There seems to be too little tenacity in the detailing world today for Renny Doyle’s taste … too many people surrendering too quickly to adversity, forgetting to trust in one’s own passion and potential. He should know. Now one of detailing’s most prestigious automotive and aircraft detailers and trainers, leader of the elite Air Force One Detailing Team, and creator of the Detail Mafia brotherhood, Renny Doyle of Detailing Success in Big Bear Lake, CA knows about overcoming adversity.
Raised by a proud Italian grandmother in the small town of Colton, CA, Doyle was a terrible student who suffered from attention deficit disorder (ADD). Unfortunately, 40 years ago, teachers just thought him mentally challenged, so they put him in special education classes.
Ironically, those very characteristics as a boy that led people to think him a little “slow” are the very characteristics that keep him moving in fast circles as a man in the detailing world. The boy whom no one thought had the “smarts” to write his own name, wrote and published an industry favorite in 2012 entitled How to Start a Home-based Car Detailing Business.
“In college they said at 5’8” and under 200 pounds, I could never play football, but I did,” Doyle says. “When I turned 40, I joined the military. People said I was too old. I am currently in combat training and have worked in search and rescue for over a decade. I just can’t quit — I don’t know how.” He instills that same determination in his trainees. “Many talented people fail because they lack resolve, but we teach it.”
FASCINATION WITH FLYING
It began when Doyle spotted an airplane performing aerobatics in the Southern California sky. He was 13, out riding his bicycle. Have wheels must travel! Off he went in search of the airstrip where the plane was taking off and landing. He found it 14 miles from home. Many years later, he would realize that he met several famous pilots hanging out at that Southern California airstrip, but one in particular stood out.
“What are you doing here, kid?”
“I want to take flying lessons,” Doyle answered.
“How much money do you have?” asked the pilot.
“Oh, I don’t have any money,” he admitted.
“See that plane over there? It’s dirty. How about doing some work to earn the money for the lessons,” the pilot suggested.
“That is how I came to meet Arthur (Art) Everett Scholl; how I came to detail my first airplane and first car; and how he taught me to fly,” Doyle recalls.
Scholl was an accomplished aerobatic pilot, flight instructor, and aerial cameraman and, several years later, would become famous for performing most of the aerial stunts in the blockbuster movie, Top Gun. He would also lose his life in a plane crash re-shooting the dangerous “flat spin” scene that killed the character Goose in the movie.
Doyle customized a wagon and tied it to the back of his Avid BMX bike, filled it with cleaning supplies, and rode 28 miles roundtrip every week to the airstrip where he cleaned cars and airplanes in exchange for flying alongside Art Scholl.
“When people complain about how hard it is to start a mobile detailing business, I don’t feel much sympathy,” Doyle says. “It’s supposed to be hard. The first car I detailed wouldn’t start when I finished. I was so proud of it but when it wouldn’t crank, I was scared and embarrassed.”
He didn’t know at the time to keep water out of the fuel delivery system!
“The funny thing is, as much as I loved flying planes, I found my true passion keeping them clean.”
LEARNING AND EARNING
By age 19, Doyle had opened and sold his own detailing business, using the profits to buy a 1979 Porsche 911 SC. “It was the dumbest financial move I ever made, but I entered it in car shows, competing all over California, which made me officially car crazy, fanning my passion for cars.”
With no formal training like that which he renders to others, Doyle says exposure to everything automotive over the past 30 years has been his training ground. “Auto-body paint classes; automotive paint manufacturing clinics; product demonstrations; tradeshows and car shows; volunteering at body shops; learning to install window tint and repair headlights; sanding techniques; I am constantly learning,” Doyle says. “I invested time rather than money into every aspect of the industry. I worked in corporate for five years so I am familiar with the operational and marketing end. I can cram four to five years of hard learning into a couple of months and come out with a decade’s worth of knowledge.”
