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So You Want to Become a Detailer…

by

So you want to become a detailer, but you’re either not sure how to go about doing it, or you’re nervous about quitting your day job and turning your part-time detailing business into a full-time career. Not only have I heard this many times, but I’ve experienced it myself.

Although there are variations to the story, most detailers experience a very similar scenario.

The personality traits that many detailers share are usually formed at an early age. We were the rare kids on the block that had the cleanest and shiniest BMX bikes. We would rather play with other peoples’ toys because we didn’t want ours to get beat up. Our action figures stayed in their protective cases to keep them looking new. And our baseballs didn’t get played with much because of the fear of scuffs.

As we got closer to driving age we started to take care of Mom and Dad’s cars because it felt good to make them shiny and clean. Sure we didn’t know a single thing about proper washing and drying techniques, and our detailing arsenal was limited to a bucket, an old towel, a container of dishwashing liquid, and a bottle of Armor All at best…but our vehicles still looked better than everybody else’s.

Now fast forward to high school when many of us got our own cars! Now that’s when OCD issues really started to settle in nicely. Regardless of what we drove, we knew we had the cleanest vehicles in the lot or at the local hangout. We wouldn’t allow people to lean against or eat in our cars, and we got true enjoyment out of washing and waxing them whereas others found it to be a laborious chore.

At this point we started to get the attention of friends and relatives as they recognized our mad skills for “detailing” vehicles. We started to make a few extra bucks off of friends and family, and for many of us a light went off when we realized we could actually make some extra money while doing something that we enjoy, and what we are good at.

Many people at this point go on with their lives, get an education, and start their careers and limit their skills and desires to detail vehicles to the ones in their own garage (you know the guy…he probably lives a few doors down from you). For others however, they continue forward with their skills in a quest to be even better. This is when it gets interesting! The first part usually involves the mastery of doing everything by hand. This is all going well until they stumble on information about the Porter Cable random orbital polisher (thanks to the internet usually). Once they see the level of paint correction that can be done by this amazing invention in detailing technology, then they realize it’s “game-on”.

Investment  in equipment and supplies now lies ahead of us, but how do we afford it? A buffer, pads, polishes, towels, sealants…that’s a lot of money just to keep your car looking better than everybody elses. “I know… I’ll start doing more detailing for money to pay for my own supplies and equipment” (you’re laughing right now because this happened to YOU!).

Once you start doing a few more jobs on the side to pay for your own supplies and tools, you find yourself getting better and better, and you also find that people are knocking on your door to inquire about detailing services that you offer. You quickly discover that you have a potential business here that you can make some decent income off of.

After your business starts to grow, you start marketing some of your work and services on local forums, you realize that you need to be covered by insurance, and you also find that you can raise your prices to cover any marketing efforts and insurance. Your work is good, people are learning about you, and you’re discovering the true value of what you have to offer to people.

Now is the point where detailers either stall, or go big. For some, they either don’t know how to take it to the next level, or they are apprehensive about quitting their regular full-time job to make their now part-time job a regular career. For others, they come up with a business plan and go out on their own to make it big (the essence of the entreprenurial spirit).

So which are you? If you do exceptional work, if you have a strong following, if you’re good with people…then what are you waiting for? Are you afraid to cut the strings that are holding you to that day job?  Let me tell you a bit about my story and hopefuly it will motivate you to make that tough decision.

My Story by Todd Cooperider of Esoteric Auto Detail.

My story starts off very similar to the examples that I gave at the beginning of this article. I had the highly polished BMX bike, I had the cleanest car in high school (1977 Olds Delta 88…but it wasn’t new…I’m not THAT old!), and I continued to learn as much as I could about detailing. The eye for detailing started early, and the desire to become even better stayed with me.

For the past 22 years I worked in the motorcycle industry. I started out working in dealerships, then moved on to aftermarket manufacturing and wholesale distribution of parts and accessories. I worked my way up the ladder in the industry, and for the past 9 years I had the position of Regional Sales Manager for the largest distributor in the business. I had a very good job managing 15 District Managers, about 700 dealerships, and responsibile for many millions of dollars of revenue. While I was doing this I still managed to hone my detailing skills and work on cars during the evenings and on weekends. Despite my part-time efforts I was still gaining a reputation for producing the finest work around, and kept myself busy networking with a lot of influential people in the business.

