Dominick LaJoy, my very own hubby, has been
self-employed for 21 years. He spent 18 years owning two businesses that partnered well as seasonal businesses here in Western Colorado. We owned a small cafe in our local airport which was busy during ski season, and the remaining 8 months of the year he ran our auto detailing business, Wow! Wash on Wheels. I asked him to share his experience as an auto detailer here with us.
Blue Collar Homeschool (BCH): How did you get started in auto detailing? Did you learn on the job?
Dominick: It was presented to me by a family member who had started detailing a couple of years before. It is definitely a learn on the job type of career. Also, later on I learned a lot from YouTube videos, and I also never hesitated to ask questions of other detailers, and I learned a lot from them. Eventually, after doing hundreds of details it does settle somewhat into a routine.
BCH: What kind of skills would someone need to get into this line of work?
Dominick: You have to be detail oriented and task driven. The proof is in the detail and how detailed you get. Someone brings you their vehicle, expecting it cleaned to their expectations, or better. You have to deliver, each and every time and that means taking the time to go through the steps required to complete the task. You also need to have some basic business skills such as accounting, scheduling and time management, purchasing, etc. To save money, being able to repair your own equipment is a must, so mechanical ability is helpful.
BCH: What did you enjoy most about your job?
Dominick: I got great satisfaction taking a vehicle from dirty and restoring it to like new, or as close as possible to new.
BCH: Is a lot of your work by rote, or do you have opportunity to be creative?
Dominick: There is always room for being creative! Not so much as in the sense of changing your routine and how you detail a vehicle, but the odd problem that comes up. Sometimes this could be a customer's time constraints and how long you can have to clean. Other times, (and most often) it was a strange odor that a customer had in a vehicle. Knowing how to locate the source and how to properly remove the cause, sometimes in a creative way, can make this part of reward.
BCH: Did you always have an interest in the automotive world?
Dominick: I enjoyed the mechanics of a vehicle, and a great paint job. After high school I attended Universal Technical Institute for auto mechanics. After graduating, and with some time working for a dealership, I discovered it really wasn't for me. Auto detailing was a good alternative.
BCH: What did you think you wanted to do in high school?
Dominick: I always knew that I wanted to own my own business someday. I thought it would be a mechanic's shop. Now I have owned a restaurant, an auto detailing business, and I currently own a liquor store.
BCH: What was a typical day like at work for you?
Dominick: I started early. Quite a few of my customer's were farmers, or other self employed people like myself, and they appreciated that I was open early, so they could start their day of work, too. I always did laundry and lots of it! I purchased a washer and dryer so I could do my own towels. Most of the time it was washing the same load of towels 3 or 4 times to make sure they were clean. Answering phone calls, returning phone calls from customer's, ordering chemicals and supplies was also part of my day. Of course, it also came down to doing the actual work. Using a power washer takes up a fair portion of the day so you can't be afraid to get wet. Picking up and dropping off vehicles or customers comes into play here also. You MUST have a good driving record and the ability to drive every type of vehicle from an old VW to a semi truck. You never know what could be next that someone may want you to clean! Equipment repairs eventually come in to play, not always on a daily basis, but you have to know how your equipment works and how to make the necessary repairs. Shop cleaning, while it should be on a daily basis is one of those things that gets left out of the daily routine, but this will catch up to you, and it will just take you longer to complete the task. Mixing chemicals for the job/day/week. This sounds easier than it is. You have to know proper dilution rates for the chemicals that you will work with. Reading and understanding product/chemical labels, how and where to use the chemical and the proper protection is also necessary
BCH: Did you consider your work difficult? Rewarding?
Dominick: At times it can be difficult. Having good help working with you can make the day easier. The reward comes not only from the customer expressing their gratitude for a clean vehicle, but also from the person working with you, knowing that they also helped take care of the customer.
BCH: What advice would you give to someone who might be considering this for a career?
Dominick: Expect to work really hard physically, and having a social personality is helpful as you meet a lot of different people every day. Spend money once and purchase high quality equipment, it saves so much time in your day to day work that it is well worth it. Finding good employees can be challenging, as the work is demanding. Start out by cleaning your own car, or close family members car first. Then move on to other family members' cars. You won't get paid for doing this, but the value comes in stepping back and looking at the finished job. Learn from each job, what and how to do the next one.
BCH: What classes would you suggest in high school if someone is considering this as a career?
Dominick: High school classes should include some computer, basic business, accounting, marketing and business law classes. Auto shop would be great, too. Learning the mechanics and how a vehicle is put together will help you in understanding how to provide a better cleaning job. You will have to sometimes remove parts of a vehicle to provide a deeper clean then normal.
BCH: Would you recommend being an auto detailer if you don't own the business?
Dominick: If you enjoy cleaning, sure. Finding the right shop to work in may be tough, but keep looking, they are out there. However, if you don't own the business, do not expect to earn much above minimum wage. It is a great place to start learning the trade, though. Owning the business, you can have a great source of income. Labor is your highest expense, and charges to customers can vary widely depending on the area you are in. A full detail can cost as little as $100 - $125 in lower income areas, but in higher income areas you can get as much as $250 - $275 for a full detail, which an experienced detailer can complete in 3-5 hours without extra labor, or with an employee it can be completed in 2-4 hours. I managed to support a family of 7 with my detailing business.
BCH: Anything else you'd like to share?
Dominick: If you are in this business, you need to keep looking for avenues to expand your knowledge base. Chemical companies may have hands on seminars or training classes on their chemicals. Learning the right way to use chemicals is a must in this line of work. Paint, upholstery, carpets and plastics differ from each manufacturer. Staying on top of these changes helps you stay ahead of the competition, helping you to stay successful in your business. There are also add ons to help increase your income such as paint chip repair, paintless dent repair, bumper repair, headlight restoration, windshield chip repair, upholstery repair, window tinting, and more.