From enthusiast to pro – My perspectives on starting a detailing business
Written by: Dave KG
Detailing is in relative terms, one of the UK’s youngest industries and in many senses we have the privilege of being at the forefront of it. I’m not saying shiny cars are new. but the phrase “detailing”, the air of “detailing” is a new concept as evidenced by how poorly known it still currently is.
In this article I hope to put across my perspectives of detailing, how it evolved for me into a hobby, a passion and how I made the transition for running a small part time business from this. As well as how it feels to detail as a business from my perspective, and some bits and pieces about the hows and whys of tuition and why I bias the work I do towards that. Please do not expect an in-depth review of running a business – I am not the one to ask about this for my business is small and very simple, I don’t even have a website! Many professionals on fora have leaps and bounds of business experience and are far better placed to inform and review exactly what it means to run a business from a business perspective. The point of this article is to give a bit of a taste as to how an everyday detailing enthusiast turned their hobby into a passion, an obsession even, and then translated that to a part time business
One thing which I hope will end up very clear from my experiences and history – you cannot just buy the gear, pick up the polisher, set up a website and away you go polishing cars! It may look easy – but there’s a lot of time and effort goes into detailing, learning and developing skills.
For me, this started in 2004 – with the burning desire to look after my at the time nearly new Vauxhall Astra. I was very proud of that car, I was just a student, yet I worked my little backside off and treated myself to a 1.8SRi Astra G that I had wanted since I passed my driving test four years previous! It was silver, hid all the swirls, but man I wanted that car to shine like a new pin. I started off with a bottle of Meguiars Gold Class Car Wax, found in Halfords after I wanted to try something new from years of SRP and EGP use. The results at the time impressed me, but the biggest impression was made at the Meguiars UK Forum which I joined as “Kickin Griffin”. A nickname from years ago. At the time, I joined to learn and enjoy and thought nothing more of it from there. I didn’t anticipate where the initials KG would go, I simply wanted a clean car
But those who join DW will know, things don’t stop there and it wasn’t long before a Porter Cable 7424, the DA machine polisher of choice, had been ordered Along with Wolfgang (Lake Country) pads, and some Meguiars #80 Speed Glaze. I set to, washed, clayed, polished and waxed my Astra in an afternoon Sound familiar? I was over the moon with the results even though looking back on them now, it would be fair to say. lets put it mildly. I can do better now But my first flavor of the machine had got me hooked, and here started the product buying obsession!!
My first notable detail was on my dad’s car: A satin red metallic Vauxhall Astra 1.4 Estate, N reg. Grand car!. It was badly swirled and I spent the best part of two days on the car all things considered and achieved probably around 80% correction and a decent finish – certainly one at the time I was hugely impressed with. but I also learned a very important early lesson – this detailing lark was not easy, and in many senses working the machine polisher was a bit like learning to drive. I had passed my test, but I was likely still a danger on the roads! Experience, honing, practising would make me “safe”, it would make me good at this strange new passion that was starting to take hold!
Another car then – a good friend from work and a pink Toyota Starlett, and one of my first forays into DW’s Competition where I shared the prize jointly with Punto GT. hard work on that car, took about three days but ti set me on the road to really learning about what I was doing.
At this stage, there was no intention to detail as a business, no intention to turn it into a job – simply this was something I very much enjoyed, I found it relaxing, and I enjoyed the buzz of detailing. I laughed at the thought of being a detailer professionally though – no way was I good enough, nor at the time did I ever think I would be. No no, instead I would learn this hobby, and enjoy it. this was of course helped along the way with banter, learning, friendships from others in a similar boat to me – you don’t see much of these lads these days, blr123 (Bryan), L200 Steve (Steve), Alex L (Alex) to name just three inspirations to my detailing. And by inspirations, I mean true inspirations – encouraging, fun, damn decent blokes who (perhaps without knowing it) lit the blue touch paper on me and detailing and flung me towards where I am today.
I owe people a lot – Steve especially, for the detailing techniques you see from me today are based on what I learned from Steve, and then my own learning on top of this solid base. Bryan for always being my fellow detailer – not often detailing with me now due to other commitments and I have to say I do miss Bryan. And the rest of this article is dedicated to the help I have had in the past from members past and present, too many to list here!
