March 18, 2007 — Surrounded by cement plants, the brightly painted red-and-yellow AutoSpa shines like a jewel in the dusty, industrial neighborhood of Turpentine Run.
AutoSpa owner Victor Brown relaxes, or does his best, in the small office at the back of the premises, as he talks about starting his barely 10-month-old endeavor.
Relaxing doesn't come naturally to the fireman/entrepreneur. His energy is palpable. He joined the Fire Service when he returned to the island from the states in 1990. "It's great for an entrepreneur," Brown says. "It's the best job in the world, paying back to the community. The hours — we have 24 on and 72 off — so I get three days off in a row. I work with Lima Company."
Brown, who already runs his own cleaning company, noticed something one day that got his attention. "I was in a dealer lot, and I looked at the cars. I did this work in the states. I looked around here and saw this was substandard work, and I thought, 'I can do better.'"
And by the looks of things, he is doing much better. Brown is a highly focused fellow, who follows a strict work ethic. "I've been working since I was six or seven," he says. "I sold papers, flower seeds, and I pushed cars on the Red Hook ferries. I've learned the value of good work."
Brown opened AutoSpa last June. It literally hums with activity. Everything seems to sparkle. "That's how I want it — everything clean," Brown says.
We take a tour around the front of the premises, where four auto bays are filled with four workers busily washing, shining and polishing — one up on a small, white stepladder putting the final shine on the roof of a car, another washing away at dirty tires.
Brown's office sits at the back of a shiny aluminum airplane hangar, which measures 45 feet wide by 54 feet long — just big enough for his purposes. "I tried to get this built locally, but I kept getting put off, so I got this company in Florida," he said. "They built the whole thing in nine days. Imagine that."
He thinks for a minute. "Actually it was only seven days, but we lost two to rain."
He points out all the equipment in the hangar: orbital polishers, boxes of cleaning products.
Outside, Brown looks with obvious pride at the fire-engine-red paint job and the bright yellow banners advertising the services. A couple sits in chairs in the shade outside the hangar. "How about some coffee and popcorn while we're waiting?" the woman asks with a smile. "I like your service, but I could use a cup of coffee."
"Won't be long," Brown says. "Soon we'll have a lounge in back for you."
Striding back to his office, the lanky 6-foot-4-inch entrepreneur demonstrates how he will turn the admittedly minuscule enclosure into a lounge.
And what will happen to the office? "Oh," he says. "I don't need much room, just this desk and computer." He moves a pile of boxes of Wet Tire finish and points to the back of the room. "I'll have a TV on the wall, a couch right here and a computer for the customers." He pauses. "And I'll offer coffee, no popcorn."
Next door to the office is a small, immaculate bathroom. "It has to be nice for the ladies," Brown remarks. Leaving no detail to chance, the bathroom sports an unlikely item: French gardenia hand lotion.
Along with the auto detailing on premises, the enterprising Brown has a mobile unit, which services Ace Flight Center aircraft, the FedEx truck fleet and the National Guard. Brown also has contracts with several auto dealers, including Caribbean Auto Mart and Metro motors.
Brown's rates are fair and competitive, but he has an edge there, an almost irresistible lure — pickup and delivery service. "If it's not in town, if it's on the East End, the service is free for most areas," he says. This applies primarily to a special service he markets for small trucks and SUVs but can apply to smaller autos.
"Say, you want to go to St. John for the day, or you want to drop it off and pick it up after work. We can do that; or if you want to run over to Tutu Park Mall for some shopping or go to IHOP, we can drive you over and pick you up, no problem."
And when you come back to get your shiny, clean automobile, you will find it parked on the side under an automobile cover. "It'll be perfect, just as we finished it," Brown smiles.
The rate for an exterior wash is $12. A wash and tire shine is $15. For a small vehicle, express service is $30 for interior wipe down, vacuum, wash windows inside and out, exterior wash, tire shine and cleaning door jam fender wells.
The truck and SUV complete detailing starts at $190. "Rates vary because of size and color," Brown says. "For instance, black can be very difficult; it's a four-process procedure." The job includes a shampoo for the interior, exterior and for the engine. Brown uses what's called a clay bar for the paint. "Your car suffers from pollution in the air, the African dust, acid rain, the salt air. The paint job takes a beating. The clay bar gets in there and leaves the paint sealed, almost in its original condition," he said.
The service also includes interior dressing of the leather, or vinyl, with a conditioner. Brown uses a high-speed orbital polisher to make the paint job look like new.
The AutoSpa's motto, "Where we pamper your car," is a mandate Brown doesn't take lightly.
As we are leaving, he calls out, "Oh, I forgot to say. If it rains within a half hour after your car is finished, bring it back, and we'll do it over for free."
The AutoSpa is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. For more information, call 779-7727 or Brown's cell at 690-9201.
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