When I decided to turn my detailing avocation into a full-time business back in 1994, I really had no idea where this new career would take me. I only knew that I enjoyed cleaning cars and I really enjoyed making the vehicle owners happy.
Last week, I caught up with fellow detailer Angel Gomez from Watsonville, CA while we were both serving on the 2019 “Detailers of Air Force One” team. He credited having been selected to this prestigious team in part to words that I shared with him a couple of years ago while he was in attendance at one of my seminars — something like, “you know there are some amazing opportunities within the detailing industry. You just have to continually improve your knowledge and skills and get involved in the industry.”
I guess Angel took those words to heart, because, in a matter of two years, he went from a relatively unknown mobile detailer to a member of a highly prestigious detailing group working on historical airplanes at the Boeing Museum of Flight. I’m sure Angel could have achieved this without my words of encouragement, but I can’t help but think that, as has been true in my own life, the encouraging words of a senior “successful” business owner certainly helped.
Thus, the idea was born for this month’s column. I would like to share some of the cool and amazing opportunities that have presented themselves in my career over the last 25 years. This is not intended to be boastful; instead, it is intended to spark enthusiasm for this industry and for the opportunities that might be available in the reader’s career.
I remember when I first informed my parents of my intention to start an auto detailing business. Mom’s reaction was, “you’re going to wash cars???” Of course, I was quick to explain the difference between washing and detailing. I wish they were still alive to see the kinds of things that I do now as a detailer!
FIRST, I FOUND A SUPPLIER
A customer told me about a detailing supply outfit called Auto Beauty Products. It was not far from my house, so I went over to check it out. Up to that time, I had been buying supplies from auto parts stores. When I walked into Auto Beauty early in 1995, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I couldn’t believe how much stuff there was for detailing.
Moreover, they offered detailing clinics a couple of times a year, and I jumped at the opportunity to attend the very next clinic, and every one thereafter. It was during these clinics that I met Bob Myers, CD-SV, RT; Brad Burford; Paul Weidler, CD-SV, RT; and David Sanmugam. Each of these folks has been or continues to be heavily involved in our industry, and I am grateful to have them as friends to this day.
Bob taught me basic detailing back in 1995 and we continue to be connected through activities in the IDA; Brad helped me get my first hot-water extractor and taught me how to high-speed polish in 1999; Paul and I have worked on a number of projects over the years; and Dave has been a good friend with whom I’ve exchanged referrals over the years.
Because I took the time to be involved with several of Auto Beauty’s clinics, I was asked to be one of the instructors, and I got my first taste of teaching detailing, and loved it.
THEN, I JOINED
In 1996, I joined the Professional Detailing Association (PDA), which was soon taken over by the International Carwash Association. One of their programs was a regional seminar series on automotive detailing led by Steve Okun. So, in 1997, I drove 2.5 hours to spend the day with Steve and about 20 other detailers from around Southern California.
It was at this seminar that I wisely applied a long-standing practice of “being the first one there and the last one to leave.” Claudius Harris, CD and I asked Steve if we could have a few minutes with him after the seminar. Later that year, Steve referred the ICA headquarters educational staff to me to write some articles for them. These were my first three published articles!
Being able to demonstrate knowledge about detailing and the ability to communicate that knowledge led to being invited to provide seminars at the ICA’s annual convention over several years.
THEN, I NETWORKED
As a speaker at ICA, convention admission was included, and I took full advantage of this opportunity. The Car Wash Show is huge, and although it focuses on automatic car washing, there is a contingent of detailing-related vendors present. I walked up and down every single aisle, soaking up information about each and every aspect of the car wash industry.
And, I took the time to introduce myself to vendors who had even the most remote relationship to detailing. By doing so, I met famous people like Bud Abraham and Steve Gaudreau; developed many detailing friends like Karen Duncan; Greg Swett, CD-SV; Keith Duplessie, CD-SV, RT; and Fritz Seewold.
