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Where do Detailers come from?  It’s a good question.  There are no colleges that teach auto detailing and reconditioning.  Most detailers learn on the job or are self-taught.  Since my entry into the industry is very different, I thought I might write about how professionals come to this “profession”.

Over the years, lots of people have asked me how I got into detailing cars.  They ask where I got trained, how long it took, and many assume it’s all I’ve ever done.  To be honest, I came to detailing late in life, trained myself and was a corporate guy before I ever started detailing cars.  In fact, the story of how I got into detailing is unique and very different than how most detailers get into the industry.  It might be helpful for readers to understand how most detailers get started and compare that with how I got into it.

Where do Detailers Come From?  In truth they can come from all walks of life, but one common characteristic is a love and affinity for all things automotive.  But given that, the way most people get into the industry is pretty consistent.  Honestly, 90% of every detail shop, mobile service etc. that you will ever see came into detailing one of following three ways.

Where Do Detailers Come From?  (The Main 3)

  1. Trained at an Auto Dealership

The first one is the fellow who started as a lot attendant at a car lot when he was 16 years old.  He worked his way up to detailing and then possibly managed a detail shop on the car lot.  By the time he was in his late 20’s he was making no money and working long hours, so he decided to go into business for himself.  These guys very often have excellent technical skills but are as dishonest as the day is long.  They learned to lie about, cheat and over-charge for everything they do courtesy of their car dealership training.  They may do a great technical job detailing your car but will over-charge you, hit you with a round of “surcharges” that they never discussed with you beforehand and often their skills stop at detailing and do not go any further.    Some of them can become very successful despite their lack of business background but it is often due to what I call the perpetual fee program.  Everything is an upcharge with these guys.

  1. Retired Military Guy Buys a Detailing Franchise

Some guys are smart and went into a branch of the military right out of high school and stuck with it.  By age 38, they’ve got a full pension and retire looking to do the next thing in their life.  Many want to start their own business but have no business background at all.  A franchise is an expensive but solid option for guys like this as it creates an immediate turnkey business for them that they can run, often with no prior knowledge of the industry.  If you find a detail shop where all the marketing materials are awesome, and everything looks great and (also looks expensive) chances are it’s a franchise.  The patrons of these detail shops usually have no prior technical skill at all and often must take crash courses offered by the franchisee just to get some hands-on experience.  Their technical skills are always a bit thin so they will offset that by hiring staff that do have the technical skills needed.  But the staff costs money and so do all those fancy perfect marketing materials and the fancy shop.  Not to mention that most franchisees continue to charge the franchiser fees every month based on gross sales.  Simply put, it costs a lot of money to buy into and maintain a franchise and guess who pays for it?  You might have great results if a franchise details your vehicle, but you will pay way more than you need to.

  1. Wealthy Dad Sets Son Up in a Detailing Business

I’ve met several young fellows whose fathers were super-wealthy from whatever business they had and often had a fleet of high-end exotic and luxury cars.  Growing up always having fancy cars that had to be maintained, these young men often think that owning a detailing business would be fun and exciting.  Since dad has deep pockets, they often get set up pretty well and can run a pretty good business.  They have the resources to get great equipment, a great shop, the best materials, and whatever training they need.  We competed against such a detail shop in our original location up in the Pacific Northwest and it was common for the young fellow’s father to park several of his super-cars outside their shop to make it look like all they worked on was super-elite luxury and exotic cars.  In addition, Daddy was a constant source of wealthy liaisons that went to his son’s detail shop with their luxury and exotic cars. It’s a nice alternative to what most detailers must do to get started which is buy the cheapest equipment they can get, start a mobile service because they can’t afford a shop, and work on endless numbers of Honda Accords and Toyota Camry’s until they make a name for themselves.

