Interview with Rick Goldstein of Wolfstein’s, Inc.
By Jim Lafeber, CD
Rick Goldstein is the President of Wolfstein’s, Inc., a company that specializes in Automotive and Marine cleaning and protection products for exterior and interior fabric and vinyl. He also is the past President of the International Detailing Association (2010) and in 2013 was awarded the IDA President’s Plaque as a token of appreciation for his commitment to helping the IDA and his fellow members. Rick is also an active member of the Atlanta Outdoor Club and a certified Master Barbeque Judge with the Kansas City Barbeque Society. In this role, Rick travels all over the country to judge BBQ events.
Jim Lafeber: Where did you grow up? For some reason, I have the feeling you’re from the East Coast?
Rick Goldstein: Originally, yeah, my parents — one of them was from New York, but I’m just a good old southern boy that grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. I spent my youth there and I moved out after college. I’ve been in Atlanta since the ‘80s. I spent two years in Chicago before moving back down south.
I went to school at the University of South Florida so really, when I left to college that was about it — I never actually went back in except to visit. I graduated in advertising and public relations in the School of Mass Communications. I took a dual major.
JL: So what pulled you in that direction?
RG: I liked to be creative. I really liked marketing. It was really a good combination of marketing and being able to creatively put ads together. And hand in hand, public relations, I think, went with the advertising. It was worth getting the double degree.
JL: Tell me about Wolfsteins. Where did the name come from?
RG: In the beginning, I had a partner, and we put our names together to form Wolfsteins As things moved on, I bought out the other 40 percent that I didn’t have. So we got the name and we wanted something that would connect to like a German company.
Now, how we got the RAGGTOPP, a convertible is called ragtop, and then I used my advertising and came up with, you know, “Let’s go a little bit different, just put an extra G and an extra P to kind of to make it look totally different.”
Now, RAGGTOPP is the brand of the product Wolfstein’s sells for convertibles.
JL: So tell me, how did you get into the car care business and how did you start making your own product and brand?
RG: I can tell you exactly. I was out camping back in the day. It was raining, and I noticed the rain was coming in through the seam of the tents.
I looked around for a product and I saw there was really not anything available — and being, back in those days, to me the best products were the ones that were made with Gore-Tex. And I looked around, and Gore-Tex had no idea how to help. They said, “No, we don’t make anything for the consumer in a bottle.” — there wasn’t anything out. There was Scotchgard out, yes, but Scotchgard wasn’t made for the outdoors.
I kept saying, “There’s got to be a better mousetrap,” and there wasn’t a better mousetrap. There just wasn’t. That’s when I started pursuing, “How can I get liquid Gore-Tex in a can?” and found out that the only way you could do it is to contact a chemical company that somehow manufactures a can and, to make it short, we found a company that had a formulator and that’s how it all began. They actually took mercy on me, because they weren’t going to do it themselves…
JL: So you were so small, is that why they took mercy on you?
RG: Yeah, they just weren’t going to mess with you. And the guy told me, I’ll never forget, he says, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll play baseball with you. Three strikes, you’re out. We’ll formulate it, here is your solution. Go off and do your artwork and do your label specs and come back when you’re finished.”
That’s how it started. And then my buddy with the Z3, his top was always sopping wet — the material was just not repelling water. He absolutely did the initial test — he had the car for six months, that was the end. It just wouldn’t have any more water repellency out of it.
So we tried our product on that top, and bingo. It brought it back to the way that he got it from the showroom.
JL: So what year do you think that was?
RG: Well, you know, Jim, we started out about 1997. We floundered around in ’98, made contact with the Haartz Corporation in about 1999.
We marketed Raggtopp specifically at that time just for convertibles. It was just something that we did with the convertibles out of knowing somebody in the carwash side of the business. We decided, “Let’s go in and just roll it out for car washes and detailers.” That’s how it eventually went because we figured, “Hey, it worked so well on the Z3. Let’s go that route.” What had happened, Jim, kind of backing this thing up, is that my buddy had a detailer, and the detailer was with us when we tested it.
He goes, “Oh my God! You guys ought to market that specifically for the cars and for us detailers”. Then, I said, “All right, we’ll come out” and that’s when we came out with the Raggtopp product.