A Big Break
Most people new to detailing seem to know me for a detail I carried out with Bryan years ago. the 1922 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. For a detail to catapult you into the limelight, you couldn’t have asked for more on this hugely special car. But I never took the detail on for that. I was an enthusiast at the time, with developing talents and skills, and I saw the raw challenge and went all weak at the knees! Four days of hard graft and it is a detail I still fondly remember today as one of my best efforts. The key here though is that I was not detailing out of a need for profit or a need for ego boosting – I was detailing because I enjoyed it, because I was excited to share with folks what I was working on. I remember being like a kid at Christmas, thinking all day long on the first day how I would not post anything until it was finished and it would be so cool – and then, laughably, getting in that night and posting teaser shots cause I just had to tell folks! Sad? Well you may think so, but this was the level of enjoyment I was getting out of detailing, this was how important a hobby it was to me
It may serve as a big break for a business, but it was never treated as such by me, and indeed I would not even begin detailing as a business until years later.
Being blunt. If you think you can pick up a machine polisher after three or four cars and call yourself a pro and sell your services for anything more than beer tokens, you are kidding yourself and you are kidding those you are working for. Detailing requires a wealth of talents, skills, experience. And it also requires a passion, a want to learn, an understanding as well. If you are considering starting a detailing business, make sure you are ready and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. As with all walks of life, to be good at something requires solid foundations, key skills. But it also requires a desire, a burning passion for doing something really well, fueled by a keenness to learn and enhance and keep marching forwards! Look at the best detailers on the forum – they show a passion for what they do, backed up with fire power in the form of experience and talent.
If you want to start detailing as a business, you have to be sure first of all that you have the solid foundations. a couple of cars with a G220 aint solid, you have to build up a breadth of knowledge on a variety of cars, inside and out. The more cars you do, you will find at the start that your work improves exponentially to begin with – keep learning, keep enjoying and once you feel you are lieveling off your abilities (not stopping the improvements, you will never stop improving that’s just a fact of life), then you are developing skills to a level where it is possible to sell these professionally. This takes more than a fancy website – this takes time, it takes effort. Detailing is not, and never will be a “quick buck”. But if you put in the time, it can turn out to be a hugely rewarding and fulfilling job opportunity.
Its a strong word, and ultimately not many people feel passion for their job. but for me, its important. You have to enjoy what you are doing, you have to put your heart into it! If you are considering detailing as a quick buck, simply a money earning tool then if I were you, I’d look elsewhere. The work and effort that goes into detailing from professional and enthusiasts requires not only a solid grounding, but it requires a passion and a desire to do your best every car, every detail. You may think after a couple of cars this is easy, but see how you feel after 20, 50! The best detailers are still bouncing up and down crying for more, wanting that next car, wanting to impress more – if you feel like this is you, and if you feel you have such a true passion for detailing backed up by the above skills and willingness to learn, then you are on your way to becoming a detailer, and one of the best ones
Why So Long?
Its a fair question, but anyone looking at my past detailing may wonder why I didn’t “turn pro” and start a business sooner than I did – the answer is simple, and answered above! I had to make sure that I had what it took to offer my services professionally – the talent was there (I thought, others may disagree ), which meant on any car I was working on, I would do a good job. But the passion had to be there too, and it wasn’t until late last year that I decided I did want detailing to be a notable part of my life, and my future even if its just part time, and even if commitments mean I return to being an enthusiast.
Keep the Enjoyment!
Its very easy to fall into the trap when working of something just becoming a 9-5 and you quickly loose care and interest in it. but you really have to avoid this when running a detailing business, as if it is become a bore or a drag, your standards will slip and its a slippery slope from there. Instead, make sure you derive enjoyment from what you do, especially if you are an enthusiast of old – for me it was key and paramount that I enjoyed what I did in detailing as a business as much as when I was an enthusiast as if not, it would have been a wrong decision and I would have very quickly stopped KG Detailing! For me, I seeked out what I loved about detailing, and focused my business on that which is why you see me doing more tuition, classes and tuition details, than full details as my passion is for detailing and sharing skills and teaching the skills that I have and learned. I will continue my business down this line, as it is what I truly enjoy (mixed in with full details as well of course ), and if you are setting up your own business then you should really focus on this as well – enjoyment sparks enthusiasm and a willingness to learn and with that you continue to improve.
I hope this article gives a little insight into detailing as a business, and what kind of things to consider if you are looking to start your own detailing business.
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