Where Do Detailers Come From?  (My story is a little different)

How I came to detailing is very different.  Let’s go back 40 years to my junior year in high school.  I had a business class that required us to create a business plan for a company.  I created a fictitious company called “DPG Auto Exotica” that would provide detailing and customization services for high-end cars.   I used the initials of one of my older brothers (Douglas Paul Gordon) who was an even bigger car-nut than me and who always had some cool ride in his parking lot.  There were two reasons for using my brothers initials as opposed to mine.  First, they sounded better and second, I expected him to finance the launch of the company.   That company never came to fruition, but I did manage to become a columnist on my school’s paper where I had a byline called “Idle Chatter”.  In that column I wrote (an award winning) article called “Memories of a Beautiful Lady” where I chronicled the actual events of a trip, I took to the Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo one Saturday.  On that particular day the then General Manager of Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo, one Keith Martin (the noted publisher of the awesome Sports Car Marketplace Magazine) said something to me that changed my life.  As I staired in awe at the Ferrari’s and Alfa Romeo’s in the showroom, Keith went into a back room and came out with a set of keys.

“I’d be willing to bet you’ve never sat in a Boxer before?” he said.

There, next to us, was an 82 Ferrari 512 Boxer in jet black over an unexpected brown interior.  The 512 Boxer was my most beloved car in the world.  Only one car was more beautiful to me (a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa).  Mr. Martin put the keys in the door, unlocked it and opened it gesturing for me to climb into the driver’s seat.  I was only 15 years old, and this was mind-blowing.  I carefully climbed in and sat in the driver’s seat.  I put my hands on the canted steering wheel, and eventually slid my right hand onto the gear selector.  I didn’t move it or anything I just wanted to see how well the Ferrari Boxer fit me.   Ferraris of this era were not known for their amazing ergonomics, but the Boxer seemed to be custom tailored to me.  Everything was within perfect reach.  Of course, I was only 15 and would continue to get taller for many years.  But what an experience.

In my last article as a writer for my school’s paper, I made a bet with everyone (students, faculty, etc.) that on my 30th birthday, I would buy a Ferrari 512 BBi.  At age 29, I was working at a dental software company and making quite a bit of money.  I found a Boxer in San Diego and made an offer to the owner that was accepted.  I got it pretty cheap, and more importantly I got it (literally) on my 30th birthday.  Over time I changed careers and worked as a producer of large-scale technology events.  One day I decided I wanted to race my car in a rally like they used to have in the old days.  After researching events that were out there at the time, I decided I could produce my own event and do a better job of it and not only save money but make a bit.  So, I coordinated a legal-timed road race throughout Oregon and Washington.  Seventeen cars entered the rally that relied heavily on a place called the Maryhill Museum up in the Columbia River Gorge.  In fact, Maryhill had a closed road called “Lupe Shoot Road” that was basically a racetrack that you could rent for your rally events.  Sam Hill, the wealthy patron that used the museum as a home when he was alive, was a brilliant engineer and his “Lupe Shoot Road” was a test bed for modern road design.

I rented it.  It was fun and at the end of the rally all the cars were set up almost in car show fashion on the grounds of the Maryhill Museum.  I had hired a group of detailers to clean up all the cars at the end of the function.  They must have been good because several of the super-car and vintage classic car owners approached me about detailing and maintaining their rigs.  One asked me if I owned a detailing shop.  I lied a little and said yes.  But only a little.  They next day it was Monday and before the end of the day I owned a detailing service called “AutoMaster”.   I’ve been working with cars ever since.

For those of you who are reading this trying to decide which detailer you should use to work on your special car…take a good look at how I got into the business as opposed to how most detailers get into it.  There’s your answer.

Where do Detailers Come From?  The truth is they come from a spirit of automotive enthusiasm.  They see cars as works of art and themselves as museum curators charged with taking care of them.  This state of mind is truly the answer to: Where do Detailers come from?


Learn more about the Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo.  The first official Ferrari Dealership in the U.S.


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Sports Car Marketplace 

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