Now, beginning around the end of ‘99 in 2000, we had an automobile dealership that we contacted. They said, “Hey look, we’d like to buy your product, is it endorsed by the manufacturer?” Well, this is not endorsed by X-brand and after doing some research, we found that there was a company called the Haartz Corporation that manufactured fabric and vinyl roll goods. We contacted them and ended up in the marketing part of the business to a gentleman named, John Capron. At that time, John was the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Haartz Corporation who told us to send samples and they would test it for us.
JL: And what’s in it for Haartz to test it?
RG: Well, for them, they are always looking for the next generation of waterproofing.
They took our sample and they have a testing methodology and conducted a series of trials. One of those was water repellency, but there was also six other major components including one being cleanability among other factors.
They want to see water repellency, they want to see cleanability, they want to see and abrasion, like a mark-off test. Haartz wanted to see the whole nine yards of what that product will do in prolonging the life of their fabric material, and other roll goods. There was a series of these tests; a lot of people think water repellency is it. Water repellency is the bottom of the list; it’s the other ones that are more important.
When a convertible goes up and down, the abrasion that it takes with that top being folded back and forth.
JL: Yes. Abrasion is key to durability — not only that but there’s a wind abrasion even when the top is up.
RG: And that’s got to withstand that. That’s wear and tear and if it works, if you have repellency for one day, one week, one month it fails.
It just happened at that time, there was another product that they endorsed, and ours actually gave better results. So beginning in 2000, we signed an agreement with the Haartz Corporation and we would market under their name.
They came back to us in 2000 and said, “Hey, we have a formula that is a biodegradable, nontoxic product. You can rinse it off, safe to go into a storm drain, it’s safe to go into an ocean or a lake and it cleans unbelievably”. And that was before the green fashionable wave came around.
So we took their cleaner probably in 2001 and made it into a two-step process. You clean up properly with the recommended cleaner and reseal it with the fabric protectant.
JL: You have the products to clean and to protect automobile convertibles. How did you get into the whole marine line?
RG: Now, the Haartz Corporation are the largest manufacturers in the world of vinyl roll goods and a lot of that vinyl raw good ends up on the marine side of the business. So they’re producing bimini tops for the marine side, they also do the interiors of the boats. That’s when they started asking us, “What do you have that will protect vinyl roll goods?” That’s when we came up with the bimini top.
Being associated with the Haartz Corporation gave us the capability of using their R&D, and their laboratory, and their chemist to test our products to make sure that it’s safe to go on automotive and marine, fabric and vinyl roll goods.
And a lot of products out there, that’s the name of the game. And what happens Jim is that, not to bore you, but it would go into as they call it a weatherometer machine. And in a weatherometer machine, three months simulates three years of wear and tear on fabric and vinyl.
One machine is set up for the dryness of the Arizona desert. The second machine is set up to the humidity of Florida.
So literally, people say, “How come it took you a year and a half to develop your vinyl protectant?” Well, you test for three months and you got to back re-tweak, and it starts all over. Then there’s another three months. Sometimes, you wait a month or two for the machine to become available from the other test that they might be doing on other products.
JL: Yeah, yeah. I know about that in depth testing. We had a series of engineers test our matte product line in a scenario like you stated. The engineers and scientists have a matte car sitting outside in the Mojave Desert in California. So they have a full size vehicle parked in a real time scenario, and they engineer all that to see how the product holds up.
RG: Yeah. But Jim, that’s a good point because, the same with your products, when you get that OEM approval, it’s not the bragging rights of that. It’s that you met rigorous strict guidelines that I would bet 90% of the products out there would not even make through it.
JL: Yeah, these engineers don’t mess around.
RG: No, so that tells a lot about Dr. Beasley’s products, because of the approval of Hyundai. There is rigorous testing that other products and believe me, they’ve tested yours and others that did not hold up.
And that’s the difference to the consumer. Yeah, our products might cost the end user more, but you’re getting a product that is been through it all. What a lot of people understand is, other products come out but what is that surface going to look like in three years? Is it going to crack the material? Is it going to stain the paint finish?
JL: What is Wolfstein’s tonneau? What’s tonneau?
RG: These are those covers that go on the back of the pick-up trucks. So what we did was we specifically made that product with the picture of a guy with the backend of a truck. Because that vinyl is the same as on a convertible. So between you and I Jim, it was the same product with different labels.
JL: This is actually a real good insight. So the similar product, it just has different names?
RG: Yeah, but it would make sense though, you try to sell in the marine industry with a successful product from the automotive industry.
What was frustrating with us was that in the beginning, we wanted to get this product as an added item under detailer’s menu guides.
