Young Entrepreneurs Series: Wyoming auto detailing shop grows from after-school job to big business

By: Chris Knape
Published: Wednesday, Decempber 29, 2010 at 6:28am

WYOMING — The power of a clean car came into focus for Ross Timyan at age 15.
Friends of his parents were looking to sell a car for $9,000.

He took it, cleaned it, took pictures of it and sold it for $10,000, pocketing the difference.

He continued doing detailing work from driveways for a couple of years, building up a portfolio of clientele. By the time he graduated from Forest Hills Central High School in 2006, he was ready to run a full-fledged business.

Thus was born Crystal Clean Auto Detailing LLC, a company that cleans and does minor repairs to get cars in shape for dealerships and private owners.

Today the company and Timyan, 22, are on a roll, cleaning and photographing cars for private clients and car dealerships in a 40,000-square-foot former factory at 3413 Eastern Ave. SE.
Timyan is on what he called “a hiatus” from studying at Grand Valley State University.

Running a business with sales approaching $1 million a year is proving enough of an education for the time being, he said.

“I’m really getting my master’s degree before I get my bachelor’s,” he said.

This year, Crystal Clean is on track to service 7,500 cars, up from 2,500 in 2009. Next year, Timyan hopes to double business with a little help from expansion into the vehicle storage industry.

Earlier this month, Crystal Clean leased a 60,000-square-foot building across the street to serve as long-term, climate-controlled storage for seasonal cars, recreational vehicles and boats.

Crystal Clean is no ordinary car wash. Vehicles get a comprehensive exterior cleaning before going through an interior and exterior detailing process that can include paint and dent repair and stain removal, depending on the customer’s needs. Lamps that hung high from the factory’s ceiling now hang low to shine on the vehicles, helping to ensure everything is, well, crystal clean.

It’s not cheap. A typical interior-exterior detailing job goes for $200 to $225. Dealerships pay about $150, plus about $30 for a group of 30 or 40 photos to put on their sales website.

“I think it’s relatively inexpensive for what it does for the value of the car,” Timyan said.

He has adapted best practices from studying other vehicle detailing businesses while also creating his own tools to make work more efficient while ensuring high quality.

About 80 percent of Crystal Clean’s business comes from about 25 area auto dealerships. A key selling point is getting the detailing work done and then taking the vehicle to Crystal Clean’s photo booth for professional interior and exterior vehicle pictures that can be directly loaded onto a dealership’s website.

Timyan said the huge photo booth was one of the first of its kind and represented a breakthrough for his business because it put used cars into a studio-like environment, versus the crowded and sometimes weather-affected setting of a car lot, where such photos often are taken.

“It’s convenient for customers — before the car gets back to the dealership, it’s already online,” he said.

The company also offers an “airport valet” service in which it picks up cars at Gerald R. Ford International Airport to be detailed while the customer is away. For a long trip, the savings in parking costs can cover a big chunk of the detailing cost.

Innovations like the airport valet and photo booth led the company to be named a finalist for the Innovation Michigan Award.

Timyan gives credit to a team of experienced employees for taking the business to new heights.

“We’re going so much further than I even could have dreamed of because these guys have so much experience,” he said.

“These guys” are a team of about 40 employees — most of whom are older than their boss.
Timyan said he’s sometimes self-conscious about his age.

“Sometimes I can come off totally different than I want to because of my age,” he said. “It’s been something I have to work around,” he said. “It is interesting to be in the position I’m in and deal with really serious stuff.”

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