For anyone who has driven down 2nd Street Pike over the past month, you may have noticed one of the latest shops to open its doors in Richboro – Classic Rock Auto Detail.
With its bright sign depicting a gleaming, candy apple red car, and its website boasting lofty claims such as “our attention to detail, in the words of Mick Jagger ‘could make a grown man cry,’” it’s easy to assume the staff is comprised of automotive professionals who have been doing this work for years.
But that’s not the case. Each of the nine employees has special needs. Despite these cognitive differences, every car that goes into Classic Rock Auto Detail comes out sparkling.
The shop, which officially opened on June 1, was co-founded by Brian Damiani and Mike Fitzgerald, who both have sons (ages 30 and 21, respectively) on the autism spectrum. Both have been heavily involved in the special needs community for some time, with Damiani coaching sports for the Miracle League of Northampton Township.
Several years ago, Fitzgerald, who has connections with employers willing to hire those with special needs, approached Damiani about launching an employment agency for these individuals. For years, the fathers had a front row seat as they heartbreakingly watched their children struggle to find post-high school jobs, let alone well-paying ones, due to being on the spectrum.
“The challenge right now in the special needs adult world is one, employment. The unemployment rate is about 70 percent. And two, competitive employment, meaning there are a lot of workshops out there where they make subminimum wages,” Damiani said. “Our goal was to offer a business that paid minimum wage.”
The idea for Classic Rock Auto Detail sparked in Damiani’s mind two years ago after he stumbled upon a car detailing shop in Bloomburg. He knew that his son, Cole, and others on the spectrum were more than capable of doing that sort of work.
While the shop builds up its clientele, Fitzgerald is funding its operations while Damiani volunteers his time, with community support from organizations like the Richboro Swim Club and Carousel Farm aiding its efforts.
“We’re going to struggle for a while, but we’ve already accepted that. We have nine employees currently working anywhere from eight to 30 hours a week, depending on their abilities,” Damiani said.
The staff members are paid $7.25 an hour, with Damiani and Fitzgerald hoping to offer positions through an employment agency by 2020. Typically, they work up to a four-hour shift, four days a week, depending on the volume of clients.
“It’s going pretty well. We get anywhere from seven to 10 cars a week. Our goal is to get 15 to 20,” Damiani said. “As the process gets smoother, we will get quicker at doing them. We just started off hand washes, which will give us the ability to kind of fill the gaps.”
Services at Classic Rock Auto Detail range from “Platinum” and “Gold,” which include a wash, wax, shampoo and more, and the “One Hit Wonder,” which is a simple hand wash of the car’s exterior, cleaning of the outside window and vacuum.
“It’s pretty much what you would get at your standard car wash,” Damiani said. “That’s where they tend to excel, in the more tactile portion of that. Right now, on the detail side, some do OK and some struggle. And that’s what we’re working on. They’re getting better every day and we’re trying to break the process down into steps, have banners up on the wall that have the steps so they can see that. They’re very visual. We’re just working to try to make the process easier for them. Every day, the repetition is really helping.”
Moving forward, Damiani said he hopes to grow the staff to 15 employees and incorporate some “fulfillment” work into their day. Soon, they’ll be putting together “friendly access kits” in an unused space located in the back of the shop. According to Damiani, the organization he’s partnering with to craft these kits has contracts with seven NHL teams.
“If you took a special needs child to an arena, sometimes that indoor echo can really set them off,” Damiani said. “So these kits that you would get at customer service have headphones, it has other toys to occupy them and calm them down.”
In Damiani’s opinion, the concept behind Classic Rock Auto Detail is highly-needed to not only lower unemployment rates, but eradicate society’s stereotype of special needs individuals.
“Some is the unknown. Some people, if they don’t know a special needs adult, they’re kind of afraid. There are capable adults that don’t work as hard,” he said. “They succeed at their jobs very well. We find what they’re good at and we push them toward that. They are taking pride in their work, they’re getting self-esteem and they’re getting a paycheck. They enjoy wearing a uniform, being a part of something.” ••
Classic Rock Auto Detail is located at 741 2nd Street Pike, Richboro. It is open Monday-Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday by appointment. Walk-ins are welcome. Call 267-679-8831 or visit classicrockautodetail.com for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org