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Emerging Entrepreneurs: Erik Rutledge has come a long way in a short time

His business – Motorhead Auto Detailing – is closing in on its second year in its permanent location in Howards Grove

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September 20, 2023

HOWARDS GROVE – When he was little, Erik Rutledge – owner and lead detailer at Motorhead Auto Detailing, LLC (422 Mill St.) – said his parents would give him a quarter to polish the chrome rims of his mom’s Yukon Denali.

“I’d get a dollar to clean the rims on that car,” he said. “My parents cared a lot about keeping things nice because it makes things last. My dad bought a new truck a few years later and worked hard on keeping it nice. Then I bought a car and they helped me get that cleaned up and get some wax on it. That is kind of where it started, I guess you could say.”

Little did he know, a couple of decades later, his first “job” would eventually turn into a business.

Entrepreneur at heart
Though he didn’t become an official business owner until 2019, Rutledge said he was bitten by the entrepreneur bug at a young age.

“I remember when I was nine, I used to make up little flyers about cleaning up leaves in the fall, snow shoveling in the winter – all kinds of stuff,” Rutledge, now in his 20s, said. “At Christmas, I would even ask for tools that would help me – like a chainsaw or a polisher.”

During and after high school, Rutledge said he did some detailing work at S & T Motors in Howards Grove before joining the Army National Guard as a medic.

“I did training for six months and came back,” he said.

At the same time, Rutledge attended Lakeshore Technical College for a degree in fire/EMT.

Erik Rutledge

“I got a job at the (Valley View Campus of Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center as an emergency medical technician-EMT),” he said.

Rutledge said he also worked as a volunteer firefighter from about 2015 to 2018.

Getting things off the ground
Rutledge said as a first-time business owner, he intentionally started small – launching Motorhead Auto Detailing as a mobile business.

“When I first started, I had a couple of buckets and a trailer with a pressure washer in it,” he said. “It was tough when I first started because mobile is obviously difficult in the State of Wisconsin with our lovely winters.”

Little by little, Rutledge said he began adding equipment, supplies and services.

“That first year, I kept working on it and my trailer – I built some shelves, mounted the pressure washer and got a generator so I could run the vacuum, polishers, etc.,” he said. “I slowly evolved into more products and got more efficient at it.”

During the winter months of his first year, Rutledge said he rented shop space to complete detailing work – all while still working his EMT job with the hospital.

“I worked two, three days in a row at the hospital doing 12-hour shifts usually – which was typically 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.,” he said. “And then I’d have a couple of days of detailing (at a shop I rented). Then I’d pack the trailer up and set it all aside until I could schedule some more jobs. I also did work in a couple of storage facilities over the winter – a lot of people store their sports cars and boats over the winter.”

Eventually, Rutledge said he was hired for a few fleet truck jobs, which he said helped grow the business.

“Slowly, things started growing, and I got consistent with my business – which is always the first struggle,” he said. “That is when I moved into the shop.”

Rutledge said both the mobile business and the shop had their own set of benefits and struggles.

“I went from spending a lot of money on fuel and traveling to spending a lot of money on shop rent,” he said.

During this time, Rutledge said he spent time learning the ins and outs of running a business as well.

“Budgeting and efficiency and marketing – all the little business stuff you have to learn,” he said.

To help guide him through his entrepreneurial journey, Rutledge said he connected with an organization called The Detail Mafia – which describes itself as a professional collection of the best-of-the-best in auto detailing.

“Working with those guys who have been doing it for 20-plus years – they have been good mentors for me,” he said.

The guidance he received from members of The Detail Mafia, Rutledge said, gave him the confidence he needed to take the leap to open the permanent shop.

“Talking with them, it got to a point where they said, ‘yeah man, I think you are ready,’” he said. “So, I finally made the leap – the first year was rough, but that was to be expected – and now we are cruising and grooving.”

Having the brick-and-mortar location has allowed Motorhead to offer more services – “because we aren’t fighting the weather as much.”

“We have our own lighting booth, so we don’t have to set up lights in people’s garages,” he said. “We can now do ceramic coatings – which we couldn’t offer as a mobile detailer.”

