Finding what drives a person and developing a passion can come early in life or later — everyone is different. Years may go by before setting down a professional path that just seems to “fit.”
On the other hand, however, some may know from a young age exactly whom they aspire to be, working toward this goal as they transition from childhood, to their teenage years and ultimately into adulthood. Such was the case for Paul “Lufo” Cilluffo, founder and owner of Lufo’s Auto Detailing.
The early years
Following in the footsteps of his father who was a mechanic and built race cars, Cilluffo has loved vehicles, and helping them shine, since he was a young boy.
“[At] about age 10 my father gave me a grinder, a cotton string pad and a bottle of a [popular] wax and said the neighbor would pay me $20 to polish his van. This was the beginning,” recalls Cilluffo. “Throughout my teens I destroyed [many] paint jobs. Then when I was about 16, my father got tired of paying for my damage; so he sent me to his friend’s shop where I learned how to fix the damage I had created with [a] buffer.”
Over the next 10 years, Cilluffo learned how to paint, pin strip, airbrush and polish all types of metals. In 1985, he started Cilco Auto Detailing, and in 2013, he changed the name to Lufo’s Auto Detailing.
Building a solid reputation
Cilluffo strives to provide each customer with the highest quality service. And, with a consistently booked shop, he is successfully achieving this goal. “[When I started this business], my whole idea was building a reputation that was sought after,” says Cilluffo. “I let customers know if they have any questions, come talk to me. If I don’t know [the answer], I will get the answer for [them]. I have a whole network of people that can get answers for me.”
Moreover, it’s all about the details when it comes to building a strong, successful reputation. “We commit ourselves to quality and service,” continues Cilluffo. “We take the time to make sure the customer is properly educated on the detailing process. [And], we spend the time talking to the customer about their expectations of what the final [result] should look like.”
When a customer steps through the doors of Lufo’s Auto Detailing, Cilluffo makes sure he or she leaves with a proper education of the detailing process and confident that he or she selected the right package for the right cost. “We find out what the customers’ needs are and work from there; not everyone has the same needs or the same budget,” says Cilluffo. “Our staff takes the time to talk to [customers] about what they’re looking for in maintaining their cars. We make suggestions on what package we offer to fit their budgets.”
He continues, “The customer needs to know what happens with the elements [his or her] car encounters over a period of time. This helps [a customer] know how often [he or she] needs to have it maintained.”
The business encourages customers to start out with a bumper-to-bumper complete detailing package, which offers a fresh look and is easier to keep up with the maintenance. Cilluffo will walk customers around the shop and show them similar cars, what the final outcome is and what is included in that specific package. “Oftentimes, they leave doing that [package],” he asserts, adding that talking to customers and showing them the differences in the packages helps them feel more confident in their purchase.
Standing apart from the rest
In addition to customer education, Cilluffo trains his employees to ensure the detailing services offered are being accomplished properly and without any harm to the vehicles. He regularly holds training sessions with his team on the latest techniques and products for his employees.
“You’re only as good as your staff is trained — our success depends on it,” asserts Cilluffo. “We do anywhere from 100 to 140 complete details per month, and the only way we have been able to do that many cars and keep the quality that we do is with a well-trained staff.”
Making sure to test and use the latest technology and products also helps Lufo’s Auto Detailing stand apart from the competition. He has developed a sort of symbiotic relationship with three industry manufacturers of chemicals, tools and polishes/waxes.
They ask him to test their products, and he gains experience into what works, and what doesn’t. Having this exclusive insight helps ensure Cilluffo is offering his customers quality services using top quality products. And, he attributes much of Lufo’s Auto Detailing’s success to the relationships he has with these manufacturers, as well as to his highly-trained team.
“We do rigorous testing before using the product on customers’ vehicles,” states Cilluffo. “This ensures [the products] are safe, and they are applied properly to each application. If they pass, we integrate them into the detailing process.”
Being the ‘best in class’
Lufo’s Auto Detailing’s booming success, and longtime friend and car builder Doug Gonzales, helped to introduce Cilluffo to the Concours d’Elegance, which is held once a year in Pebble Beach, California, on the Monterey Peninsula. “It is one of the most prestigious car shows of its kind,” says Cilluffo. “There are several classes of cars that compete. The Concours is not a contest of speed, but of elegance. Automobiles and motorcycles are judged for their historical accuracy, their technical merit and their style — and the best garner reward and recognition.”
One client, Kirk Bewley, asked Cilluffo if he would be interested in detailing his 1912 Pope-Hartford 27 Pony Tonneau for the 2015 show. Cilluffo happily agreed to the job. “In the detailing process for these cars every nut, bolt, spoke, undercarriage and engine must be immaculate just to qualify,” explains Cilluffo. “We spent 30-plus hours detailing his car for the show.”
The time was well-spent. Although Cilluffo couldn’t attend the show, and in spite of a “malfunction” with a flat tire on stage, Bewley called Cilluffo that Sunday and said they were awarded First in Class for the Class A-2: Pope.
“When Kirk called me, I had a flashback to the first day I had a buffer with a bottle of wax,” recalls Cilluffo. “I became emotional because this win made all the struggles throughout the years so much more significant.”
From a young, 10-year-old boy with a bottle of wax to an owner of a successful detailing shop with an award-winning reputation, Cilluffo illustrates why the details of a business matter. Providing quality service using top products, building relationships with manufacturers and fellow detailers, training employees and educating customers have all helped Cilluffo turn his dream into a profitable reality.
And, the most important factor throughout his years in the industry is always to keep the customer in mind. “I learned a long time ago if you take care of the customer, you will always have customers,” notes Cilluffo.