TopCoat Products, the presenting partner for the Ponte Vedra Auto Show, began — like so many successful businesses — with an observation.
With more than 35 years’ experience in the automotive detailing industry, Scott Smith knew the products that delivered, that best kept vehicles looking clean and dazzling. But he also saw a drawback.
“I realized there were too many products on the market,” he said. “It was overwhelming people to not really understand what they should buy — or what they shouldn’t buy.”
There was an overlap in many of these products, and consumers ended up with bottles of redundant materials sitting around.
“By the time you’re done, you’ve got a cabinet full of detailing products that you’re never going to use,” Smith said. “They’re just collecting dust.”
He thought: If there was a way that I could create one product to do it all ... Such a formulation would save people significant time and money.
He embarked on a mission to accomplish just that, and trial and error led him through 11 iterations of the product. In the end, Smith arrived at a multi-use, multi-surface coating that replaces between eight and 12 traditional detailing products. It worked on a car’s interior and exterior. It removed bird droppings and bug splatter. It could be used on paint protection films, isinglass and matte finishes.
Its name: TopCoat F11.
In addition to its many selling points, it is water-based.
“It’s safe for the user,” Smith said. “It’s safe for the vehicles. It’s safe for materials. It’s safe for the environment.”
F11 has been a big hit. And TopCoat Products, which began with popup sales in Smith’s garage, has become a multi-million-dollar business.
But the product’s origin is rooted in a very difficult chapter of Smith’s life, hardship that might have prompted another person to simply give up. However, Smith’s fortitude and determination saw him through to invent this product and build his whole business around it and successive products.
By any measure, Smith has always been a hard worker. When he was 8 years old, he would walk his neighbors’ dogs. A year later, he began detailing cars in the neighborhood. That idea came from watching his father, a Ford Motor Co. executive, wash and wax his own car. It was like the proverbial lightbulb had gone off; he thought: There are a lot of dirty cars around here!
His earnings were meager, but they allowed him to purchase his first vacuum cleaner — an investment in his youthful enterprise.
“I was so proud,” he said.
He went on to do a variety of things. He plowed snow from driveways — a highly valued service in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. And at 14, he invented a heated steering wheel.
“I made this thing, and I leather-wrapped it, and I said, ‘Dad! Dad! Dad! Can you help me patent this?’” Smith recalled. “And he goes, ‘Why would anyone want a heated steering wheel when you wear gloves?’”
Such is the life of an inventor who is ahead of his time.
Between the ages of 16 and 18, he began to open shops that did detailing, but much more. His shops could put a new bumper on a truck; install roll bars; paint vehicles; repair slices in doors, cracks in dashes, interior leather and cigarette burns. You name it. Smith called these “one-stop shops” because of the range of services available to customers.
Some customers were automobile dealerships. Smith an his team would pressure-wash every car on the dealers’ lots.
An artist, Smith enjoyed drawing cars and thought he would one day attend design school for the Ford Motor Co. But life took him in another direction.
One of the customers of his boyhood dog-walking service was a prominent Buffalo family who supplied Ford with coiled steel. Smith spoke to the CEO about a possible job and was hired for a position at the corporation’s facility in Jacksonville.
It marked a big change from working for himself. For one thing, the hours were better.
“I was used to 24/7,” Smith said. “I wasn’t used to 8 to 5, 8 to 7.” Still, he applied himself, often working as late as 11 p.m.
Over the next five years, he worked in various departments, eventually becoming a plant manager. But then, in 2002, he made the decision to go back to working for himself.
He brought in two partners and began to open his shops again, this time in Jacksonville.
Six weeks later, he was involved in a very bad car accident.
“I didn’t think I’d walk again,” Smith said, adding that to date he has undergone more than 16 surgeries. “I’ve got a spinal cord stimulator and a pain pump. And I remember laying in the hospital bed in the living room. I was in that thing for years; couldn’t get out of it. And I remember saying to myself, ‘What are you going to do?’”
He knew he could not longer work at his shops due to his new physical limitations.
Not someone used to sitting still, Smith began to build a new business right from his hospital bed, eventually transitioning to a wheelchair. He had the idea of creating his detailing product, though without a background in chemistry he faced a large learning curve.
But learning daily on the job, he became an expert. He tried a number of materials, testing them on every available surface.
When F11 proved to be the product he’d worked so hard to create, Smith began selling at events, such as the popup sales in his garage. As the business grew, so did the TopCoat line of products.
Smith has asked his customers what they would like to see, and many recommended TopCoat make a glass cleaner — though F11 works well on glass.
That resulted in Gla-C, which is water-based, easy to apply and doesn’t streak.
Today, TopCoat also produces F11PRO; Crystaleen, a professional ceramic coating; Spritz, an easy, one-step application that enhances the existing surface; Polywash, which offers commercial-grade car wash technology; TireDress, which blackens tires and adds a light sheen; TopCoat HPS, for use in the home; UnCoat, which easily removes waxes, water-based sealers and several solvent-based coatings; SapErase, which is designed to remove sap; GunArmor, a unique gun cleaner and polish for weapons; and microfiber towels.
Smith said he was excited about the Ponte Vedra Auto Show, which will be held Nov. 13 at Nocatee Station Field. TopCoat will do demonstrations and give out free product.
Smith said he wanted TopCoat to be to the Ponte Vedra Auto Show what Hagerty is to “The Amelia.” He was impressed with Justin Felker, auto show president, and Michael Simpson, director of business development for the show, when they met earlier in the year.
“I could see that they were just genuinely good guys,” he said. “Good people.”
He said he didn’t want to be “just a sponsor.”
“I want to be a partner,” he said. “I want to be invested in the most significant possible way my company can be.”
To learn more about TopCoat and its products, go to topcoatproducts.com or topcoat.store.