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“Money grow on trees in the car business. Shake every tree ’till you’ll find it.”
-John Ireland

John Ireland of Dayton, MN has owned Ireland Interior Repair for 13 years and Shamrock Detail Supply for 6.

John Ireland of Dayton, MN has owned Ireland Interior Repair for 13 years and Shamrock Detail Supply for 6.

John Ireland will do anything for a car dealer if it: 1) Helps them sell cars and 2) Makes him money.

In our interview he reveals:

  • Why none on his crew of 10 milks the clock, ever.
  • His creative solution to staying busy (and profitable) during Minnesota winters.
  • How to make money selling wax, spray bottles, and degreaser out of a box truck, when everyone else is too.

You got big vans, you got little vans, you got two separate businesses, you got people doing interior repair, five different services, and you got the detail supply truck as well: how do you keep it all under control, and make sure they’re doing good work and the customers are happy?

Basically, I know that I am a very aggressive person, I work hard, I purposefully exert myself. I’d rather have too many accounts than too little accounts. I have a goal in my head. It used to be $300 a day, but if I could start making more than that per day and I was too busy and everyone wanted me, that’s when I know that I needed to get another person hired on.

So if I hire a guy, and that’s kind of tricky you know, you got to find a person that knows how to talk to people, that’s the most important thing. You can train a monkey on how to do most of this stuff, because I keep it simple, but if you got somebody who can talk to people, you train them to do everything, and then you give them a good account. You give them a small account and you say “here you go”, and its enough for them to get started. Then you tell them, “Its your job now to take it to the next step, and if you can take it to the next step, then I’ll help you take it to the step after that”.

So I have certain things that I do with everyone, and I teach them that way, but you do show them all the different ways to make money, and it’s kind of up to them to decide how busy they want to be. I don’t have any employees, everybody I have is all subcontractors. I do not require anything of them: the people that demand more from themselves, I will bend over backwards and do everything that I can to help them make as much money as they want to make.

The people, who after getting past that first step just kind of sit there? They’re going to be sitting there for a long time. Once I get them their accounts, and once they go out and start getting their own accounts, I’ll do random checkups on their dealerships. I’ll talk to their managers, and just make sure things are happy. You know, see if there are any things are going good and if we can do to improve the things that we do.

You said two interesting things. The first is that you do not hire employees, you hire contractors. The second thing is you’re not looking for skilled people, you’re looking for good talkers. I guess the third thing was, you sort of don’t throw the whole ball of wax at them, you sort of test them with your smaller accounts. You don’t pay them a whole bunch of money up front: you set it up so that they get paid based on performance. Right?

I’ll give new hires $400 a week, kind of as a “training” pay for a couple weeks. And what I try to do is find these people and tell them to just go out there and start shaking branches, asking dealerships what I can do to help them sell more cars, what can I do to make your cars look better. You know if you ask the right questions the managers at the dealerships will just tell you what they want, and you just find one and do it for them.

With contractors, if they’re milking the clock, they’re milking themselves. So you really get the best effort out of your employees with this arrangement, because the system ensures they’re motivated and doing great work.

So there’s three big services missing from your service menu: Spraying the bumpers, detailing the cars, and pulling the dents. Did you find those were either too complicated, or too expensive to offer?

Detailing didn’t work out because these employees would sit around because they were being paid by the hour. At the end of two and a half years, I asked myself how come I hadn’t made any money doing this, so I just decided that it was not worth it.

Bumpers? Actually, two years ago I had a total of about eighteen people working for me. Something like six, seven of them were bumper guys. What I found was that again, because we’re subcontractors, they have to pay for their own supplies and stuff like that. The actual painting of the bumpers was such a high cost compared to all these over services we do, that they constantly complained about wanting a higher and higher percentage from me, and my profit margins went down to nothing.

Also the dealerships at the same time were saying that they could have a body shop quality for $150 a bumper, while my guys on the lots in outdoor environments trying to get $120-130 a bumper, because of the percent that I’m trying to take, their overhead supply, and it was just again not worth it. Had that went on for three, four, five years, and just again, at the end the profit margin for me was just not there.

Minnesota winters, they’re cold, there’s snow on the cars, the sales managers aren’t spending the money on reconditioning their cars. You got a staff of 10 people: how do you get through the winters?

You ever see those plastic films they put on carpets? Yeah, well I had a great opportunity. What I did, and a lot of interior guys think I ruined the industry, I like to think I just recreated it, but what we do at a lot of our dealerships is we call it the 30 Package. We, for thirty dollars a car, we apply the plastic film to the carpet and do every interior repair necessary for $30. Which, is an insane price. And everybody’s like “That doesn’t make any sense, you’re killing the industry!”.

Well what these guys don’t realize is we make up volume, what they make up for in price. We get to stay busy all year long because every single used car that comes in, it’s ours. Some dealerships depending on what you are doing will pay you anywhere from $25-45 a car, but the average is $30 a car. And literally we’re laying the plastic in every car first, and if the carpet needs to be re-dyed, there’s big tears, or burns in the seat, we’re taking care of those too. But a lot of cars just need the carpet cling.

Where the money comes in, that’s how we are able to stay busy all winter long: we have a lot of dealerships because of what a great deal it is.

Now that’s really creative. It makes sense that the car dealer are burnt out on the paperwork and confusion of having multiple vendors, and multiple prices, and having to stop a car deal to talk about a $60 bolster respray. For them your $30-every-car deal is simple and headache free. And for you, you guys are busy all year long and you have some sort of predictability to your income and scheduling.

Well yeah, and the dealerships don’t got to worry that they kicked their interior vendor out for the winter time, and this car’s got to go out now. It’s just like, we’re just there. A lot of times, it depends on how busy everybody is, you really might go there, just do your work, not talk to a single person. I don’t tell my people to do that, but that’s really just kind of an automatic. The dealership knows what my responsibilities are, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that it’s done. So the dealership knows that, hey, every car we’re just going to add $30 to the bottom line, and that’s it. Done, done.

Okay, so you got a box truck and you’re selling wax, pads, carpet brushes, etc. I’m sure you’re not the onl one in the St. Paul area doing it, right?

Yep, I think there are eight or nine good competitors around here.

That’s quite a few, and a lot of people would just go down to the auto-parts store, so how do you get loyalty out of these people when they have so many options and sometimes can even get a better price elsewhere?

Because so many know us from our interior repair business we’ve developed loyalty over the years, and we just use that as another selling point. Sometimes I can offer an additional 10-20% off all chemicals for their loyalty.

But it is so competitive when you’re dealing with these dealerships, which is who you initially want to chase because they turn so many cars use so much product. So you think you can count on them for big profits, but then you’ll run into a service manager or parts manager. They’ve never detailed a car in their life and are just concerned about the bottom dollar, so on dealerships like that a lot of times on you do have to compete on price.

Where you make the money is the additional products, the products or systems that no one else has, like the odor-fogging systems, or the headlight refinishing systems that we sell. Stuff like that where you can make the good markups on, especially if you are willing to set aside some time to show them how to do the stuff.

But, you know smaller dealerships and detail shops are more likely to have the loyalty, because a lot of the bigger names like 3M aren’t servicing the smaller guys, they’re all fighting for the big guys. So those are really good customers, there, and you don’t have to give them as many discounts.

But, you know, I’m still trying to figure out how to make the real good money in that business. [laughs]I mean it makes money but, you know, always trying to improve.


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How We Started

It was 2006. A car detailer couldn't find affordable, easy-to-use add-on equipment to grow his business. So he made it himself.

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