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.