Detailers come from various walks of life, but they all have one thing in common, they cannot sit still. Dedicating yourself to the detailing industry requires a motor that just won’t stop and a burning desire to get vehicles clean and shiny.

            After 25 years as a firefighter Samantha Sweeden was forced to retire early due to injury. But the Cal Fire veteran was unable to just sit back and enjoy her retirement, she had to keep working, and decided to turn her lifelong automotive detailing hobby into her second career.

Samantha Sweeden founded Bella Vita after more than two decades as a firefighter.

            “After I retired, I knew I needed to do something,” says Sweeden. “One of my firefighters said, ‘why don’t you detail cars? You used to do amazing work on the fire engines.’ I thought about it, and it made perfect sense. I retired in November 2020, and a month later I started Bella Vita.”

            While Sweeden’s decision to enter the world of professional detailing in Northern California may seem like it was made on a whim, the truth is far from that. Sweeden has been cleaning and detailing automobiles her entire life and has turned her lifelong passion into a new chapter in her professional life.

The Bella Vita mobile rig.

            Growing up, Sweeden’s father had a side hustle automotive repair business that he ran out of the family garage. With every car he serviced he provided his customers with a complimentary car wash, which starting at the age of eight was Sweeden’s responsibility and joy.

            “We would literally park the cars on our lawn, and I would wash them with whatever soap we had underneath the kitchen sink,” she says. “Later on when I was a teenager, I worked at a car wash for about a year doing the typical car wash duties, washing, drying, vacuuming, etc. And in college I worked in an auto body shop as a prepper and detailer and learned a lot about auto body and customer service.” 

Bella Vita’s mobile trailer houses its high-end detailing equipment.

            Following college, Sweeden took a job as a firefighter and paramedic for Cal Fire, where she worked in various capacities and fire stations over the next two and half decades. Anyone who knows anything about the firefighting industry can tell you that keeping the fire engines and all the associated equipment meticulously clean is a huge part of the job and a source of pride for the company.

            Sweeden, with her experience in the car wash, detailing, and auto body trades, had a passion for that aspect of the fire-fighting life and excelled. In fact, she was such a gifted fire engine detailer that she was often called in to assist other fire stations get their engines clean.

The tools of the detailing trade.

            “They would call me up and say ‘Sam, we messed up the engine pretty bad out on a fire,” she says. “The fire retardant we use can get on the engine’s paint can really cause a problem. I would go help them fix the engine and show them how to polish off the retardant and what kind of compound we are using and why. I would even go help them on my own time, I just loved doing that work and helping out my fellow firefighters.”

            That passion for vehicle restoration and helping others allowed Sweeden to slide effortlessly into her role as the owner/operator of Bella Vita Detailing. While there were some similarities between her previous career and current one, one major difference stands out above all the rest.

Sweeden was part of the Monterey Jet Center detailing team, preparing millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles.

            “I no longer show up at your house because somebody had a heart attack or your home is burning down,” she says. “It is not literally the worst day of your life. Instead, people are smiling when they see me and giving me high fives when I am done. It is a complete shift from a customer service perspective.”

            To elicit such a positive response from her clients Sweeden must produce top-notch results. While she has a lifetime of experience keeping vehicles clean, she took her detailing knowledge to the next level when she decided to make a living detailing cars.

Sweeden with one of her mentors Prentice St. Clare.

            She has dedicated herself to continual education, working with some of the biggest names in the detailing industry — Renny Doyle and Prentice St. Clare just to name a few — to develop the skill set that differentiates her from the competition. As an associate member of Doyle’s Detail Mafia, Sweeden not only learns the latest and greatest detailing techniques from the industry’s preeminent trainers, but is part of a network of likeminded detailers devoted to supporting each other’s development and success.

            “It really comes down to detailing,” she says. “It’s about your customer service, knowledge, and abilities. You need to continually educate yourself to make those better. It’s important to take in everybody’s knowledge — from the first-year detailer to the 20-year detailer — everyone has a different knowledge base than you.”

Sweeden volunteers her time to educate fellow detailers.

            Sweeden spends anywhere from two to 10 hours each week perfecting her detailing chops, and that commitment to continuous education and finetuning her skills have paid off. She has a roster of both high-end collector clients as well as owners of daily drivers that keep her appointment book full. Sweeden primarily relies on word-of-mouth advertising, but has also a presence on Google reviews, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.

            In fact, her customer base is growing at such a steady pace that she recently hired her first employee and is busy training him on the finer points of automotive detailing, with the hope that he can take over Bella Vita’s mobile rig and she can plant her flag with a fixed location.

            “I’m actually currently looking for a fixed location in either Sacramento or Placer County,” she says. “I want to train my detailer and eventually have him work the customers down in the Bay area while I run the fixed location.”

            Bella Vita is an Italian phrase that translates to “The Good Life.” And that is just what Sweeden is living. She is succeeding at a job that she loves, growing her business from the ground up and enjoying the ride.