Michael Doty says the car bug bit him early.
He’s always remembered wanting to tinker with them and clean them. It was his happy place.
“To me, detailing a car was kind of therapy. Growing up as a kid, I could get away from everybody and be off in my own world,” he says.
After he joined the U.S. Navy, in which he spent over 10 years, he was stationed in Hawaii.
That’s where he ran into Chemical Guys detailing products and a Detail Garage store.
“That became one of my favorite places to hang out and spend money,” Doty says.
After leaving the Navy and earning an information technology degree, Doty and his wife, Leah, looked into selling their house and moving back to Springfield. There was one problem: Springfield didn’t have a Detail Garage.
“So, I did what any guy normally does and went to the manager and complained,” Doty says, with a laugh. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to tell them to open one in Springfield. It has Route 66, car shows going on, it’s a huge thing in this area.’”
That’s when Doty learned all about the Detail Garage franchise – and he became the store owner he was asking for.
The Dotys sold their house, moved back to the area and opened their first Detail Garage in 2020. A second location, in the St. Louis metro area, followed in 2021.
Doty describes he and his wife as lucky. They each had good jobs – he was with the government, and she was a manager at a Disney facility – and they’d made a smart investment. They’d purchased a home in Hawaii in 2011.
“When we sold it, I had enough equity to come back here, and we bought a small house paid in full in Marshfield and everything went into the store,” he says. “We made sure we were set up.”
Chad Zani, director of business development for the Detail Garage franchise, says the typical franchise location can be set up for less than $200,000.
“The fee is $30,000 for the first store and winds back as you open more stores,” Zani says.
Once a store is up and running, there is a 4% monthly franchise fee based on net sales and a 3% fee for marketing.
But if franchisees play it by the book, they’re eligible to get 10% of those fees back.
“We recently launched a quarterly rebate. They earn 10% back by following the system. Rather than having a stick approach, we’ve definitely gone with a carrot,” Zani says.
This carrot rewards franchisees for holding detailing classes according to schedule and filing reports and payments on time.
Zani says the franchisor recently had its 86th location open nationwide and plans are for the chain to have 250 locations by the end of 2025.
Detail Garage is the experience side of the company brand, Zani adds.
“You can buy Chemical Guys products anywhere – AutoZone, O’Reilly, Amazon – but in all of those places, you’re really self-help. It’s only at Detail Garage that will help you figure out what to buy and what you can do to make (your ride) look as good as it can,” he says.
Sights on No. 3
Doty says the stores have been more successful than he expected, but the journey hasn’t exactly been smooth.
The couple opened in Springfield on March 7, 2020. They had a tremendous turn-out to their grand opening on March 9, Doty says. Then weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down.
Because Detail Garage sells cleaning products, it was able to stay open, but foot traffic was slow. Then things started to relax and business exploded.
“People were at home and staring at a dirty car. They got on the internet, found us and we got slammed in summer 2020,” he says.
Last year, the two stores finished at $985,000 in revenue, he says.
Doty says he enjoys the retail side, but it’s the classes he appreciates most.
Detail Garage offers two classes. The $100 basic class teaches students how to look at a vehicle as a professional detailer does.
“That way, they can detail their own car or start their own business detailing cars and save money,” Doty says.
The $200 class is more advanced and covers polishing vehicles – cars, trucks, motorcycles or boats. The course covers pads, compounds and the different machines that can be used. Students are given access to a scratched-up car hood and shown how to take scratches out and how to apply wax. Some even learn how to apply a professional-grade ceramic coating.
“The info is probably the most important thing we offer,” Doty says.
Doty says his goal now is to save up enough money to open a Detail Garage in the Kansas City area.
He says he can’t help it. He just loves cars.
“Really, the main reason I wanted to get into this is, I’m a car guy. I’ve always loved cars. I have a lift truck, a cammed Camaro, I love going to car shows,” Doty says. “We have a car meet in the parking lot once a month. It’s really a chance for me to meet more car people.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May the all-items inflation index surged 8.6% over the past year, the highest increase since 1981.