By 2002, Doyle and his wife and business partner, Diane moved to Sun Valley, ID where they opened his first Attention to Details shop. Aimed at detailing to a higher level, it seemed a good time to get into franchising, so Doyle began training technicians himself to ensure quality and profitability. To this day, his teaching method is simple, yet very challenging.
Just as training was in full swing, he received a phone call. It was from someone claiming to be a Bush administration official, asking whether Doyle could put together a team to restore the deteriorating paint on the first Air Force One presidential jet. So shocked by the call that he thought it was a prank, it kicked off a restoration project in 2003 that was so prestigious and unprecedented in the detailing industry, that it confirmed his belief that detailing is not a blue-collar job with mediocre returns. He would be leading a team in the restoration of an historic, multimillion-dollar icon of American history. There was no room for error and it required a team of high-end detailers like himself with unrelenting passion for detailing as an art, with finely developed precision skills, and who were dedicated to perfection in their work.
THE DETAILER OF AIR FORCE ONE
Recently acquired by Seattle’s Museum of Flight, the Boeing 707-120 Special Air Missions (SAM) 970 lived outdoors on the tarmac, fully exposed to the region’s torrential climate. The celebrated jet served as a flying Oval Office for four U.S. presidents including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
“The plane was in terrible condition,” Doyle says. “Both the surface paint and the bright work (aluminum) were deteriorating under the effects of torrential rain, the elements, contaminants, oxidation, and UV fading. I knew it was a long-term project to repair all the damage, requiring multiple stages of paint correction and since it was not protected by a hangar, it would require an exterior protectant against further deterioration.”
Doyle invested in finding the best products, most effective equipment, and the best techniques for cleaning and effectively polishing the plane. In 2011, he introduced an orbital polisher to the project with its simulation hand movement, thinking it would be less likely to cause holograms than a circular buffer; and with its larger stroke length, would spread the polish over a larger area to produce a more consistent result. His theory proved correct.
Doyle has spent over a decade restoring the jet, at first every two years, but since 2012, it’s become an annual outing for 30 to 35 of the best detailers from his Detailing Success Network. Summer 2015, he signed a one- to three-year contract with the museum officially giving over responsibility for the restoration and preservation of the plane to Doyle and his Air Force One Detailing Team. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “But in my wildest dreams, I never thought Air Force One would be the 4,000th airplane I would detail.”
DOYLE’S DETAIL MAFIA
This past summer, Doyle led his Detail Mafia to Monterey Car Week. Invited by automotive aficionado Gordon McCall to be exclusive detailers for the 24th Annual Gordon McCall Motorworks Revival Event, they also prepped hundreds of millions of dollars in rare, exotic, custom, and classic vehicles for “The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering” event, owned by collectors from all over the world.
A few years ago, according to Doyle, he was sitting around after a tradeshow enjoying a good cigar when someone commented that they had tried to pick the brain of some of his detailers, but none of them had much to say.
“Well, they are a lot like the Mafia when it comes to making money,” Doyle quipped. “They don’t talk about it much, they just do it!”
The Detail Mafia stuck and the brotherhood consists of “made men,” having undergone a year of probation after training and getting their certifications, before proving themselves worthy of Mafia status.
Mafia members come together for detailing projects all over the country. They banded together to clean and restore emergency vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy in Union Beach, NJ; they restored vintage fire trucks for a new museum, also in NJ; and they call on each other to help out at car shows, auctions, and a wide variety of pro bono projects.
For such a tenacious guy, Renny Doyle is a bit sentimental. Family is everything to him and he instills the importance of carefully balancing hard work with quality family time in all of his students. He also still has his first “tool,” an old spray nozzle he used to wash cars and airplanes all those years ago.
“It is a constant reminder of where it all started,” he says. We bet Art Scholl would dip his wings at Doyle’s tenacity.
Kimberly Ballard is a Huntsville, AL-based professional writer and marketing consultant. You can visit her on the web at KimberlyWritesCreative.com.