Also, as a speaker at ICA, many car wash owners heard my message about the importance of detailing training and many consulting and training opportunities came my way. This provided the opportunity to gather much anecdotal information about the typical problems and successes of express and full-service detailing operations across many configurations.
Because Bud Abraham knew who I was, because we were friends in the industry, and because he knew that I was capable of teaching detailing, he contacted me in 2006 when his primary instructor, Keith Duplessie, was deployed overseas. I became the primary contracted trainer for his company, providing multi-day training events across numerous automotive dealerships across the country.
Because I have had such a presence at trade shows over the years, some companies have actually paid me to be in their booth and demo products or simply represent the companies. It was pretty exciting the first time I was paid to attend a trade show!
Having some experience with trade show presentations through ICA, it was relatively simple to sell myself as a presenter for other organizations like Western Carwash Association, Mobile Tech Expo, California Autobody Association, Southeastern Carwash Association, and Southwestern Car Wash Association. At each of these shows, I met more and more people affiliated with our industry, including Renny Doyle, CD-SV, RT, in 2006 at MTE.
THEN, I GAVE BACK
As many of you know, I’m known for writing a lot of trade magazine articles, and it was at the ICA conventions that I met the publishers and editors of these magazines, including this fine publication you are reading now. Most of these article submissions are unpaid, but I think it’s important to give back the knowledge I have learned from this industry.
However, writing for the trade magazines has put my face and ideas in front of countless people across the country. Back in 1999, one of my articles caught the attention of a new training company, and I was asked to develop the curriculum for four training programs that are still in existence today.
THEN, I DOVE IN COMPLETELY
When Bud Abraham asked if I would like to help establish the IDA back in 2008, I jumped on it and was elected to the first board of directors, a position that I kept for six years. While working with the IDA, I helped establish the IDA Certified Detailer Program and became one of the first IDA Recognized Trainers.
The early years of the IDA were “roll-your-sleeves-up” times, working in “smoke-filled rooms” with fellow volunteers, and developing IDA programs over beer and nachos at many a trade show. The best part of becoming involved with the IDA was the opportunity to meet many leaders in the industry, including Mike Phillips, CD-SV, RT; Bob Kuczik; Bob Phillips, CD-SV, RT; Jim Lafeber, CD-SV, RT; John Bell; Tim Floyd; Tom Palancia, CD-SV, RT; and many countless other leaders and operators within the industry. (If I didn’t mention your name, please don’t take offense — I could fill this entire article with just names of the many great people I’ve been blessed to meet and work with!)
These meetings have lead to relationships that turn into things like television appearances (“Competition Ready,” HGTV’s “Simple Solutions”), broadcast radio appearances, podcast appearances, and more training opportunities representing various companies. And thanks, Keith Duplessie, for forwarding last year’s “call for speakers” from the National Automotive Dealers Association — I got to present at their annual convention this year!
Being involved with the IDA takes time, but the return is incredible. It is rewarding to see the IDA’s programs move forward and improve as the organization becomes stronger and stronger. It’s rewarding to meet people from around the world who have joined and are appreciative of the IDA’s efforts.
I have been fortunate to be a friend and colleague of Renny Doyle since meeting in 2006, which has ultimately led to one of my proudest accomplishments: to be invited to the prestigious 2018 and 2019 Air Force One Detailing Team.
What’s next? I don’t know for sure. But I can tell you for sure that I will continue to find, join, network, give back, and dive in to this industry. In the meantime, I still work on cars when I’m not doing these other things. Detailing continues to help pay the bills, keep me close to the craft, and keep me humble.
Well, Mom, let me tell you about what happened with that “car washing business” I started 25 years ago . . . My story is just one of many that I know of workaday detailers who have built on the foundation of their detailing experience to take advantage of high-level opportunities within the industry. I encourage all detailers to find connections, join trade associations, network with peers, give back to the industry, and dive into the opportunities that are presented to you.
Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.