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The Auto Nanny

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  • | 7:58 a.m. December 7, 2012
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There are a few businesses that could only do well in certain places like Florida.

Orange juice production, alligator farming and theme parks are a few.

Add another one: Taking care of cars that belong to northerners while they're away for half the year during the summer. John “J.J.” Jenkins and his Naples-based company, Auto Nanny, has perfected a system for 16 years that allows him to care for more than 100 cars belonging to such snowbirds.

Now, Jenkins, 47, is considering franchising the idea. He says it could work beyond Florida in other Sunbelt states that have seasonal residents. “It would have to be a resort location,” he says.

Jenkins thought of the idea for his company 16 years ago after he moved to Marco Island and quit running the local radio station there. He and his family had been coming on vacation there for years from Toronto, Canada, and each time the family car had a problem from sitting in the garage.

Instead of enjoying their first few days on vacation, the Jenkins family spent it getting the car towed and fixed at the island garage. “There was never a time when there wasn't a problem,” he chuckles.

When the owners of Gorman Automotive on the island mentioned to Jenkins that they had seasonal clients who needed their cars maintained while they were away, Auto Nanny was born.

Many seasonal Florida residents drive back north or hire a transporter. Jenkins says he'll look after your car for six months for $499 (an additional month is $55), several hundred dollars less than a one-way trip by car transporter.

“A car has to be driven,” says Jenkins. If it sits too long inside the garage, all sorts of things can go wrong, from flat tires to broken air conditioners. Jenkins drives the cars 10 miles a month and runs the air conditioning, among other details.

Jenkins works closely with Gorman and other certified mechanics in the area. “I am not a mechanic,” he says. “I could change a tire if I had to, but I'd rather not.”

Most of the cars Jenkins looks after are at customers' homes or condos. He covers them with a cloth skirt that has his company's name and phone stenciled on it. “If there's a problem, I get notified right away,” he says.

Jenkins takes care of ordinary and fancy cars. One customer has him care for his Rolls Royce Phantom Cloud, and he looks after a Ferrari for another client. “He pays me to take the Ferrari to the highway. He says, 'I want that thing going into fifth gear,'” Jenkins says smiling.

Jenkins details every car visit in a log and delivers a report to customers specifying the service he performed and miles driven. He pays about $5,000 a year to carry extra insurance to cover any mishaps. “It was a policy that was really hard to get,” he says.

In connection with this business, Jenkins started an airport valet service four years ago. For $84.95, Jenkins will deliver a car to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers cleaned and with a full tank of gas (he'll park it in Green 1A in long-term parking). For $65, he'll pick up the car at the airport for you. A taxi to Naples from the airport costs about $75.

Because of the time demand, Jenkins was reluctant to provide airport transportation. However, the valet service means he doesn't have to wait for customers and worry about late flights or traffic. Now, he can provide the service in a convenient way when he's less busy. “My clients always wanted that,” he says.


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