Charles C. Mack Sr. and Charles C. Mack Jr. run VIP Auto Appearance, an auto detailing service center serving the Washington DC area from their shop and the rest of the world from their online store.
Charles Sr. began VIP 29 years ago. He was looking for a low-cost start up business and came across an auto detail franchise idea that was operated out of the trunk of a car. Thus he began, not needing the preliminary investment of a garage, and was able to bring his service to people’s driveways.
Charles Sr.'s story reflected many of the themes we have found in our American Entrepreneur Project: he didn’t want to have his income dictated to him. He wanted to plant a seed of inspiration for the next generation. He was willing to bootstrap his business and plan its growth.
Charles C. Mack, Sr. explaining how he bootstrapped the launch of VIP Auto Appearance nearly 30 years ago.
Charles Jr. was officially hired by his father at 17 years old, but has memories that reach further back. In seventh grade, Charles Jr. was able to save enough money from working long days at his father’s garage to buy five pairs of shoes for school, one for each day of the week. Now that he has grown into becoming a partner in the business, Charles Jr. is leading his father and VIP into online networking and social media marketing.
Charles C. Mack Jr., still loving his sneakers, in the first bay of the VIP Auto Appearance Service Center in Clinton, Maryland.
Trent and I watched as staff brought a VIP customer his car. Three workmen walked around the car inspecting it from rim to rim, alongside the customer. Careful delivery of a product – this was clearly a gesture of concern for customer service, making sure everything was done exactly right. The evident craftsmanship and care was impressive to see in a service industry. The customer drove away personally knowing the eight hands that lovingly worked on his car. That’s the kind of customer service that builds word of mouth and has VIP Auto winning the awards that are peppered throughout the small section of the waiting room that served as an office for Jr. and Sr.
Charles Sr. told us anyone can clean a car, accessorize a car, but you need the right words and skills to show love and respect for someone’s car in addition to actually doing it. He reminded us that it’s not only knowing who your client is, but knowing how to talk to them about your service and your product. VIP has developed a workflow that reflects their brand and is mindful of time and quality. Anyone who trains in this system can walk into a job and keep continuity for the customer.
The customer service oriented team at VIP Auto Appearance at their Clinton Maryland service Center.
(l-r) Kevin Coates, Charles C. Mack Jr., Jovan Douglas and Charles C. Mack Sr.
A certain amount of trust is necessary to run a detailing shop. It’s about word of mouth. It’s about community reputation. It’s about setting your image apart. It’s about keeping a promise to your client. Charles Jr. suggests that being a father and son business might strengthen public perception of this trust.
As a father-son business, how do they delegate responsibility? Charles Sr. sees his strengths in the science and mechanics behind their services. Charles Jr. is all about creating streamlined systems. Maintaining quality is a shared duty not only between the Macks but also amongst the entire staff. Charles Jr. told us that his father is the one who is more comfortable walking into local chamber of commerce meetings to hand out cards and talk about the business. He, instead, focuses on online networking.
Charles Jr. is embracing social networking and internet marketing, and sees his relationship with Infusionsoft as a large part of that. He uses the company's marketing automation software - a combination of CRM, email marketing and e-commerce - to put communication with VIP's customers and prospects on autopilot. He looks to Infusionsoft for ideas, too and dreamed up some creative marketing and sales campaigns to keep sales flowing even as the economy slowed. Infusionsoft sets an example by being heavily engaged with its customers and prospects online and on social networks, including one of the hottest new networks, Twitter.
For a business that relies heavily of word of mouth, VIP has transitioned into the social media arena by being visible on FaceBook and MySpace. They have an interactive Website with integrated shopping cart and multiple domain names. VIP works hard to keep a strong presence on the Internet, particularly in their local area, and to maintain high placement in the major search engines. VIP Auto uses Infusionsoft to capture and maintain the contact information of clients. Automated Infusionsoft processes are in place to send information on the specifics services that that clients choose to receive, and keep in contact with their broad customer base.
Impala rims, glinting in the driveway of VIP Auto Appearance Service Center.
Impala owned by VIP Auto Appearance employee Kevin Coates.
Charles Jr. admits that the services VIP offers are want, not need-based and the turn in the economy has affected the auto detailing business. Charles Sr. sees this as a period where we all, as entrepreneurs, have to work harder. With the recession, VIP Auto Appearance is staying on the forefront by continuing to build their marketing efforts. This year VIP is ready to focus on product sales, automated drop shipping to clients, and Charles Jr. is concentrating on building readership on the new VIP blog - coming very soon!
Charles Jr. ended our interview with these words : “Business is business.” It is such a cliché, so commonly used, that people don’t think about what it means. If you are going into business, you need to understand that a good doctor's office runs the same way as a good gas station. Entrepreneurs need to understand the systems of running a successful business and apply that to the business they want to create. Right now a good plan is not going to work. You need a great plan, great marketing, and an understanding of who your client is.
An Intimate Portrait of the American Entrepreneur Project is sponsored in part by the automated marketing gurus at Infusionsoft
and is championed by the spirited zeal of The Toilet Paper Entreprenuer and TPEs across the universe.