Many aspiring entrepreneurs often ask us if car detailing is a good first business to start, and we usually say yes because of several reasons. First, the importance of self-education through research and hands-on experimentation. Second, customer service skills you will gain through client interaction. Third, the attention to detail you must have when it comes to ensuring your clients are satisfied. And finally, the importance of understanding your financials and how to confidently charge what you believe you are worth. Nick Frank is the founder of Synergy Detailing, a high end car detailing business that works on hypercars brands like Koenigsegg and Bugatti. Best of all, Nick does this all part time while balancing a day job.
Tell us a little bit about your background and the birth of Synergy Detailing…
In 2008 I started as valet at Nardy Honda in St. James, NY. One of my job requirements was washing customer cars after service had been completed. Once I got the hang of what I was doing, I decided to take whatever knowledge I had at the time to the outside world where I offered my services to people outside the dealership.
Starting with just friends and family, I began to learn the ropes of the detailing industry and gradually became better with each and every detail I did. As they all say, practice makes perfect! My first “detail” was performed on a 2004 Honda Civic where a total of about 6 hours was spent making it look as good as it can for being a 2004 Honda Civic!
Did I have any idea what I was doing? Not really… But I had to learn one way or another! I went over the car several times before delivering it to the customer and was relieved when he gave me his approval of the work performed.
As word got out over the years, I was able to build a larger customer base as my skill level increased. To this day, I’m still learning and growing my business slowly but surely! No matter who you are, there’s never a day where you can’t learn something new!
Between Honda and Synergy Detailing, I earn a comfortable income throughout the year. I won’t say how much, but for a 24 year old it’s pretty damn good! Fortunately for me, it’s still growing as I’m never satisfied with what I have. My income is based on how hard I work for it. I always strive for more because there’s so much more to achieve in this game we call “life”!
How did you work your way up the ladder at Honda? Was it gradual or expedited based on your performance?
I actually worked up the totem pole to become a manager in service at the same Honda dealer by 21. I’ve moved up the ladder much faster than others at Honda. Be the hardest worker in the room (no matter what it is) and you’ll prevail. Our generation is the “I’m not clocked in”, or “that’s not my job”, or “I don’t get paid enough for that” generation. SHUT UP and just do it! You think your peers don’t recognize who works harder then the next guy? You think they’re dumb… But at the end of the day the joke’s on you!
When you finally wake up several years later in the same position you were fresh out of High School because you still carry that shitty attitude, then maybe, just maybe you will finally get the hint. You don’t have to be the smartest, just be the hardest worker at anything you do and you’ll be fine.
Is Synergy Detailing a conflict of interest with your day job? How are you able to run a company but also work a day job?
I wish Honda was a 9-5 job but to answer your question… Not at all! I have several employees that represent Synergy Detailing where I have 100% faith in them when going to a job site without me. During the week I am able to monitor the daily activity of Synergy Detailing over my phone.
I’m able to book the schedule and keep in contact with my clients and employees through out the day without sacrificing my performance at the dealership. It’s never a dull moment in my daily activity… 7 days a week from 8 am to 8 pm I am constantly keeping busy with both Synergy Detailing and Honda.
Fortunately for me, my superiors consider me family as I pretty much grew up under their supervision. They understand that I won’t be there for the rest of my life. They know that I can’t sit still and I can’t ever go home satisfied not wanting more the next day. I’ve learned how to balance both out very well so far and it’s been going great. I wish there was a little more time in the day so I could make MORE money. One day, I will have to hang up the hat at Honda and that day will be soon but just not yet.
The management team cannot be more supportive of me being an entrepreneur trying to chase down my dreams. They push me to be better each and every day. If they didn’t, then I would have moved on already but as I mentioned earlier, I’m still learning.
I predict to be moving on in the next 2-3 years, if not, sooner depending on how things go. Is it exhausting to have a 70 hour work week there and then focus on Synergy Detailing for countless hours after? Of course! I’m young now, so I might as well get it out of the way before I look back at my life and regret I didn’t work harder.
