Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer|
Demetrius Cowley washes a car as part of his on-the-go business, Spic & Span. It is Cowley’s attention to detail in his work and positive attitude that keeps the business coming to his mobile car wash business, clients say.
Spic & Span: Scrubbing Success
Athens man runs car wash on-the-go business out of the back of his SUV
By Danielle Komis Palmer
Demetrius Cowley wiped his brow, careful to avoid getting the soapsuds on his hands on his face.
“Whew!” he said as he grabbed his wash bucket and moved to the other side of a white Ford Expedition, hopped up on the ledge and started furiously scrubbing the roof.
Passers-by in cars and on the sidewalk watched curiously as the one-man show continued — bewildered.
But you couldn’t really blame them for staring. It did seem a bit odd for a man to be washing a car on the Athens town square near the courthouse.
But at least once a week, this one-man show (or two-man show, if his 16-year-old son helps out) goes off without a hitch, as Cowley’s “Spic & Span” mobile car wash business continues to garnish customers in Athens — specifically, in the downtown area.
“I love cleaning cars. I take pride in my work,” Cowley said as he continued his mad dash around the SUV, scrubbing, buffing and spraying every surface.
How it works
Cowley charges $20 to $45 depending on the vehicle and the service requested — from a simple exterior wash to an in-depth cleaning like shampooing, waxing and vacuuming.
Demetrius Cowley has a 55-gallon drum of water in the back of his vehicle. The drum connects to a pressure pump that supplies his water. He also has a full line of cleaners, shiners, waxes and other products.
He runs the business out of his black Dodge Durango. In the back of the vehicle, a 55-gallon drum of water hooked up to a pressure pump supplies his water.
A full line of cleaners, shiners, waxes and other products dangle from a line strung near the pump.
Crowley can wash six to seven vehicles on one drum of water.
And he doesn’t detail only everyday vehicles. Many clients trust him with their Porsches, BMWs and antique cars. One car he details “does everything to you but tell you how to take a bath,” he said.
On a recent Monday on the Athens square, Cowley’s 16-year-old son Marquise Smith assisted him. Cowley said Marquise —who learned how to detail cars at age 10 — is the only person he has found whose work is up to his standards. Other people just aren’t as motivated to get the job done right, he said.
It is Cowley’s attention to detail in his work and positive attitude that keeps the business coming, clients say.
Cowley has 150 regular customers in Athens and Decatur. Each week, he’ll call them to check and see if they need his services. Cowley said he catches only about 2 hours of sleep each day, between washing cars and his third-shift job at Wayne Farms in Decatur.
His sister-in-law, Kawana Smith, has slowly become Cowley’s coordinator for his courthouse clients.
They come by and see her in court security, and often inquire about Cowley. If he’s out on the square that day, they’ll drop their keys off with her.
Demetrius Cowley and his 16-year-old son Marquise Smith wash cars on the square in downtown Athens. Cowley said Marquise —who learned how to detail cars at age 10 — is the only person he has found whose work is up to his standards. Other people just aren’t as motivated to get the job done right, he said.
“They use me as the third party,” she said. “He does an excellent job, and it’s booming.”
Cowley said he likes working on Athens’ square, because all of his clients are so close.
Plus, he’s made friends with district attorneys, lawyers and judges.
Clients like using Cowley’s services because it’s convenient for them; they have a peace of mind knowing their vehicle is still nearby.
Mark White, owner of Tortillas Blanco on West Market Street, worked out a barter system with Cowley when he saw him working outside and figured he was probably hungry and thirsty.
“We ended up working out a deal, where he got some food, and I got a car wash,” White said.
“I think it’s a cool job that he’s doing. The concept that he has, it’s awesome. He’s absolutely covered up. Everywhere he goes, there’s someone who says, ‘Hey can you wash my car?’ ”
Before he went mobile
Cowley’s set-up wasn’t always so perfect. Before he went mobile, he simply drove clients’ vehicles to a local car wash in Athens for them. Before that, he worked at a car dealership, detailing cars.
He was saving money for a van —what most mobile car washes in the area use — to use for a mobile business when his wife had the idea for him to just use his Dodge Durango instead.
After discussing his idea with co-workers at Wayne Farms, Cowley put together the pacer pump and a drum and found that the setup worked beautifully.
“He’s dreamed about this for a long time,” his sister-in-law said.
“Rain, sleet or snow, he loves to work on cars and clean them up.”
And Cowley feels his commitment to his clients is the reason he has been so successful.
“I feel like if I can be a blessing to someone else, I can be blessed as well.”
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!