We wanted them to add, if they had a convertible that they were cleaning and were going to be waxing it, they might as well do the top to the convertible.
So when we came up with them, you get like three categories. That if they did one convertible a week under these three categories, it would bring in annually another 13, almost $14,000.00.
JL: So you’re saying it wasn’t being cleaned perhaps –
RG: No, what they were doing, they were taking it in and not cleaning the top, and more importantly not protecting it.
So for the detailer, we said, “Hey look, you’ll add it to your menu guide into a category ‘Convertible Tops.’” Back then as you know, the big thing was we’re going to clean and wax your car and you’re going to be gone in an hour, and we all know that that didn’t work.
The main thing with these tops Jim, is that it has to be thoroughly dry before you apply the fabric protection on it.
JL: Right, so you need overnight probably?
Rick: Well, or you know, start cleaning it, make the top the first part of the job and let that be drying. Or we found out through Metro Vac that they have a vacuum cleaner that has a heating element in it. It would actually blow out warm air and they would use that to dry the tops.
But our frustration for the detail is that — Yeah, these three categories, if they did that, it would bring in almost $300.00 a week, $1,100.00 a month or close to $13,000.00 a year, just doing three convertibles a week.
JL: As a detail shop owner, I know that these add-on things just are the difference of being profitable.
RG: Exactly, you’re right. I mean, this is almost like newfound money. Meaning you’re already cleaning the convertible, why not do the top? Or why not be known in your city or town as the shop or detailer that specializes in one of his businesses doing convertible tops.
So the manufacturer, they kind of want you to deep clean and protect your top at least twice a year. Because the minute you take it out into the environment, you ride on the freeway, you’re going to get gas fumes, diesel fumes. I’m over by the airport about aviation fuel, fumes, all types of contaminants end up on that top.
And most important too, after you get your detailer to clean and seal it then do it yourself the next time. Just vacuum the top and the next six months, bring it back into your detailer and have them reseal it again, at least twice a year.
JL: So you said, in your business the biggest challenge was getting to the detailer, getting them to know that “Hey, here’s an extra service you should be providing”. How do you do it? This is back in 2000; it is 14 years after now. How do you get to each and I mean, it’s a highly fragmented industry. How do you get to those people? I mean, what’s your story?
RG: In the beginning the Detailer was taking in convertible automobiles for service but knew very little about cleaning and protecting a fabric or vinyl tops. The ICA had zero information about convertibles and the IDA was not formed yet. I made hundreds of calls to Detailers and Car Washes only to find out most of them did not want to add cleaning and protecting convertible tops to their menu guide of service. One key factor back then, was the 30 minute clean and wax your car and off you go. Convertible top has to be thoroughly dry and that took additional time.
Another problem was the turn-over at the Car Washes and the education process starts over again. I tried for years to get the ICA to address the issue and was told, “There is not enough convertibles out there.” Research shows over two million are on the road today needing their convertible top cleaned and protected. So much for my membership in the ICA and the timing was perfect for starting the IDA. Today, the Do-It-Yourself group purchases our fabric or vinyl kits and a huge majority still want their Detailer to apply product a couple of times per year.
Now, and another thing too Jim, is that you really need to be educated about convertible tops and that’s before you take a car in. You need to make yourself aware of what that fabric looks like before you take the car in because there are people that will set you up. They know that fabric is dried out. They know it’s just a matter of you trying to use a brush on that top that you’re going to ruin it and then you have to have to replace it.
JL: So is the business owner responsible for damaging it?
RG: Oh yeah.
I had a situation a few months ago. I went to see one and I said it never should have never been put through the tunnel. You could tell, it was so dried out and this guy is smiling because he’s like “Their machinery, they did it” and yes, they had to replace it.
So regardless, if you don’t use our products, be educated about the fabrics that were on the top before you take a car in. So it might not be worth you even looking at it. If it’s an old, old car, it’s just a matter of that material and it could be already frayed and if you have a tunnel wash or you have a hand wash, you really should stay away from it. Educate yourself as to what to look for.
JL: How to know if people’s fabric or canvas top is compromised, how do you look at it? What do you look for?
RG: Jim, that’s a good point. You really got to look at the age of the car, how old do you think that car is. Then you look at the top. Now, if it’s been expertly maintained by a detail shop then it’s great.
But if some guy out of blue brings you a car and it’s an older car, you be kind of suspect. What does it look like, you go over take a look immediately at the glass — if it has a glass window. Is all the stitching intact? Okay. Go and take a look at some of them. Is the stitching intact along the sides of the car? And if everything looks good, the material looks good, there’s no fraying in it, no nothing, then take it in.