Why have you chosen to stay at the dealer when Synergy Detailing was bringing in significant revenue?
At this time, Honda is still providing a comfortable income as we are one of the largest Honda dealerships in the country. I will be loyal to the dealership that raised me since I was a teenager until my income can be replaced by Synergy Detailing or another source of income.
If it wasn’t for Nardy Honda, I wouldn’t know half of what I know now when it comes to customer service. With the amount of things I’ve learned from my peers over such a short time, most people would never learn in a lifetime. I couldn’t have been more fortunate to be surrounded by people that helped shaped me into the person I am today.
I deal with roughly 2,000 customers a month at the dealership. Imagine 2,000 different personalities that you have to learn how to adapt to in order to provide excellent customer service day in and day out. I can handle almost every type of person there is in today’s world… Even the crazies!
I’m still learning so much from Nardy Honda when it comes to certain aspects of business including sales, customer service, profit, strategy, etc… With that being said, I would be a fool to let that go right now. Soon… But not yet!
How important is it to have not just cash but also cash flow before you decide to take the leap of faith?
I learned how to save when I was very young. I didn’t grow up where I could get anything I wanted because my parents would get it for me. I couldn’t tell you how happy I would be to go into my room as a kid and have hundreds of dollars saved up over the years. No idea what I was going to buy with it, just enjoyed knowing I had money if there ever was something that popped up.
I was able to learn the true value of a dollar to the point where I never let a dollar go to waste… unless it was a really fast car! I read a small excerpt from Warren Buffet: “Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving”. I could not have said it better myself.
Each and every week I try to put away as much money as I possibly can. I like to pretend once the money goes into my savings account that it’s if it doesn’t even exist. Whatever I leave behind in my checking account is what I have to live with for the time being.
I also have multiple retirement funds, which will continue to grow for however long I need it to. 401k through Honda and a Roth IRA with the money earned through Synergy Detailing. Both retirement funds are withdrawing the max amount as I’ve learned to live without that money to the point where it doesn’t even exist to me. It’s tough to save, but you can bet your ass that it will be well worth it years down the road. Once again, my father is the one who always pushed me to save as much as I possibly could. Thankfully I wasn’t stubborn when it came to learning from my peers about money and took his advice.
I tend to be a pretty simple guy. I don’t spend money on stupid stuff like going out to the local bar every week, with the same people, who are doing the same shit they were doing last year. I don’t need to buy the latest phone or latest fashion trend; I get by with what I got.
What have you learned over the years about customer service from working at a car dealership?
I’ve been honored to have one of the best management personnel there is to offer in today’s world. I learn each and every single day from them and could never repay them for what I know now compared to before I started working there. Your peers have been doing it longer then you have. Shut your damn mouth and absorb anything and everything you can in order to make you better at what you’re doing whether it be washing cars at a dealership or designing equipment for NASA!
Over the years in a profession dealing with customers hands-on, you start to learn how to handle different customers with different situations. At first, I would be thrown off by the reaction some people would have compared to another when giving something as simple as a greeting saying “hello”.
After years of being in the field, I’ve adapted to the point where I can understand which way to handle the rest of the conversation in order to please the customer. Right off the bat, the way they respond will determine what’s going to follow in the rest of the conversation. Whether it’s joyful and pleasant or a grumpy response, I know how to handle the rest of the way in order to ensure the customer is satisfied.
This is not something you can learn by opening up a textbook. The only way to learn how to become one with another personality is by experience. Lucky enough for you, you’re surrounded by people each and every day. The guy you buy your breakfast sandwich from at the deli, the gas attendant, the lady behind the counter at the store up the street, the bank teller, etc… all of these people have different personalities and it’s a chance for you to learn how to satisfy a conversation with this person.
You don’t have to talk to every human being that walks past you, but the more experience you have with another personality that you’re not familiar with, the more it will prepare you for when the time comes when you’re trying to sell your product/service to someone who just got a flat tire on a rainy day on the way to come see you.
