When Richard Rawlings got his first entrepreneurial idea, he was having his car detailed. That figures.
The star of Discovery Channel’s hit reality show Fast N' Loud says the car wash attendant handed him a promotional recycling bag emblazoned with the establishment’s name and logo. Nice, but what Rawlings really needed, he told the attendant, was a towel to finish wiping down the car—and that was his lightbulb moment.
Before long, Rawlings’ customized promotional paper towels were in 2,000 car washes across the country. Almost five years later, he sold the business and used the proceeds to go after his real passion: hot rods.
But Rawlings didn’t want another run-of-the-mill oil stain on the corner; in opening his Dallas-based Gas Monkey Garage 11 years ago, he ultimately hoped to land a platform on cable TV. So he went into overdrive to build the brand.
“We started at the very bottom, building a few cars, then building a few more,” he says. “I bought a travel trailer and went out to local car shows. It was just about showing up, shaking hands, telling people what we do, selling T-shirts off of folding tables—it was about explaining to people who we are and what our hot rod shop is about.”
He studied garage TV predecessors Orange County Choppers and West Coast Choppers, which sell their custom motorcycles with a lifestyle in the sidecar. The key to his success would be in connecting with a target audience: the guy working on a carburetor between beers in his garage. Luckily Rawlings knew that guy well.
“My dad is my target market,” he says. “He’s a guy who worked his butt off to keep food on the table, but he made sure he also had enough for his little toy, a motorcycle or an old Mustang. It wasn’t the best in the world, but it was his. He took pride in it, cleaned it and drove it on the weekend. That’s when he was smiling and having a good time.”
Fast N' Loud returns with new episodes August 18.