JL: How much — I mean on average, if you’re going to replace a convertible top, does this run in the thousands?
RG: Oh yeah, yeah, it can be anywhere from a thousand, two thousand.
JL: In your business, when you started in 1997, how long does it take for you to get to breakeven? You started off with one product
RG: Yeah. It took us years. I told somebody one time on a plane, the guy said, “Man, that must be great to have your own business” I said, “Well you got to know two guys really good in the business. He goes, “Who’s that?” I said, “Terror and fear”.
Once you understand who terror and fear are and they become your friends, then you’re in great shape. But it takes years because you’re putting that money back and there are stumbles along the way — you have packaging issues. And every time you change something, it starts the speedometer back at zero with the testing.
So there’s a lot of things that we just go into the testing and everything else. So it took a quite a while to get even to a breakeven but that’s just normal that you got to expect that.
JL: So okay. So you’re running this company, you’re selling product. You’re doing a good job, a lot of good growth for the last 10 years. What do you do for fun?
RG: Jim, I do a lot of hiking. I’m doing more hiking all the time, more just little day hikes.
There’s a little club called the Atlanta Outdoor Club, the AOC so I’ll do a little bit of hiking. I’m a certified master barbeque judge. I judge, professional barbeque contests and also I cook. I have a backyard cooking team that we’ll do some contests.
We’re cooking chicken, rib, pork and brisket. I mean, I travel all over the U.S., I judge and these are professional barbeque contests.
JL: Have you made your own sauce yet?
RG: No, no, I only use somebody else’s, somebody who already got it. So I’m going to try them also. That’s what I pretty much do now. I work but I don’t get out and do as much, but I do travel. I’m able to travel being a certified barbeque judge with KCBS which is Kansas City Barbeque Society. They have contests all over the country.
JL: Interesting. So, another question, what kind of car do you drive?
RG: I drive — I got an older — my fun car is an old Porsche, 1984 Porsche Cabriolet. It is my garage queen. I just switched, I had a regular Jetta and now, I’ve got a 2014 Jetta Sportwagen TDI.
But you know, getting back to — let me propagate this thought on the detail side.
The book that Renny Doyle wrote, had I had that book in my hand when I started the business? And then the car wash and detailing side of the business, it would’ve helped me understand it more.
I can only say that everybody in the automobile care industry should own a copy of his book.
JL: Yeah, that’s a great book. I read that book too.
RG: It’s a book that would help you no matter what type of business because as you all know, that money — you can’t get in and thinking you’re going to get rich. It all goes back in and it goes back in the same thing that you see. The R&D of it, everything evolves.
JL: Yes, to me it’s more of a business book.
RG: It’s a good business book but whenever you own your business, you’ve got to look at it as if it changes; it’s fast as a traffic light. That means that you got to have more money to possibly put back in the business or back in the better products that are out there.
We working constantly, we’re constantly testing what’s the next best? And sometimes the next best, it’s as good as what you got, but you’re constantly out there and you’re kind of looking. My whole philosophy is, I want everything the best of the best.
At least I know I went to bed that night, had given them the best of the best product I possibly could. And that’s the same thing with cleaning the tops regardless of the marine side of the business or the automobile.
JL: Well, this is great Rick. I appreciate your time and the information that you have shared. I think our readers will find a lot of valuable information from your experiences.
RG: I’m open to helping Jim. If anybody ever has a question, how do you clean and protect the tops or whatever, call me personally.
And I’ll tell you why. And, it’s why this IDA is so important. The ICA — I mean detailing to the ICA was a stepchild. They could care less and that’s where this IDA has picked it up and stepped up where, you’ve got a company you can call direct and say, “Hey I got this problem. How can you help me with it?”
And because you’re an IDA member, yeah, I’m going to take your call. And I’m going to tell you how you can get it out. How you can fix it or how you can charge it, how you can do it and I think every single vendor out is there’s –got to have an open door policy for IDA members.
Jim Lafeber, CD is the owner of Simon’s Shine Shop, Inc. – a premier detail shop opened in Chicago in 2004. Soon after opening, Jim started to formulate his own chemicals out of frustration from the short comings of the products he was using at Simon’s. Because of requests from his customers who wanted to use the same products as Simon’s, he incorporated Dr. Beasley’s. Jim is a past president of The IDA (2013) and is an active IDA board member.