By Eric Peterson | Mar 22, 2018
Automotive cleaners and polishes
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Automotive cleaners and polishes
"In 1980, I started a bicycle repair and cleaning business," says Pitale. "I was nine years old when I started that business."
By junior high, he was detailing cars in his hometown of San Juan Capistrano, California. "It's been a lifelong pursuit," he says.
In 2000, he launched a business after a stint in real estate and started reselling Der Shiny Stuff, a polish he'd long favored, at the Orange County Swap Meet in Costa Mesa. "It was a premium line of products" made in nearby Santa Fe Springs, says Pitale. "We sold a lot of it. I put it in detailing kits." He'd sell the polish with scrubbers and other tools, and step-by-step instructions that evolved into "how to" DVDs. "Nobody else had done videos," says Pitale.
In 2002, Pitale landed an account detailing Coca-Cola's local fleet of tractor-trailers. They were turning pink due to degreaser, and Der Shiny Stuff was not up to the task.
"We needed something better," says Pitale. He experimented with different chemicals and found the right mix. "Boy, did we get major time savings on the detailing of these trucks."
With a fleet of 3,400 trucks that got detailed every two years at $220 a pop, the breakthrough added up to serious money for both parties. "It was a win for them and a good deal for us," says Pitale.
It also proved to be the perfect testing ground for products. "We lived R&D all day every day. We were permanently trying to make a better mousetrap -- and we did."
Pitale would source chemicals from several suppliers in Southern California to create his products, which became the company's focus after it lost the Coca-Cola contract in 2005. "We went into more products and got away from the detailing," he says.
When Pitale moved the company to Colorado in 2009, he had to rebuild the supply chain. His decision to move was largely based on its central location that made it easier to ship and attend trade shows nationwide. "Also, California is a miserable place to do business," he adds. "We ended up moving all of our manufacturing to Colorado. It was an absolute upgrade for us. Colorado is just a lot better state to do business."
And the state's supply chain has more than been up to the task: Almost all of Adam's Polishes’ suppliers are in Colorado now.
"Our online business blew up," says Pitale. Almost two-thirds of sales are direct to consumer, and Adam's also sells through Amazon. The company also established a brick-and-mortar presence through GM dealerships starting in 2017. "We're the official car-care products for Corvette and Camaro," says Pitale.
Exports account for about 15 percent of sales, he adds. "Italy is really big for us."
The model has helped pave the way to 60-plus percent growth every year since 2015. "In 2014, we had a strong year. In 2017, we were four times that. We've had hockey-stick growth for the last four years."
All of the growth has led to increasingly larger plants. The company went from a 4,500-square-foot space in Boulder to a 19,000-square-foot facility in Louisville in 2012. "We grew out of that building a few years ago, but we kept plussing along because we had a lease," says Pitale. The solution? "We bought a 35,000-square-foot building in Thornton." The company moved in early 2018.
The new location houses manufacturing, bottling, packaging, fulfillment, R&D, and a new detailing operation.
Like the Coca-Cola days, the innovation is all about speed, or "getting a car detailed in the shortest amount of time," says Pitale. And that means less cleaners and polishes, not more: "We keep shaving products off."
Since 2002, the time needed to detail a big truck using the company's products has decreased from nine man-hours to three. "That's extremely relevant," says Pitale.
And the new detailing operation at Adam's HQ offers a vehicle for continued innovation, not to mention content for marketing and advertising. It also feeds Pitale's soul. "I love detailing more than anything else," he says. "It's such a clear before and after and you get a great sense of accomplishment. I still get a blast out of that."
Challenges: Managing growth. After hitting 60 percent every year since 2015, "We probably need to keep growth in the 40 to 50 percent range" for 2018, says Pitale. "There's a certain financial reality to growth: It's extremely expensive."
The cost of employees and equipment "has required us to do crazy things," he adds. "Your shortcomings are pronounced very clearly when you shove a lot of business through a somewhat limited and broken system. It fails fast."
It follows that Pitale brought in some outside capital in 2016. "I took on some business partners," he says. "We're a well-financed company now."
Opportunities: "We're just coming to market with a professional line," says Pitale, noting that he's targeting detailing businesses with bigger bottles and new products.
The growing availability of Adam's Polishes at dealerships represents another opportunity. "One of the things that still limits us is our availability on Saturday," says Pitale, noting that a direct-to-consumer model doesn't allow for instant gratification. But the 150 dealerships in the country's network does, and he hopes to triple that number by the end of 2018. "That's going to solve that problem, says Pitale. "Shipping is the enemy.
Building community is a third opportunity. The detailing operation is one element, as is a grand opening event on April 7 in Thornton. But the biggest is a monthly meetup that typically draws more than 1,000 cars. "The first Saturday of every month, we host a Cars and Coffee event at Flatirons Church in Lafayette," says Pitale.
Needs: Workforce. "Colorado has one of the lowest unemployment rates ever," says Pitale.
Adam's Polishes also needs a tech upgrade, he adds. "We're extremely soft on technology for shipping." It follows that bar coding, automatic order management, and scales that are precise to one-thousandth of an ounce are on his wish list.