With 22 years invested in the motorcycle business however, a very good salary, 401K, great benefits, and everything else, I chose to work 7 days per week for a long time instead of cutting the cord from the corporate world. I knew that I was very good at detailing, but I just couldn’t get over that hump to make the change.

My detailing skills and marketing efforts got me noticed by AutoWeek Magazine, and in February of 2009 I was selected as one of the Top 9 Auto Detailers in the U.S.  while I was still working part-time. Things started to change rapidly for me, and I knew I had a tough decision to make…go with the momentum and go big, or stay where I was and work 7 days per week.

Right about the time that I was mentioned in AutoWeek, I met up with George, one of the owners at Detailed Image. We talked about working on some projects together and started to put plans in place for what would become the Detailed Image Ask A Pro Blog (what you’re reading right now). We both have similar interests and business instincts, and George was the one who convinced me that my potential in the detailing industry was almost limitless, but it was being held back by my “day job”. I agreed with him, but kept with the 22 year career going full steam, along with detailing, and then added on the responsibilities for writing articles for the blog (yes your math is correct…I’m now up to 3 jobs, plus a family).

Fast forward a bit to this winter and spring, and I found myself busier than ever with more people and projects demanding my time and my services. The detailing and writing responsibilities in particular were growing rapidly, but I wasn’t able to dedicate the time to manage the growth accordingly. Something had to give.

I consider myself a smart business person with plenty of experience, and knew that if I was going to make a switch that I would need to plan it all out, and get some valuable advice from some highly respected and successful friends and co-workers of mine. Over and over I laid out the idea, and everybody had the same response: “What are you waiting for?”

I was convinced, my family was convinced, and my friends and colleagues were convinced that dropping the 22 year career in favor for the momentum that I had going for myself in the detailing and automotive world was the right choice to make. Besides, I had left very little time for my family the past several years (day job required a tremendous amount of travel), and spending more time with them was my number one priority. If I take out the travel and stress of corporate America, limit my detailing activities to during the week, and handle my writing responsibilities as I get time, then I would have complete control over my future successes in detailing while providing more time with the family.

So I am happy to announce that as of June 1st, 2010, I am 100% on my own and dedicated to detailing and writing! All of those toys that didn’t get played with, all of the years learning and honing my skills, and all of my business experience had prepared me to do what I am encouraging all of you part-time detailers to do…cut the cord and be the master of your own success in the detailing world! Is it a scary move to make? You bet! You’ll no longer have the “steady” paycheck, but your income potential is probably much higher. You won’t have a corporate structure to fall back on, but at the same time the only person (other than your clients) that you will answer to is the one staring back at you in the mirror. As a very successful friend of mine told me…the only regret you’ll have is not doing it sooner.

I’m not going to guarantee the success of anybody…that’s all on you. But if you do good honest work, you’re sharp, you’re good with people, and you’re smart enough to realize that you’ll never know everything, then you’ve got the basics to run your own successful (full-time) detailing business.

…So you want to become a detailer?

In the future we plan on putting together some guidance articles for those interested in starting and developing a detailing business, so stay tuned!

I’d like to give out some special thanks to those who have helped me along the way, either in the growth periods or with their words of wisdom and advice:

Ursula: For supporting all of my efforts in everything I’ve done.
Mom: For getting my that brand new BMX bike to keep clean and for allowing me to learn on your cars.
George: For having the faith in me to develop and manage the Ask A Pro Blog, and for pushing me to cut the cord.
Jack: For giving me the opportunity to work on some fantastic vehicles and giving me a great facility to work out of.
Chad: For the great business advice, and for teaching me about how to think and plan BIG.
John and Don: For being great friends, and supporting my decision to say goodbye to a 22 year career.
Everybody else: Thank you all kindly! The support I’ve gotten from enthusiasts, fellow detailers, and the detailing community has been tremendous.