Tell us a little more about all the services Synergy Detailing offers…
Synergy Detailing offers almost anything when it comes to the automotive detailing world from basic detailing, paint correction, paint protection (coating), clear bra, powder coating, etc.
The paint correction and protection package is our top dog choice. This is for the car enthusiast that really wants their car to shine and stay protected. All the swirls, scratches, and defects are removed during the correction process then everything is topped off with a coating of choice to seal everything in. This coating can last YEARS as long as it’s properly maintained over time!
How did you grow Synergy Detailing to what it is today?
Synergy Detailing grew to what it is today through the best form of advertising: Word of Mouth! I always found when dealing with new customers that I strive to build a relationship before doing business. 90% of my clientele today are car enthusiasts so it’s easy for me to build a relationship before even discussing what we’re really talking to each other for. I love talking to my clients about their cars and enjoy listening to the story behind the amazing machines they bring for me to work on.
Honesty and trust are a few other reasons why Synergy Detailing is where it is today. You’ll be surprised how far the truth will take you! Your clientele will respect the fact that you’re honest and trustworthy rather than sly and sneaky.
Everything I know is pretty much self-taught. You know the phrase practice makes perfect? Well… I’m the perfect example! I started by working on loaner cars at my dealership to learn the basics of automotive detailing. Once I got the hang of it, I was able to carry my skills over to actual customer cars. What I know now compared to 5 years ago is obviously a night and day difference but everyone has to start somewhere.
I was debating to go to classes in California and Florida for detailing but didn’t see the justification in doing so. It’s not rocket science, just need a little common sense and elbow grease!
At what point did you decide to hire employees and remain hands off?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m still hands on as much as I possibly can be. It’s almost like therapy to me because I truly enjoy detailing especially when we have a unique car come our way. I like to be around just incase something goes wrong whether it’s a customer service related issue or something to do with the job at the time. I trust my employees, but I have better peace of mind when I’m involved in the event something goes sour.
All of my clients know my employees through local car shows that the “Synergy Squad” attends each and every month. Remember where I said, “Build a relationship and then do business”? All of my guys have built a personal and business relationship with each and every one of our clients. We’re all car guys at the end of the day. What car guy doesn’t enjoy bullshitting about his car!?
Since most of your business is ‘word of mouth’, what other means of marketing have you tried or leveraged? You don’t have much of an online presence it seems?
I never got around to a website even though I probably should because it never hurts. A lot of my business is showcased through social media, which I believe is the new source of marketing in this day and age. This generation lives off social media through their phone. Not many go to websites like the old days. I find that people will look a business up via Instagram or Facebook before hunting a website down.
For anyone that wants to get into the car detailing business, tell us some things people should know about this industry?
You have to be honest. Obviously the quality of work and competitive pricing plays a huge part but if you’re not honest with your clients then you will fail no question about it. You can be the absolute best at what you do but if you’re a scumbag that gets over on the people that keep your business running then you will never make it.
When it comes to running the business of detailing, do as much research as you possibly can. You will never know enough and there’s always somebody you can learn from out there… Trust me!
If you want to get into the Automotive Detailing industry, make sure you understand that the cash flow will not come right away. You need to build up a name where it holds a trust factor with quality work performed.
Word of mouth is the best form of advertisement. Do one job for somebody at a discounted rate (maybe free depending on your situation) and before you know it, they’ve told their family, friends, and even some guy driving next to them whose asking where they got their car done.
You can’t expect to be the best right away. Learn on your own car. If you don’t have a car then practice on your family’s cars! They’re either going to love you or hate you, but they will give you an honest opinion on your strong and weak points.
I can’t stress the fact enough that practice will make you better when detailing. It’s like riding a bicycle; once you learn it you’ll never forget. You may fall a few times and even have some scares to look back on and laugh about one day, but before you know it, you’ll be riding along without a care in the world.
With the barrier of entry being quite a bit easier than most businesses, what do you do about competitors?
