Ross Timyan takes the details to another level
"We went from 900 square feet to 4,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet, and now, including the storage area, to 100,000 square feet — all in three and a half years," he said.
Timyan was one of three finalists last year in the inaugural EPIC Awards presented by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. EPIC stands for Entrepreneurial, Progressive, Innovative and Collaborative, and one of the five EPIC categories is Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Another finalist was selected as the Young Entrepreneur of the Year, but that didn't bother Timyan.
"It was such an honor just to be considered in the top three," he said. "It's kind of like the Final Four in basketball: If you're there, it's good enough."
That was in May. In July, Crystal Clean was named a finalist for the Innovation Michigan Award because of its vehicle photography studio and its "airport valet" service. In November, Timyan was selected by Grand Rapids Business Journal as one of its 40 Under 40 Business Leaders.
An examination of Timyan's activities over the past seven years reveals a series of good ideas that panned out and spawned still more good ideas.
Timyan was born in Chicago. His parents, Steve and Cheryl Timyan, moved to the Grand Rapids area when he was 2 years old. His father has investments in a couple of industrial companies in Michigan, including Amneon office furniture in Allendale. His mother was a successful sales rep for Alcoa before she stayed home to raise a family. The youngest of the Timyan children is now 14.
Ross Timyan actually got started in the auto-detailing business before he could even drive. When he was 15, he began selling cars for his parents' friends on eBay. The owners would tell him how much they expected to get for the car, and then Timyan would go to work, cleaning and touching up the car until it shined. Then he took high-quality photographs of the car and listed the car on eBay.
The deal was that, when he sold the car, he could keep any amount over the base sale price set by his "clients" — which meant he really put a lot of effort into trying to make the cars look good.
But that wasn't his only job: That same summer he also worked at an auto dealership, cleaning and refurbishing interiors and touching up nicks and scratches in the paint on the used cars brought in to Todd Wenzel Buick, Pontiac and GMC on 28th Street.
"I got to learn a lot about dealerships and how they work," he said.
That fall, he started classes at GVSU, but as spring approached, he began getting calls from people who wanted their cars detailed.
"I really felt like I should start doing it again and wanted to do it full time, but I couldn't do that out of a trailer," he said. So with support from his dad, he made the commitment to open an actual shop of his own.
First, however, he decided he needed a more specialized education in auto detailing, which he found offered by a company in San Diego, Calif., called Rightlook.
Rightlook bills itself as "the world's largest provider of auto detailing and appearance training, equipment, supplies, consulting and marketing support."
Timyan spent about 10 days at the Rightlook facility, where he learned "the whole nine yards" about the auto-detailing process, including how to run an auto-detailing business.
When he got back to Grand Rapids, he started his business in a leased two-stall garage on 28th Street. The business soon outgrew that space and moved to a 4,000-square-foot space in a warehouse on Broadmoor Avenue in Kentwood.
Crystal Clean outgrew that space almost a year ago and moved into the old G&T Foam factory at 3413 Eastern Ave. SE.
A few weeks ago, Crystal Clean leased additional space nearby, in one of the former Steelcase facilities off 36th Street now owned by Ashley Capital.
Crystal Clean offers an "airport valet" service as part of its auto-detailing business. A customer who wants his or her car detailed and is going on a trip is met at the airport by a Crystal Clean employee who brings the car back to the shop on Eastern Avenue. When work on the car is done, Crystal Clean stores the car in what used to be the Steelcase employee sales building. When the traveler flies back into Grand Rapids, a Crystal Clean representative meets her or him at the airport with the car, and away they go.
"What you would have paid for long-term parking at the airport almost takes care of a large chunk of the cleaning cost," said Timyan.
Crystal Clean's retail detailing prices vary, depending on the size of the vehicle, but they start at around $200. Most of the company's business, however, is detailing used cars for a couple of dozen dealerships around West Michigan.
The cars get the Crystal Clean treatment before they are put on the lot, and Crystal Clean also photographs each car at its photography studio on Eastern Avenue. The professional-quality photos are shot against a neutral background that isn't crammed with other used cars. Crystal Clean then uploads the photos on the dealership's website.
Then there's Bob Dunkelberger, who Timyan and his management team fondly call "the Godfather."
A couple of the dealerships that Timyan was working with soon wanted more from Crystal Clean, he said, mentioning Dunkelberger in particular.
Dunkelberger is the pre-owned car sales manager at Toyota of Grand Rapids, which was Crystal Clean's biggest customer last year — involving several hundred cars — and has been a customer going on three years.
"We call him the Godfather," joked Timyan, because "we have to do anything he asks us to do."
Joking aside, Timyan said Toyota of Grand Rapids is a very important customer, and Dunkelberg has been "extremely influential." Dunkelberger helped the fledging company by pushing it early on to improve its business processes and become more innovative.
Dunkelberger said the first couple of times Timyan came by to pitch Crystal Clean, "I actually turned him down." He said he gets people coming in all the time offering to do auto detailing for him.
But Dunkelberger said that when Timyan and one of his employees came back to make their pitch again, that time he saw "two kids with great energy."
"Sometimes you see things in people," he said. "I saw quality and integrity. And that's why I gave them a chance."
"They provided a very good quality service with high integrity, and they stood behind their word," he added.
Timyan constantly uses the word "we" when talking about his business, although he is the sole owner. Some of his employees have many more years of experience than he does, he said, and it is "their experience and their commitment" — and especially his key managers — that leads him to use the word "we."
"They have had such a huge part in what we have done," he explained.
He is taking classes part-time again at GVSU, he said, so that he doesn't lose the momentum there. But he's also got "a lot of ideas," and he and his management team are focused on some serious plans.
Last year Crystal Clean did almost $900,000 in business.
What's ahead in 2011?
"We'd like to double our revenue," he said. "And not by doing the same things we're doing today, but expanding on everything we already have and maybe even getting into some other markets."