 

Todd Cooperider Esoteric Auto Detail
Todd Cooperider
Esoteric Auto Detail
Columbus, Ohio
EsotericDetail.com

23 comments on So You Want to Become a Detailer…

  1. Mike says:

    Excellent write up. Dead on Todd. Except, I’m still working 7 days a week?? All for the love of it though. BTW, I still have those cars I would’t let anyone play with!

  2. Adam McFarland says:

    Great post Todd. Congrats on taking the plunge! A lot of detailers will find every single bit of info in this article immensely helpful, especially if they’re trying to balance their emerging detailing business with a full-time job and a family. You’re definitely someone that they can look up to. Can’t wait to see what you and George come up with next :)

    • Thanks Adam! If anybody understands the satisfaction and rewards of controlling your own destiny…it’s you! I’m sure George and I will be keeping ourselves quite busy as we continue to move forward in the future.

      Todd

  3. Norm says:

    Congrats on your “new” career! It sure sounds like a dream job to me. I’ve been detailing my own cars for a long time now and I’ve been thinking about starting to detail other cars on the side for a while now. Your article is encouraging so many thanks and best of luck to you!

  4. Mo says:

    Wow is the first thing that came to my mind when I read you were detailing “part-time”. I honestly used to think you detailed cars for years to get to where you are now. You were definitely born to detail cars for sure. I have been reading all your articles for well over a year now, and will continue to seek out the new ones. Congrats on the job change and best of luck on your new venture. There is no doubt in my mind you will be successful.

    • Thanks Mo, and I’m glad that you’ve found the articles to be a great resource for detailing information. Several of us on the AutoWeek Top 9 list are / were part-time detailers…if you’re good at what you do, it doesn’t matter how many days per week that you do it to be considered a “professional X”. But now that I have much more time to dedicate to detailing, writing, and other projects in the detailing and automotive industry, I’m sure that I can make an even greater contribution and impact.

      Thanks again!
      Todd

  5. Danny says:

    Todd,

    I have been following your articles for quite some time now and enjoy reading them. I have loved detailing since I have started years ago. I have been wanting to start a small business in automotive detailing, yet I do not have the funding to do so at the moment. I am a recent college graduate and have not been able to find a position in the financial field in which I received my BBA. I was an accountant for a few months, but it was just not my calling. I have been trying to think of a way to get my name out their but am not exactly sure where to start.

    Thank you,

    Danny

    • Danny,

      I’d recommend that you get involved in local car forums, local car shows and gatherings, and put your networking skills to work! If you do good work, and you frequent the local car scene, your name and reputation for producing quality work will spread rapidly.

      Best of luck,
      Todd

  6. Eugene P says:

    Todd,

    Best of luck! But, you will not need ‘luck’ as you have great ‘talent’.

    I enjoy reading your articles and have learned a lot as a result. Please keep writing!

    As an ‘oppressed office worker’ I have often dreamed of what life would be like doing something I loved as my own boss…. You are fortunate indeed to be living the dream!

  7. Brian says:

    Hey, Todd, I just finished detailing only the hood and rear deck of my Beemer, following the suggestions of you and Aaron.

    I did the clay, the two polishes, and the sealant, and I want to tell you that you guys are underpaid! This is big-time work. I know that with more practice I will get more efficient, but I have acquired tremendous respect for you professionals. The result is certainly good, and I cut a few corners I won’t cut on the rest of the car, but there is no way to make this what I would call an easy task. I used my G110 for the first time, and that does in fact work pretty well. I also used way too much product at the start, though I got better as I went on. The fact I’m 73 does make this a bit more challenging, but what the heck — it’s good for me to use all those muscles (but I think a lot of them are missing). I am looking for a gallon of liniment — hope that’s enough.

    Thanks again for your help. When I get out of traction, I’ll be back on the site.

    • Brian,

      Glad to hear that it’s been going well, with the obvious exception of being in traction and having a need for the industrial size container of liniment. :)

      It is very hard work and sometimes when you’re only halfway through a 25 hour job, you may find yourself wondering: “why am I doing this?” Then we you finish it and sit back to enjoy the beauty, it all makes sense.

