Detailing is an appearance business. Detail professionals are judged not only on the visual appeal of their work but the appearance and branding of their business as well, a fact Jim Thomas knows firsthand.
Thomas started out detailing for extra money when he was just 14 years old, but it wasn’t until he developed a cohesive brand image and began presenting his business in a visually alluring way that his mobile detailing empire began to take shape.
Thomas’ Atlanta-based Onsite Shine was just named the International Detailing Association’s (IDA) Mobile Detailer of theYear, a fact the entrepreneur is extremely proud of, especially as he reflects back on his humble beginnings as a novice mobile detailer.
“When I was 14 I started detailing planes,” he says. “Whenever I wasn’t in school I would be working at the small private airfields in Atlanta. I learned how to detail planes with a big 18 pound polisher. It was a lot of fun and I met a lot of interesting people. I just fell in love with it.”
Thomas continued his love affair with detailing, working at a handful of car washes and detail centers over the years, but it wasn’t until an offhand comment by his wife, Sarah, inspired him that Onsite Shine began to take shape. The couple was living in Alabama at the time and Thomas was buying and selling real estate and had just closed his first solo deal earning a bit of money. Sarah mentioned to him that she wouldn’t mind working outdoors at a car wash or something and the next day Thomas took the money he had earned and bought all the equipment and supplies they would need to start a mobile car wash and detail business.
“We did it together,” Thomas says. “We would go into office complexes and do quick little washes and sometimes a wash and wax. I didn’t have my heart in it at the time but that was the start of Onsite Shine.”
It wasn’t until a few years later when the couple moved back to Thomas’ native Atlanta that the business began to transform into the award-winning detail operation that it is today. Thomas was running Onsite Shine out of a non-descript cargo van, making a living but not truly differentiating himself or his business, when he received a bit of news that not only altered his life but the trajectory of his business as well— he was about to become a father.
Just as Sarah’s comment years earlier had inspired him to start the business, the knowledge that he was going to be a parent motivated Thomas to transform Onsite Shine. He knew the difference between just getting by and thriving was a thin line, and he was instantly determined to propel himself and his business to a new level of success.
The foundation of Onsite’s transformation was simple and nearly instantaneous. Thomas left the cargo van behind and invested in a flashy branded work vehicle that conveyed superior results to both his current and prospective clients.
“I bought a really nice used Ford F150,” Thomas said. “It was bright red with the matching cap on the bed. I detailed the truck, put our logo and phone number on it and instantly began to get noticed. Within a week one of my biggest clients told me how excited he was for me to see the growth of my business. He invited me into his country club and paid for a detail for one of his neighbors. From that point on my referral base took off.”
Thomas had struck gold. He made an inroad into Atlanta’s growing upper class and quickly became the go-to detailer for their high-end and exotic vehicles. Shortly after, his brother-in-law Rob Gray joined the business to help Thomas handle demand and continue to grow Onsite Shine.
“Once we had two trucks running the business began to snowball,” Thomas says. “We started to make connections at the Lamborghini and Ferrari dealerships. They loved our vibe and started to refer us out. We got to meet some of their clients and built a relationship with the exotic market in Atlanta.”
Onsite Shine provides its clients with superior service and personalized attention that has solidified the business as the detailer of choice. True to its name the business is onsite at its best clients’ residences on an almost daily basis washing and detailing both their daily drivers and super high-end exotics.
Onsite Shine has enjoyed prolonged growth and Thomas has continued to invest in the business to ensure it stays on the cutting edge. Currently there are six mobile detailing units operating in the metro Atlanta area, as well as two fixed locations — one inside Cartunes of Atlanta and one next to Ferrari Maserati of Atlanta. In addition, Thomas has expanded his services to include boat detailing and owns and operates Onsite Shine Marine on the shore of Lake Lanier in Buford, GA.
While Onsite’s Atlanta business continues to grow by leaps and bounds it is also branching out into new territory. A year ago the brand began operating its first mobile unit outside of the Atlanta metro area with the expansion into Charleston, SC. The Charleston market has been extremely receptive to Onsite’s unique take on the mobile detailing and Thomas will continue to invest with additional mobile units to meet demand.
In addition to its foray into the South Carolina market, Onsite Shine is taking a major leap forward on its home turf. Thomas is currently in the planning stages of a multi-million dollar hand wash and detail center in the heart of Atlanta’s exclusive Buckhead neighborhood.
“The space we are building in Buckhead is going to be super extraordinary,” Thomas says. “It is in one of the more prestigious areas in Atlanta and is visible from the interstate. We are going to have the hand wash business as well as a 4,000 square foot detailing center for high-end details and paint correction.”
It is Thomas’ dedication to providing superior service and his commitment to growing his business and being a standard for success that prompted the IDA to name him the Mobile Detailer of the Year at its annual business meeting at the end of January.
“The award is really special,” Thomas says. “I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish. For us to break out of that stigma of just another mobile detailer/car wash guy was huge for us. We really tried our best to make it something different. I am proud of the people that worked with us to help us build the business. I feel so blessed to have a family that is supportive that has been with me through the really tough times.”
Not only has Onsite broken out of the mold of just another detailer, the business is redefining how a mobile detailing operation can operate. The brand’s commitment to its first-class image and providing superior result has caught the eye of its customers and the industry at large, setting a new standard for success.