As the years begin to mount, even the most devoted detailers begin to lose enthusiasm for their work. Not Michael Pena. Despite 30 years in the retail trenches, the detail veteran is more committed than ever and still gets joy out of every detail he performs.
Pena owns and operates Mobile Auto Detail in Houston, TX. Although the in-demand detailer has ample opportunity to work on some of the most expensive and exotic cars on the market today, he still gets a thrill out of detailing a mundane minivan for a suburban soccer mom.
“It is very alluring to be a high-end car detailer these days,” Pena says. “I certainly enjoy working on the expensive stuff. But I love the work that I do on a day-to-day basis. The big payoff for me is seeing the look on a satisfied customer’s face when I hand over the keys.”
Pena’s love of a clean car started when he worked part-time in a hand car wash facility while in high school. He received his on-the-job detail training while working in a paint and body shop after graduation and eventually opened his first detail shop in the mid-90s.
After operating as a fixed location that offered mobile detailing for a few years, Pena made the switch to full-time mobile detailing 15 years ago and never looked back.
“When I started mobile detailing I had a 15-year-old car that was about to break down,” Pena says. “I had buckets and hoses in the backseat. It was unsightly at best to park in front of multi-million-dollar homes with that vehicle. Certainly not the picture of professionalism.”
What Pena lacked in dependable transportation and glitzy equipment he more than made up for in passion and dedication. From his humble beginnings Pena grew both his business and professional knowledge to become one of the most respected detailers in the Houston area.
Pena doesn’t utilize expensive marketing campaigns to get the word out about his services instead relying on a simple web presence and word-of-mouth to drum up new business. Mobile Auto Detail’s client roster includes a couple of car collectors and dealers that keep the one-vehicle mobile detailing operation busy during auction season.
One of Pena’s high-volume detailing clients recently had him onsite at the
Dallas Mecum Auto Auction to prepare 25 of his cars for the auction block. Pena and his small team of detailers did such an impressive job on their regular client’s vehicles that others in attendance requested their services. The team processed 47 cars during the week-long, car-selling event.
Both of Pena’s auction clients will be selling cars at a huge event in January of next year, and Pena expects to detail up to 90 cars during the Kissimmee, FL auction. “I bring in some of my detail friends to lend a hand at the bigger events,” Pena says. “The Florida event is going to be 10 days of pure insanity.”
Having kept his business alive during the lean years in Houston following the Enron collapse, Pena is enjoying the boom times the city is experiencing. Mobile Auto Detail has a reputation as the go-to detailer in town for large projects — the company recently completed a22-car overspray job that kept Pena and his crew busy for a few weeks.
Mobile Auto Detail is known in and around the city as the detailer that can take on the toughest jobs and produce results. Due to periodic extreme weather conditions in the area flooding is not uncommon, and when there is flooding there is vehicle damage.
Pena is routinely contacted by insurance companies to resurrect flood-damaged vehicles. His willingness to take on difficult jobs on short notice, coupled with his company’s reputation for producing superior results keeps the insurance companies calling Mobile Auto Detail again and again.
“Typically, in the detailing industry people find it difficult to deal with insurance companies,” Pena says. “But I bend over backwards for them because they have been my clients for years. Working with insurance companies is not for everyone; you have to be willing to take on difficult jobs and be willing to wait two to three months to receive payment. But for us is worth it.”
Pena credits much of his recent success and professional expertise to Renny Doyle and his detailing training program. He started training with Doyle over six years ago and participates in the weekly webinars and “Detailer’s Weekends” to keep up-to-date with detail’s latest. “I am always striving to stay abreast of new techniques and technology in the industry,” he says.
In addition to being a frequent attendee at Doyle training events, Pena is part of the Air Force One Detailing Team run by the detail training organization. The detailing team travels to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA each year to detail the first jet-powered Air Force One and other classic aircraft. Pena has been a member of the detailing team since 2011 and is one of the head detailers at the annual project.
When not travelling with clients to car auctions or participating in Doyle detailing events, Pena keeps busy doing what brings him the most joy, detailing cars for his “regular” clients. Mobile Auto Detail’s most popular menu option is its highly-effective two-step polish.
After hand washing the vehicle and performing a deep cleaning on the paint surface, Pena is able to effectively survey the vehicle’s condition and more times than not will recommend a two-step polish to his clients. “I am not a salesmen,” Pena says. “I let the results speak for themselves. I will polish two small sections of the client’s car, one with a one-step and one with a two-step. When they see the results side-by-side 95 percent opt for the two-stop polish.”
Pena, like many in the detailing industry, is a perfectionist when it comes to cleaning cars which has served both him and his clients well over the past three decades. He has some advice for fellow detailers just starting out in the mobile detail game: Love what you do. It is not all about the high-profile job on a six-figure exotic that makes a detailer a success but the everyday detail done to perfection — treat the mundane detail the same as the specialty job and a detailer’s reputation and skills will grow.
“The number one thing is perseverance, tenacity, and a desire to do and perform auto detailing for your clients,” Pena says. “Detailing is either in your blood or it’s not. I don’t know if I will ever get rich doing this, but I am along for the ride.”