      Take care, and keep us posted.

      Todd

  8. Jacob says:

    More of this rings true than you know, except for the 22 years in the corporate world. 6 years and 2 degrees (including a Masters in Social Sciences) and I’m seriously considering going full time with my business I’m just on the brink of anxiety when it comes to it and the mountain of student loans, a wedding, and possibly planning a family in the upcoming future seems to be holding me back. Go figure. Loved your article Todd, gives me a bit of hope and I might be giving you a call one of these days about in regards to it. We shall see.

  9. Garrett says:

    Todd,
    Do you feel that there is beginning to be a flood in the industry of detailers trying to make a buck by starting their own business? Or do you think a high quality detailer, that does great work and is a good person still has a shot? I have researched starting a detailing business numerous times but it seems that there are already a lot of detail shops out there (I live in Mid Michigan BTW). Have you found a lot of these places do not provide the quality of work that may make me stand out from the crowd and develop a successful business? Thank you for any comment you may have.

    • Garrett,

      There are a lot of detailers out there, and many of them go away as quickly as they enter the business. I’d say a large amount of them don’t have the proper training or knowledge about detailing, so the quality of work may be lacking in many areas. Here’s where doing quality work, being professional, and educating your customers makes you stand out in a crowd. Sure there will be a lot of people that simply want their car to look clean, and couldn’t really care less about proper washing procedures, but that’s at the low dollar level that you probably don’t want to compete at anyways. Out-educate your competition, operate your high quality service with professionalism, and you should have no problems. If you already have 20 detailers out there battling it out for the low dollar, high volume market, then create your own and go for the mid-level business.

      Best of luck,
      Todd

  10. Tim H. says:

    Todd,

    When you refer to the mid level business, what do you mean? I’m trying to understand the demographic.

    High volume low dollar
    Mid level business, steady work?
    High dollar detailing backed up with appointments?

    I guessed on the last 2. Does that sound about right?

    This is a very interesting discussion. I would love to talk more about it.

    Tim

    • Tim,

      It’s the steady business at the middle of the price points for a given market. Clients at this level have a bit more understanding of “proper detailing”, and are willing to pay higher prices for quality service.

  11. Gareth says:

    Todd, great articles. Thanks for sharing with us not-so-veterans of the detailing business! :-)

    Since I’d classify myself as an amateur detailer, are there any classes or courses that you’d recommend for myself and people like me that would give us the jump-start that we need. I’ve read all the articles, I’ve tried various combinations of compounds and polishes, but what I lack is the knowledge of different paint types and how to assess them and how to prep them correctly. Then there’s the proper techniques with the various buffing machines.

    BTW, we’re grateful for you spending time sharing your wisdom with us.

    • Gareth,

      Thanks and I’m glad you’re finding these articles to be informative.

      There are training programs out there in different parts of the country, so you just need to search around to see what’s available. When contacting them, I’d also ask for some references so you can get some good feedback on what other people got out of the program. I just recently had a local detailer travel quite a ways and spent $500 for a 2-day program, and was rather disappointed in it. He came over and spent an hour with me, and said that he learned more in that hour than he did in 2 days at that training center. The different paint types actually just take time to learn and get personal experience with.

      Best of luck to you.

      Todd

  12. Jesse says:

    Wonderful write up Todd and very insperational too. I read through your story and as I get to the part with the kid with the cleanest BMX bike it takes me back and I said to myself, ya, know I was that kid who cleaned every wheel spoke with an SOS pad to make sure it was as shiney as possible. I just loved how it looked when the sun shined off of them when they spun. Well, not to get too lengthy here but just wanted to say I highly respect your work and I hope to maybe one day cut the cords that bind me to my daytime job and move on to detailing full time. One day.

  13. Mike says:

    Todd,

    Great article! Like you did, I’m trying to start detailing as a part time job on the side. I’m wondering if you were able to write the follow up articles you talked about in your write up? I’ve tried doing a search, but I haven’t found anything other than this article.

    Thanks for your time!!

    Mike

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