Aide from being responsible for detailing the 1957 Plymouth Fury named Christine-made famous in the Stephen King scripted movie of the same name-two things to know about Royal Detail Inc. in Pensacola, Fla., are that the McCarra family never wanted their business to be considered a simple car wash shop, and they started from scratch with nothing but a vision, enthusiasm and a lot of hard work.
“We didn’t want Royal Detail to be a car wash,” says president and CEO Marsha McCarra. “Once upon a time my husband, Dennis, and I were semi-retired and comfortable.”
Then she laughs.
“My son, Derek, dragged us into this with our younger son, Daniel,” she says. “We had no contacts here in Pensacola when we launched Royal Detail in March of 2003. The first thing we did was to join the chamber of commerce. Then we joined a chapter of Business Network International-hey are a terrific source of referral business for us. We did research and read marketing books that talked about good impact marketing secrets that had already been proven.”
The point was to be successful. Failure was not an option.
“We wanted to build this idea into a business and maybe even franchise at some point or have satellite locations,” says McCarra. “We didn’t want a mom-and-pop shop, but we did want it to be a family-based business so we could apply the do unto others approach to the public. We even went on to join the Better Business Bureau.”
All that focused and fine-tuned effort to launch a thriving detail business has paid off for Royal Detail. Today the company owns and operates three mobile units and a large shop servicing a wide array of clientele-much of it repeat business.
“We are known for taking care of the Christine movie car,” says McCarra. “She’s one of our most demanding customers, but we offer a wide range of services to a broad-based clientele.”
And it’s not all automotive work.
“We maintain a multimillion-dollar Lear jet owned by a big law firm in this area and the stunt plane of a well-known pilot,” she adds. “Our company is also trusted with some very high-end motorcycles and several vintage classic cars. We’re well-known in the RV circuit, within the car dealership industry and to the retail public.”
The mobile units allow Royal Detail to take its services to customers.
“We detail RVs, usually with our mobile units,” says McCarra. “We’ve detailed some big coaches. Here in Florida there are a lot of coach and RV campgrounds, as well as living facilities where they own their own lot and bring their RVs here to be worked on.
“We service one of the largest Lincoln- Mercury dealerships in the state,” she adds. “We do probably 90 percent of their detailing. When we do their used cars, we work hard to help the dealers get the price they want.”
And then there’s that repeat clientele. Some just want a wash and wax, while others can’t imagine their planes, cars, motorcycles or RVs in the hands of anyone other that the McCarras.
The idea is to get any vehicle back to as close to showroom condition as possible. That means steam extractions, buffing, waxing, polishing and odor removal with ozone machine treatments.
“We provide full-service detailing,” McCarra says. “Cleaning is what we do.”
Employees are also trained in other reconditioning services, including windshield chip repair, bumper refurbishing and headlight resurfacing.And McCarra has put together a network of contractors who come to the shop to perform related services such as paintless dent repair and headliner replacements.
Being located in Florida poses its own unique challenges to keeping vehicles looking good. There’s all the sunny weather, and then the work that goes on after heavy storms.
“We specialize in using the clay bar process to remove impurities in the paint job and improve the finished look,” McCarra explains. “After all the hurricanes, there has been a lot of construction. When the wind blows paint in a direction it shouldn’t go, the result is overspray on automobiles. House paint does not look good on a Mercedes! In most instances, the clay bar process will remove it-sometimes we have to wet-sand first, and then follow with the clay bar. We love to do demos of this process-most car lovers simply have to have it once they see a demonstration.”
You can’t miss the company’s royal purple building, but it’s what’s inside that counts.
“We’re known for our lobby,” McCarra adds. “We’ve been told we have the nicest, most comfortable lobby in this area for anything having to do with auto service. We even keep a massage chair here and occasionally we have to wake up customers so they can leave once their work is done.”
And when they do wake up, chances are customers will be pleased with what they see.
“First, it’s important that we offer 100-percent satisfaction and a delight guarantee,” says McCarra. “That is, if anyone doesn’t like the result and we can’t make them happy, they get their money back. We’ve only had two refunds in the three years we’ve been in business. With that sort of promise, we attract and keep a wide range of clientele.”
Such service has earned Royal Detail a strong reputation with a very demanding client base-car show participants.
“We work with folks who participate in auto shows. And the auto show clientele is not necessarily local. They are comprised of people outside our immediate vicinity, who may show in the region as well,” McCarra notes.
Judging by the results, you can see why drivers would go the extra mile to Royal Detail.
“Three of the cars we worked on recently participated in the area’s largest regional car show [approximately 3,000 entries], and all of them won trophies. We detailed them and so two of those trophies are in our lobby, so we can brag and show off a little bit,” she says.
At Royal Detail, the quality of its employees matches the quality of vehicles the company services.
“In general, our retail work comes for the business community,” explains McCarra. “They drive nice, expensive cars and they don’t have time to maintain them. Most people are repeat detail customers, and we also offer the occasional wash. Typically, customers will bring their vehicles in on a quarterly or biannual basis for us to do a full detail, and they also sometimes run them by here for a wash, because they just don’t want anyone else to touch them.”
Ten employees work the Royal Detail operation, including a shop manager, an assistant manager, a lead mobile unit manager and professional detailers.
“We’ve been fortunate,” says McCarra. “We have a top-shelf group of people working with us. I do believe we have the most accurate and quickest detailers in the area. In fact, I know that to be true! With three mobile units and a shop to run, we can only have the best on our team. We like to think of everyone who works with us as part of the reason for our success. Every single employee is the best-they have all helped us become the best.”
For a couple that was “semi-retired and comfortable,” the McCarras don’t seem to be slowing down.
As the Royal Detail product and service line expands, as the company considers growth that might include franchising, and as the word continues to spread to other parts of Florida about the company’s top-notch service, the McCarras continue to explore clear ideas about the company’s future-including branching our beyond Florida’s state line.
“We are looking at future growth,” Marsha says. “We’d really like to establish some small satellite locations that service clients with mobile units. We’ve been looking at and we’d like to expand into the Destin-Fort Walton area. But we’ve also looked and considered going into the Orange Beach-Gulf Shores, Ala., area. The idea is that we could put well-trained people in place and they would live in that area and service those areas.”
Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that Derek dragged the family into this business after all.
“I have a good feeling about all of this,” McCarra says. “It’s true that we weren’t exactly planning this. We were semi-retired, but my husband and sons had this idea to open a detail business and they did it. We started out with a Jeep and a custom-made trailer they built in our home workshop. But even before it started, we decided we weren’t just going to do it to make ‘beer money’ like some people in this business do. We wanted a real business.