After cleaning boats and cars, Jim Garland flies high detailing corporate jets

By Thomas Heath
Monday, April 12, 2010

Compound interest. Discounted cash flow. Return on investment. Understanding these concepts helped transform the way I look at the world.

Jim Garland, a 41-year-old entrepreneur who runs a 60-employee Dulles company that cleans and details corporate jets, offered another insight, and it struck a chord with me.

He believes in the law of averages.

Garland came by the concept about 1992, when he was a 20-something with an economics degree from Radford University. He lived in Fairfax County, waiting on tables at night and knocking on the doors of dental and veterinary offices by day. At the time, he was working for a medical supplies company selling badges that measure radiation emitted from X-ray machines.

"It was all cold calls," Garland recalled. "That's where I cut my teeth: getting used to people saying 'no' and slamming a door in your face. It's a wake-up call. But it taught me the law of averages. For every 100 doors I knocked on, I sold to about 10 offices."

The job lasted less than a year, but the lesson stayed with him as he went on to start a boat-cleaning business out of the back of his car that grew into Sharp Details, his Dulles-based, multistate corporate-aircraft-cleaning company that grosses about $3.5 million a year.

His story suggests that if you just work hard enough and push the numbers, the law of averages will kick in and the results will come.

Garland never wanted an indoor job. Preferring life outdoors, he scaled a fence at Prince William Marine on the Occoquan River back in 1991 and plastered dozens of boats with fliers, offering to clean the watercraft.

"The marina owner called me and asked how I got in there. I said, 'I climbed your fence,' " Garland said. "He must have been impressed, because he called me in and said, 'You need insurance, you need to make sure you are bonded and you need a business license.' "

Garland called his car insurance company to get coverage for the boat company. He got his business license, and he was off.

"I probably cleaned 30 boats that first season, about a boat a day at $10 a foot," he said. "Mostly exterior, from the waterline up. I probably made $10,000 that first year."

That winter, he took the job with the medical supplies company owned by one of his boat clients.

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