Ever since there has been cars, there has been hand washing. A bucket, sponge, and a little bit of elbow grease was all that was needed to get a car clean.
While automation has turned car washing into a multi-billion-dollar industry, there is still a place for the classic hand wash, albeit it with a very modern twist.
On the Spot Auto Detail has been washing cars by hand for nearly two decades. Owner Nate Sharp has grown his business from a hose and a couple of towels thrown in the back of a pickup into a thriving and expanding hand wash and detail center. The entrepreneur is currently building a $7 million state-of-the-art complex the likes of which have rarely been seen.
“Over the past two years we have visited more than 80 car washes to see how the best operators do it,” Sharp says of his expansion project. “I’m building this to be the Taj Mahal of car washes.”
While the name On the Spot Auto Detail invokes a mobile detailing service, the truth is much more than that. When Sharp was still in college he worked as a contractor for a couple of local car dealerships in the Huntsville, AL area offering basic car washing services. He would hose off the dealership’s fleet, particularly during pollen season, netting a few dollars per car. It was strictly a volume play, but as a college student the budding businessman was happily pulling in $2,000 to $3,000 a month. However, opportunity knocked with a life changing event.
“In my sophomore year the detailing company that was contracted with the Lexus dealership wrecked one of their cars,”he says. “They asked me if I did detailing. I didn’t know anything about it, but one of the salesmen took the time and taught me how to do a dealership level detail. With the switch to detailing I was able to increase my income to $20,000 a month.”
With a healthy revenue stream secured Sharp did what few 20-year-olds would do — he saved his money and reinvested in his business. In short order he had opened his first fixed location and a handful of mobile units performing mobile car wash services in and around Huntsville.
With a few facility upgrades along the way, Sharp currently owns and operates a thriving hand wash and detail center with six mobile units and a two-month-long appointment list.
Every night the detail center’s bays are filled with up to 13 cars waiting to be detailed the following day. On the car wash side, which accounts for more than 70 percent of On the Spot’s revenue, the all hand-wash facility can process 70 to 110 cars per day. That massive hand-wash volume helps feed a host of auxiliary services including windowtinting, protective paint film, windshield repair, headlight restoration, leather repair, and much more.
With his current location well past capacity, Sharp recognized the opportunity for growth and set his sights on developing a one-of-a-kind facility that could process cars at great speed, while still providing consumers the On the Spot experience.
Construction is currently underway on a $7 million facility that is set to open late June/early July and will greatly increase capacity, while simultaneously alleviating some of the labor concerns related to operating a hand-wash facility.
The new location is just 10 minutes away from On the Spot’s current location at a five-acre site that was the previous residence of an Audi dealership. Rather than start from the ground up, Sharp decided to retrofit the existing building, converting it from a showroom and service center into a massive conveyorized tunnel and detail operation.
Inside the cavernous building Sharp is installing two 120-foot, flat belt conveyors designed to introduce some automation into the exclusively hand-wash experience. This modernization is being done with a keen eye on not losing sight of what makes On the Spot a customer favorite. To scale On the Spot, Sharp is eliminating some manual processes by installing tunnel equipment featuring all-foam wash material.
“The foam wash equipment is a first-of-its-kind in the United States,” Sharp says. “It will allow us to wash cars at speed, around three to four minutes per car, while still providing a gentle touch experience.”
Following the short jaunt down the wash conveyor, cars will switch conveyors and enter the interior lane where On the Spot employees will do what they do best, finish a car by hand and provide superior service at a competitive price point. After completing its journey down more than 240-feet of flat-belt conveyor, the car is reunited with its owner clean and dry in around half the time a wash currently takes.
Today, a hand wash is around 45 minutes and requires an appointment, the new automated system will cut wash time to around 20 minutes and allow customers to simply pull up and enter the wash tunnel.
“The new facility is going to eliminate around 60 percent of my labor costs because of the efficiency of the conveyor,” says Sharp. “All chemicals and supplies will be within reach and all processes will be streamlined with an eye toward speed.”
While the new location will require less than half of the manpower currently needed to complete an On the Spot car wash, current employees need not worry about their job security. The current location will remain open to provide the traditional, all-hand wash experience consumers have come to expect.
But for those customers that don’t mind a little automation the new facility will offer the same level of clean at speed and scale. By lessening the car wash burden at its current location, On the Spot can focus on its top-notch detailing and auxiliary services, which currently require up to a two-month wait.
Sharp is building a one-of-a-kind facility designed to complement and enhance his current offerings. By introducing automation into the experience, he and his team will be able to provide a hand-wash-level experience at a previously unattainable scale.
Name: On the Spot Auto Detail
Owner: Nate Sharp
Concept: Hand Wash and Detail Center
Year Founded: 2005
Wash Volume: 70 to 110 Cars Per Day
Detail Volume: 6-8 per day
Expansion Plans: 245-Foot Tunnel Wash, Summer 2022