drivers coated, and was running into roadblock after roadblock trying to schedule a timely appointment.
“I was calling around getting some prices from detail shops in the area,” he says. “The lead time at most of these places was around six months. I knew there was a need for the service here, plus I love cars so it was a natural fit.”
While Channel is relatively new to the detailing industry he is no stranger to the service business. The full-time firefighter has always run successful side businesses, including a multimillion dollar pool company and a mortgage brokerage. Six years ago however, he sustained an injury that forced him to close his thriving pool business. Upon recovery, spurred on by his first-hand knowledge of the need for detailers with ceramic coating expertise, he decided to explore a new career path.
He reached out to friends he had in the industry and eventually ended up attending some training sessions with Renny Doyle, where he honed his skills. He opened his first mobile detail business with a partner shortly after, but quickly realized that mobile and ceramic coatings don’t always mix.
“We started off mobile and it didn’t go well,” he says. “We were trying to do coatings but in the humid Houston climate it proved to be very difficult.”
Channel and his partner found their way into an indoor facility, but things weren’t going much better and they parted ways. But Channel learned some valuable lessons from his first foray into the industry and remained determined to make a splash in the lucrative Houston detailing market. He decided to go all-in, opening a large state-of-the-art detailing facility with Hollon, equipping the new location with everything the partners would need to succeed.
The 6,000-square-foot-facility is housed in a converted basketball court and was designed to portray one message to prospective clients: professional detailing happens here.
“We painted everything white so it looks surgical inside,” Channel says. “We built out bays complete with light tunnels. And each of these bays has 128 lights. You name it, we got it. Our goal was to create the nicest looking detail center in Houston and I think we have achieved that.
“We don’t like to give pricing over the phone. We prefer to have people come down to the shop. Because once they see the shop they know we are for real. Nine out of 10 people that come in here leave a check.”
When the partners moved into the new shop a little more than two years ago it seemed cavernous and more than they would every need. But as often happens to thriving detailing businesses they have quickly filled the shop and are playing automotive Tetris as they move the cars from the wash bay to the finishing bays.
To help alleviate the tight quarters, American Detail is set to build another 1,500-square foot, two-bay shop at its current location to help the business scale.
While the newly built shop is doing its job impressing prospective clients, it is American Detail’s workmanship that locks them up as long-term customers. Ninety percent of the shop’s work is ceramic coating or paint protection film, and a lot of those cars belong to car collectors and discerning drivers of high-end cars and trucks.
Channel has an in with the local car community from his attendance at car shows and as a member of the Houston car culture. But those relationships can only take the business so far. It is the word-of-mouth from satisfied customers that keeps American Detail’s appointment book full.
To help with new client recruitment, American Detail hired an outside marketing agency to drive awareness and broaden its reach. Part of the professional touch the agency has brought to the business is a modern website that acts as a second door to the company, portraying the same professional look and feel as the shop, complete with plenty of photos of the center’s high-end work.
In addition to the professional marketing help, Hollon is very active on social media, especially Facebook. He leverages the platform to promote American Detail and to create a community of like-minded fans of the brand.
While the COVID-19 crisis has certainly hit the pause button on American Detail’s massive growth, thanks to some quick operational adjustments, it has been able to continue to service cars. By keeping the doors open and letting its loyal customer base know American Detail is still willing and able to provide superior detail services despite the uncertain environment, there is no reason to believe the thriving business won’t head right back into growth mode once a level of normalcy returns.
Detailer OVERVIEW: Name: American Detail Owners: Greg Channel and Chance Hollon Year Founded: 2018 Location: Houston, Texas Shop Size: 6,000 Square Feet Specialty: Ceramic Coatings