The detailing industry is filled with operators that ‘grew up detailing cars’ or ‘have been detailing cars their whole lives.’ But very few of them truly have. That is, of course, except for Steven Thompson III.
At 11 years old, ‘Little Steven,’ as he is known to his family and friends, is the IDA’s youngest certified detailer, earning the distinction at this February’s Mobile Tech Expo in Orlando. Little Steven’s father, Steven II, owns and operates Detail Doctors in Boise, ID, exposing Little Steven to the ins and outs of detailing when most kids his age were still learning to tie their shoes.
“I was born into the detail industry,” says Little Steven. “My dad’s business started a few months before I was born. I was always in the shop, ever since I was in diapers. It was just my thing.”
Steven II founded Detail Doctors in 2010, working around his schedule as the in-house detailer and manager of an auto auction house. “When I started at the auto auction, I was washing cars for less than minimum wage,” says Steven II. “I almost quit at lunchtime that first day but, I stuck it out and I eventually became the manager.”
After a few years of balancing his growing business and his full-time position at the auction, Steven II transitioned to an independent contractor at the auction. The Detail Doctors provided the detailing supplies, manpower, and know-how, and the auction house supplied Steven II and his growing stable of detailers with all the work they could handle.
The Detail Doctors continued to work as subtractors until three years ago, when the business finally broke ties with the auction house and became a fully independent entity. During his time at the auction house, Steven employed more than 30 detailers that worked at the auction, a freestanding Detail Doctors location, and provided mobile services.
Today, Steven II operates two fixed locations and a mobile operation. However, The Detail Doctors have trimmed their staff to around 10 highly-skilled detailers, focusing on providing quality full-service details versus the high-volume work the auction house required.
Both of The Detail Doctors’ fixed locations operate on unique sites, providing the business with plenty of exposure and a steady flow of high-end clients. The first fixed location is underneath downtown Boise’s US Bank building. The building is owned by the Gardner Company, which operates multiple skyscrapers in the city. The presence of The Detail Doctors in the building provides busy employees with the convenience of getting their cars cleaned and detailed while at work.
“If somebody at one of the buildings wants their car washed or detailed, they contact the concierge,” Steve II says. “The concierge will arrange for the valet to go to their office, get the keys, find their car, and bring it to us. We perform the service, and the valet parks the car and brings the client back their keys. We’ve been here for five years now, and it works great. We get so much business from the office buildings that we try to divert outside clients to our other location, which is very close by.”
The Detail Doctors’ other location is just steps from the Boise Airport terminal. Travelers can simply drop their car off at the shop, get their vehicle detailed, and have it stored for free in the 6,500-square-foot shop while they are out of town.
“There is a sidewalk that connects us to the terminal right at baggage claim,” says Steven II. “The client pulls up, we get in the car, and drive them to the airport and drop them off at departures. When they come back, they text us when they step off the plane, and we meet them at baggage claim and walk them to their car. It is super convenient, and everybody that has used the service has returned.”
Being so close to the airport allows The Detail Doctors to provide a value-add experience for its customers while simultaneously keeping busy throughout the traditionally slow winter months.
“Detailing is very seasonal in Boise,” says Steven II. “We’re not California. Many detail shops shut down or even go out of business in the winter. Anybody with money is getting the heck out of Boise in the wintertime, and they can leave their car with us while they are gone. Our winter business is as strong as our summer business. This location provides a unique opportunity for us.”
All this throughput has given Steven III ample opportunities to learn the detail trade. The grade schooler has the knowledge of a detail veteran and the people skills to match, making friends with customers and helping earn their repeat business. While those interacting with him quickly realize that Steve III knows his stuff, some are skeptical of the little league-aged kid hanging around the shop.
“I had to pull him aside and say, ‘son, you can’t just tell customers you’re a detailer,’” Steve II says. “I told him that because of his age, he needed to get some sort of credibility and that he should study and get IDA certified.’
“Little did I know, he would go on the IDA website and start studying day in and day out. Leading up to Mobile Tech, he was getting so knowledgeable. I decided to bring him there to get certified. I wanted him to take the test in person. I don’t want there to be any naysayers saying, ‘his dad took the test for him.’”
Steve III quickly silenced any potential haters by acing the test to make history as the youngest ever to do so. “It was kind of nerve-racking,” Little Steve says of his certification test. “We walked into the big room where we had the classes the day before. Everyone thought my dad was the one getting certified. It was a bunch of adults in the room and me.”
Little Steve is quickly making a name for himself across the industry. His IDA certification made waves throughout the detail landscape, and his celebrity has led to additional opportunities. He has been invited to join the New Generation of Detailers (NGDD) network and the Petersen Automotive Museum Preservation Team.
While Little Steve continues to build the skills necessary to become a successful professional detailer in the future, it is The Detail Doctors’ retail business, Worldwide Detail Supply, that interests him most. The Detail Doctors sell professional-grade detailing chemicals out of the shop so do-it-myself customers can keep their rides clean and shiny. And as a natural salesman, Little Steve loves to lend his expertise by recommending a product and showing customers how to use them.
“Someday, I would like to take over Worldwide Detail Supply and expand it,” Little Steve says. With a determination and business sense often lacking in professionals three times his age, there is no reason to expect anything less. But he is going to have to graduate middle school first.