Nowadays, it seems as if everyone with a bucket and sponge fresh out of Pep Boys is a “Detailer”. Don’t get me wrong, that’s where I started but I didn’t jump into the exotic / luxury car scene and make promises I couldn’t keep. I see way too many people going with some amateur because the prices were less then half and end up having more problems then when they started.
On Long Island, there are several detailers who I have plenty of respect for. Some I have grown close where if I ever need a helping hand, they’re only a phone call away. There’s plenty of cars out there and no need to be greedy when it comes to business. If it involves money, I’m all ears!
Don’t get me wrong; are there people you need to watch your back when you deal with them? Hell yeah! I’ve worked with a few other companies in tight situations where they did me a favor to bail me out. Although most have been fine, I did have a bad experience late last year.
I recently did some business with another company as I was shorthanded on a big job (1 owner with 8 exotics) with a time limit to complete. I brought them in and before I knew it, pictures of those cars were all over social media as if they were his client. I have no problem with anyone sharing pictures especially when they’re helping me, but don’t put the pictures up leaving people under the impression that the customer is no longer one of mine (happened to be a loyal customer who has been with me for 4 years).
Before I knew it, I had friends texting me “WTF HAPPENED?’ and so and so forth. I explained to the guy helping me that if he shares anymore pictures just acknowledge that it’s under my company. Next week same shit!
After that, I found out that he was trying to contact my VIP clients to do business with. I’m all for competitive business, but stealing clients in an unprofessional manner? Hell no! I won’t reveal who it was, but you know who you are if you read this! ;) In other words that business relationship is now tarnished. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer!
Tell us about the cars you’ve had in the past?
I didn’t come from money so everything I have is something that I worked for. My first car was a 1991 Ford Taurus handed down to me from my Grandmother. I couldn’t have asked for anything better because with that I was able to learn the true value of a dollar. Did I want a cool sports car? Hell yeah! So I worked my ass off and bought a 1997 SVT Cobra a year later (17 years old). Of course I didn’t stop there. I continued to use the money that bought my Cobra to buy the rest of my sports cars as years went by. More Cobras… Vipers… My first Lamborghini… All purchased with hard earned money! Currently own a 14 SRT Viper TA, 12 Honda Civic Si, and on the hunt for a White Black Edition GTR to add to the line up.
When you buy a car like a Gallardo, what impact does it have on your professional career? How do people at Honda react to that?
Jealously is a funny thing. You know your real friends when you acquire these things in life. True friends will be happy for you; others will talk shit behind your back. No big deal as I don’t have time to focus on the people that will be doing the same shit with the same people each and every year while I continue to progress.
Don’t get me wrong, I never talk down on anyone, but don’t tell me that I didn’t earn everything I own because I worked my ass off for all of it. Funniest part is, they can have it all too but they’re too lazy. Oh well… Can’t fix stupid!
A lot of people don’t appreciate seeing a 24 year old kid driving around in a Lambo, but at the end of the day, I look past the stupid hater comments to those who are saying “Thank you for showing me if you work hard then it truly does pay off”. I’ve always heard it from my father and who would have guessed it… He’s right!
How do you plan to evolve Synergy Detailing and take it to the next level?
Detailing in NY is also a seasonal profession… It’s not guaranteed with the weather and unfortunately with the economy still in rough shape, it’s more of a “want” rather than a “need”. As Synergy Detailing continues to grow, I know its limitations are not too far away. With understanding that reality, I have been planning several other plans of action in order to generate a source of income in the near future.
My dream is to open a full car wash and detail center along with a storage facility in the back. This will be years down the road but it will happen… Mark my words!
My story is still developing… I’m not the smartest guy out there but put me next to somebody else and you can bet your ass I’m going to work harder than them! To make money today doesn’t require you to be a rocket scientist! It requires hard work, dedication, passion and always wanting to do better then the day before.
We want to thank Nick for sharing his story with us. Make sure to connect with him via:
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