Erik Rutledge said one of the best parts of owning Motorhead Auto Detailing is his customers’ excitement when bringing their vehicles into the shop. Submitted Photo

Other services Motorhead offers include: paint correction, headlight restoration, interior steam cleaning, engine bay detailing, deep wheel cleaning, oxidized painting, metal polishing and plastic restoration.

Still being an active member of the Army National Guard, Rutledge said he does his best to balance his role there with his role as a business owner and detailer.

“Sometimes life needs to be unbalanced to accomplish and be a part of all these different passions,” he said. “Maximizing efficiencies, making sacrifices and being extremely driven toward my goals allows me to perform both. Of course, with that, I’m not always performing 100% at each job, but I work hard to do so.”

Air Force One detailing team
When he first started in the auto detailing industry, Rutledge said he never imagined he’d be detailing retired Air Force One planes.

“It’s pretty wild,” he said.

For the past two years, Rutledge was selected to be part of the Air Force One Detailing Team – which is a team of annually selected detailers from across the country that spend time each year detailing the planes at the Seattle Museum of Flight – which includes the first presidential jet Air Force One.

“It’s cool to be part of,” he said. “There is typically a team of about 30 – through The Detail Mafia is how they select who goes. I went out there last year and again this year.”

Rutledge said the detailing team is slowly restoring the planes that are in the museum.

“My team spent two days on the original Air Force One plane restoring the leading edge of the wing, polishing engines three and four and protecting the tail,” he said. “We spent the next two days helping finish the polished aluminum on the B-29 Superfortress.”

Rutledge said it’s been an “exciting, educational and historic” experience to be a part of.

For the second year in a row, Erik Rutledge has been a part of the Air Force One Detailing Team, which restores, maintains and preserves the first presidential jet Air Force One, as well as other planes in the Museum of Flight’s Air Force One in Seattle. Submitted Photo

“I am honored to have been invited to work on this prestigious project with some of the best detailers in the industry,” he said.

The Air Force One Detailing Team is on a volunteer basis.

Rutledge said detailers are sponsored by their respective communities to participate.

Organizations that have supported his efforts, Rutledge said, include Painterup Auto Body & Restoration, S & T Motors, Cobblestone Landscaping, Town of Sheboygan Fire Department, Town of Sheboygan Honor Guard, J & H Heating, Servo Industry Co., Pro Glow Marine Detailing, ID Designs and The Car Paint Store.

Rutledge said Motorhead Auto Detailing served as the on-site detailer at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits when BMW revealed their preproduction iX and i4 all-electric vehicles.

A couple of weeks before the event, Rutledge said Motorhead, alongside BMW representatives, a film crew, the RedBull skydiving team and more helped create the commercial that aired during the cup.

“We hung out with those guys for about a week making sure the cars were good for all the shots,” he said. “And then during the event, we had the iX and i4 looking good every morning – cleaning off fingerprints and making sure they looked good for the event.”

Reflecting on the journey
Rutledge said looking back since launching the business in 2019 – and opening the shop in 2021 – three moments stand out.

“One would be, being able to quit my job at the hospital – so, being able to make this my full-time job and income was a big jump, that was No. 1,” he said. “The realization that this is going to work, ‘ok, let’s do it.’ There wasn’t anyone doing high-end detailing, so I wanted to fill that void in the Sheboygan County area.”

Second, Rutledge said was opening up his permanent shop.

“The shop was always the goal – finances and growing and reinvesting always takes time,” he said.

The most recent accomplishment, Rutledge said, was the hiring of full-time employees.

“Like many business owners, I was working 80-90 hours a week and didn’t enjoy it much,” he said. “So, it’s nice to finally get the full-time employees and get them trained.”

As head detailer, Erik Rutledge said part of his role is educating customers on how to take care of their vehicles. Submitted Photo

Earlier this year, Rutledge was named a Sheboygan County’s Best Under 40 – Entrepreneur of the Year nominee.

“It was exciting being noticed and put on the list of individuals working hard in their profession,” he said.

What’s next for Motorhead?
Rutledge said he hopes to continue to grow the business – what that looks like at this point as he approaches the second anniversary of his permanent shop, he said isn’t quite sure. 

“I’m someone who is going to keep shooting to grow,” he said. “Obviously, I’m grateful along the way, but my goal is to move out of renting a shop to owning a shop. And then possibly more locations or expanding the services we offer.”

For more information on Motorhead Auto Detailing, visit

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