Bob Cavezza's Blog

It was 104 degrees fahrenheit and I was sprawled in the back of a minivan.  I was sweating profusely as the windows made it even hotter in this colossal vehicle.  I pulled out a french fry from under the seat.  It must have been there for over a year.  I felt gross, and hot, and sweaty, and incredibly proud.  This was my first paid job at my first company –  Pennza Auto Detailing.  The conditions could not have been any worse, but I was on cloud nine.

This company started like any successful company does these days.  We went to Barnes & Noble and pulled out a book called “101 Businesses You Can Start Today.”  Like the genius critical thinkers we were, we opened the book, closed our eyes, randomly picked a page, and pointed.  This was the business we would start. Open an Accounting Firm. We needed a do-over because we weren’t accountants.  We did it again, and when we opened our eyes, we were on the fourth paragraph that explained how great car detailing was.

Like accounting, we knew absolutely nothing about car detailing.  Unlike accounting, we didn’t need a degree to start this company – so we were all in!

The first step was learning how to detail a car.  What supplies do you need?  What do you do?  What special skills do you need?  We took the shotgun shell approach to do this task and found a few resources.  One was a video entitled “How To Detail a Car”.  There were 2 other books we purchased on the subject.  We also convinced a car detailing company down the street to let us watch them detail a few cars.

We made some tweaks to most models.  We didn’t have a garage to detail cars in, so we made it “mobile car detailing”.  Not only was this more convenient for customers, but it was also less overhead for us.  That was important, because combined, we probably had less than $1,000 to our names.

We also found some material online that made it possible to detail cars without needing a constant stream of water.  I forget the name of it now, but it was called “(Random Brand Here) Waterless Wash and Polish”.  It was great because it was environmentally friendly, didn’t need water to use, and washed and polished in one step.

We found many shortcuts and workarounds for common problems.  However, we couldn’t find a shortcut to get around our need for electricity. An electrical outlet was still needed to hook up a ShopVac, so we could clean dirt and debris from the cars.  This wasn’t a huge deal.  Almost all of our clients either had an electrical outlet outside of their house or allowed us to run an extension cord from inside the house.

Our initial marketing plan was door to door flyers.  Compared to internet marketing today, the marketing of then was extremely difficult.  Not only were you paying for someone who didn’t click on your ads, but you had to actually go door to door and drop off each ad.  Besides the manual drop off, you also paid for every flyer printed!  I wasn’t the biggest proponent of this “flying” campaign, but at that point I said, “What the hell?  Let’s try everything.  Let’s do this!”  So, we started flyering.

Paul was one of the people who received our flyer.  He gave us a call to our official Pennza Phone Number – Nick’s cell phone.  He also owned a huge mini-van.  This is why I was in the back of a minivan finding year old french fries.

To this day, that was the longest detail job we ever did.  I’m fairly certain it was one of the dirtiest cars we ever detailed, and the cheapest job we ever completed.  I think we charged him $100 and we quickly raised our prices to $150 for cars, $225 for SUV’s and $300 for vans.  The $300 price tag was mostly because we never wanted to detail another van ever again.

This was our first job, and we were scared about the possible feedback we might get from a paying customer.  Not just a paying customer, but someone who was going to give us a lot of money—$100 dollars. One Hundred Friggen’ Dollars!

Due to this fear, we went over every nook and cranny of that van over and over and over again.  When we were finally ready for Paul to give us his feedback, we were both nervous about what he would say.  Sure, we detailed our own cars, but we didn’t know what an objective third party would say.

Paul comes out, he takes a look around the car.  He walks around the back.  He peers into the backseat.  He looks at us and says, “You guys did a helluva job!”  He then tips us an extra $50 and says, “We’re having a barbecue. Do you guys want some hot dogs?”

Before we could answer, his wife was three feet away holding a tray of delicious looking hot dogs.  Being the professional, stand-up young gentlemen we were, we graciously took his hot dogs.  My god!  They were amazing.  I’m pretty sure he offered us beers too and we all had one.  I’m not 100% on that – my memory is a little hazy.

Anyway, that’s the basic story of our first company.  There were a ton of lessons we learned along the way.  There were a ton of things I think we should have done differently.  There are many other stories that I have left to tell from these experiences, but everything has a beginning.  And this was the beginning of Pennza Mobile Detailing.

§497 · February 12, 2016 · Startup Wisdom · · [Print]

Leave a Reply