Sometimes operators find detailing, and sometimes detailing finds them. When Justin Labato got laid off from his job at a wood shop a decade ago he was like many other displaced workers during the economic downturn, out of work and contemplating his next move.
Having a little extra time on his hands and in possession of a newly purchased used car in need of a serious scrubbing, he took it upon himself to learn how to detail his vehicle. He turned to an old colleague at a car audio shop for a few tips on how to properly detail his new ride, and was soon hooked on the industry.
“He showed me a few things like how to use a clay bar,” Labato says. “I was just amazed about how smooth it made the surface. I cleaned and detailed my vehicle and realized at that point that I was digging it. I liked the work and I liked the results.”
|Justin Labato will serve as the IDA’s president|
for a yearlong term.
With his newfound detailing knowledge under his belt, Labato went in search of a local detailer to help mentor and teach him the necessary skills he would need to open his own detailing enterprise. Not surprisingly, finding an operator willing to teach their future competition proved to be difficult.
“Everyone denied me once I told them I wanted to start my own business,” he says “The last guy on my list was the most intimidating because he had the best reputation. But he actually gave me an opportunity to learn alongside him.”
Labato started working as a professional detailer in June of 2008 and within six short months would take over the reins. The previous owner was looking to transition out of the business and Labato was looking to enter the industry — the perfect situation for a budding entrepreneur. The serendipitous relationship had Labato sitting at the helm of a well-established detail operation in prosperous Melbourne, FL.
As if going from rookie detailer to business owner wasn’t enough change for Labato, he was faced with a business-defining decision just weeks into taking over the shop. His friends over at the car audio shop had an opportunity for him — their 1,800-foot window tint bay was available and they wanted Labato to take over the space.
“That was my first month of having the business,” Labato says about the decision to move his newly purchased enterprise. “It was going to double my rent. As a business owner just starting out it was kind of scary and I declined it. They came back to me two weeks later and told me another detailer was going to take that spot. So I bit the bullet and moved.”
The move proved to be a pivotal decision for Labato and his business, allowing the operation and its owner to flourish on well-travelled Wickham Road — Melbourne’s main artery and home to countless retailers, restaurants, banks, and more. At the location Labato refined his skills and evolved from a basic skills operator to one of the nation’s most skilled paint correction and ceramic coating experts.
“Our reputation started with interiors,” the owner of JL’s Showroom Detailing says about the evolution of the business. “We used to be the guys that would take on anything and do it better than anybody. But as the market transitioned we transitioned with it. Those 10 years of building from interior, to exterior, to ceramics — has allowed us to be very well rounded.”
Labato credits his commitment to continued education and training for his ability to transform himself from a common core detailer to a detailing specialist with an appointment book packed three to five weeks in advance. When he was just starting out in the business Labato spent all of his free time watching Renny Doyle and Mike Phillips training videos on the Internet to learn from the masters.
“I was trying to learn non stop,” Labato says. “I experimented on customers’ vehicle. I would try out what I was learning on a panel or a hood until I got it down and was confident enough to offer it as a service.”
Over his first six years as a professional detailer, Labato was able to self teach the vital skills that would help him grow both his capabilities and his customer base. But his career advancement hit the fast lane in 2014 when he attended his first Mobile Tech Expo. It was there that he met Renny Doyle in person for the first time and subsequently began training with the renowned detailing guru. Within eight months of meeting Doyle, Labato had gone through his training and was invited to join the coveted Air Force 1 Detailing Team, an honor he enjoyed three more times.
“I had a good foundation of craftsmanship when I started with Renny,” Labato says. “That was not an area that I needed more training, just maybe a little fine tuning. What I really got from him was a business education and how to think more like an entrepreneur. That changed my overall approach to the detailing industry and helped get me to where I am today.”
Where Labato is today is the president’s seat at the International Detail Association. After serving a year as the vice president of operators, Labato transitioned to his new role in January when he was introduced at the 17th annual Mobile Tech Expo.
“I got involved with the organization as soon as I was introduced to it in 2014,” Labato says of the importance of the IDA in his development. “I have been an advocate for the IDA since I joined. Customers look at the IDA as credentials; it allows the detailer to standout. Even if the consumer isn’t familiar with the IDA at first, the next time they walk into a detail shop they may question if that person has it. It has certainly made a difference for me.”
Labato’s four-year ride with the IDA has upped his profile both in his local community and the detailing industry at large and helped the detailing specialist attain a growing number of accolades. He was the first IDA member and first certified detailer in his county, the first pre-certified IDA member to go through Renny’s training, a member of the Air Force 1 Detailing Team, a member of Mother’s National Polish Team, a member of Gordon McCall Detailing Team, a trainer and mentor under Renny Doyle, and the lead global detailing consultant for Buff and Shine.
“At the shop we have capitalized on the mantra work smarter, not harder,” Labato says. “I always tell the guys when I work as a trainer to try to focus on part-time work, full-time pay. Even with my guys we average around 30 to 35 hours per week, and we rarely hit 40. I keep it like that so they are not overworked, produce quality results, and enjoy coming into work every day.”
For the past decade Labato has thoroughly enjoyed his work and it shows. His has built himself up from detailing newbie to the top of the detailing industry thanks to a commitment to continuous learning and training, and the ability to seize onto emerging market trends that have differentiated him in the increasingly crowded detail marketplace.