Sixteen years ago I landed my first auto detailing job at a rental car location near the Tampa International Airport working as a carwash tech. I was the youngest employee on the carwash line, and I had a lot of learning to do to prove myself as a valuable member of the team.

As everyone on that carwash line was between the ages of 30 and 50 years old, they shared a lot of experience and know-how about different aspects of carwashing and detailing that proved valuable to me in the future. I learned everything I could, solidified myself amongst the more experienced members of the team, and became a master detailer early in my career.

As I pressed forward into higher-volume locations, I was always one of the youngest employees. Being dependable and good at my trade, I quickly became one of the most sought-after detailers on the property, and I was able to make plenty of money working a regular 40-hours.

Today’s market

Fast forward to the present, and I can tell you a completely different story. I spend most of my days either at one of the locations where I provide detailing services or in a dealership or shop advertising my company. These dealerships may need a makeover in their detail department or need a company that can provide a better service or higher-quality results.

Based on the number of cars on a lot, I can make a decent estimate as to the amount of cars being sold every month. Even if I factor in cars off the street and service appointments, I still don’t come up with a justified excuse for having an overabundance of employees working in a small detailing department.

But more and more I see detail shops with way more employees than they would ever need at one location. Don’t get me wrong, I want people to work and be able to provide for themselves. I also want people to become the best at any job they choose as a career.

Finding employees

In my experience some detailing companies are pushing anyone with a heartbeat into a company shirt, and many employees only want to make enough to provide for their nightlife activities. Most employees have less than one year’s experience and don’t even know the differences between a high-speed polisher and an orbital polisher. No career-minded person will apply, or if hired stay, because of:

  • Below minimum wage earnings
  • No paid time off
  • No benefits
  • No training
  • No stability.

Often when I explain to these detailers that I can help them, that there is another way, they become excited. My company offers competitive wages, paid training, advancement training and paid time off to all employees. I also tell them that we perform background checks, department of motor vehicle checks and drug tests. About 50 percent of the detailers that I say this to — people already working inside a dealership for a third-party vendor — cannot pass one or all three of these requirements.

My research on the matter provides me with a clear reason as to why certain companies are allowed to operate in such an unpractical manner, and that is money. These operations keep the costs low for customers, and in turn, their customers provide a sense of immunity, encouraging sometimes illegal employment practices.

That is why I see so many detail shops with employees who are unable to do their jobs correctly and unable to see a future within this industry. As these workers are supposed to make the vehicles look good enough to sell, it seems the people at the top of the industry would take the time to make sure a detailer has a driver’s license.

Common challenges

Some of these detailing companies aren’t even using industry standard chemicals and tools when detailing cars. As a business owner, I know that watching expenses is of paramount importance. But using the best chemicals and techniques guarantees the best results.

At the GDJ Detail Company, we use chemicals and supplies from a company with knowledge and experience that they put into their products and services. Their employees are great with training on usage of all chemicals, and they provide weekly training on detailing techniques, chemical management and safety.

Over my career in carwashing and detailing, I have seen a lot of good workers become disenchanted and even go as far as to give up detailing. Many chose to find work in other fields with better pay and more stability. Many of these men and woman had children, car loans and mortgages.

That’s another reason I started the GDJ Detail Company. I wanted to teach people how to earn the title of master detailer and feel good about their work. I want dealers and our customers to believe in our purpose, which is to provide a vision of perfection for every vehicle we prepare. I try to teach teamwork and dedication.

Other detail companies teach nothing. Many create an atmosphere of solo manager detailers with no leadership skills, and they use warm bodies to get the job done, but never done correctly.

Remembering leadership

There have been many times where I have not been the best leader, and I acted quickly corrected myself. I hope that every person I’m connected to, whether directly or indirectly, feels like I felt when I first started in the industry. Also, I want dealers to sell cars like they did 17 years ago, and I want detailers to make a wage that works living in this millennium.

But sadly, in 16 years, little has changed. I often talk to poor young men and women who will never know how carwashing and detailing used to be. As long as they continue to work for suspect detail operations and the car industry continues to ignore unfair working conditions, things will stay as they currently are.

Even so, I seek out new ventures every day, hoping to find enough business to build a strong company that values its employees. I work to help other detailers find work, I supply the best so my detailers will be accustomed to the best, and I train my employees to become great carwashers and detailers. Anyone who has worked for GDJ Detail Company, past or present, knows that we work as a team and win as a team. It’s the way I was trained.

Presently I have a dozen employees that have all worked for other detailing companies. The constants they recognize as the big difference between us and them are our respect and dedication to improving each other as well as the personal growth we all achieve together in our love for detailing.

 

Gerardo De Jesus is owner and operator of GDJ Detail Company. His company was established in 2008 and is located in Port Richey, Fla. De Jesus can be contacted at [email protected].