WHERE DO YOU GET INSPIRATION WHEN YOUR DETAILING BUSINESS HAS FLATLINED?
Tampa Bay Detailer Shares How a 2014 Detailers Digest Cover Story Saved His Career—and Perhaps His Life…
By Kimberly Ballard
It was during the challenging five-years-in-business mark that Hector Mendez of Onsite Detail Pros in Tampa, Florida, found himself questioning his life, his business, his career and his relationships. While 80 percent of small businesses succeed their first year, after five years the failure rate plummets to 50 percent, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). But for a cover story in the July-August 2014 issue of Detailers Digest, Mendez doesn’t believe he would still be here.
“I was in a bad place, going through a breakup with a long-time girlfriend and wasting money in nightclubs. I got involved with people and in things I shouldn’t have, and my business wasn’t going anywhere. It was so bad that at one point, I tried to kill myself. Yeah, that’s how bad it was,” Mendez admitted.
A dent technician suggested that Mendez attend the Mobile Tech Expo in Orlando. He had never been to a trade show, but he was known to spend hours at the nearby Eckerd’s drug store reading car-care product labels to teach himself the difference between waxes, polishes, cleaners and compounds. Picking up a copy of the Detailers Digest at the Show and reading the cover story was typical.
Rigo Santana of Orange County, California (left) and Hector Mendez of Tampa, Florida, holding the dog-eared copy of Detailers Digest that first inspired Mendez to up his game.
“It was about this Latino detailer in Orange County, California, named Rigo Santana and how he built his Xtreme Xcellence Professional Mobile Auto Detailing business from working out of his trunk like me into a high-end paint correction specialist,” said Mendez. “What struck me was a picture on the cover of Rigo buffing a car, doing what I do, only he was on the cover of a magazine. Next to that was another picture of him holding a trophy. How did he get that, I wondered? The story was so inspiring, I thought if he can do it, I can do it!”
Both Santana and Mendez grew up—Santana in Los Angeles and Mendez in Tampa—without a lot of parental supervision, no formal education and no male role models to help them make smart business decisions. Yet Santana had become a success and Mendez was feeling stuck. He reread that article many times over the next three years. There was one admission Mendez particularly enjoyed.
“I used to pretend to be a detailer before I became one,” Santana said in the article. “I read in a magazine that every industry has a big convention and anybody who likes cars goes to SEMA. I went to SEMA and wound up at the AutoGeek booth where the guys impressed me because they were wearing uniforms. Having uniforms had never seemed important to me before.
“One of them asked, ‘Do you detail?’ I said yes before realizing I was lying…Professional detailing is entirely different from what I had been doing.”
Mendez could relate. “I didn’t know anything about detailing either, but like Rigo, I was good at cleaning cars,” he noted. “When I finally bought a bottle of car polish from Eckerd’s, it was on sale for $2, so I bought four bottles. I made $7on the first car I cleaned with it. That was indicative of where my business was at the time.
“I woke up every day and asked, where am I going to get work? That struggle left me washing cars for $10 or $20. I knew people would pay more, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn a $20 car wash into a profitable detail.”
Mentor and Mentee: An Inspirational Story
Had Santana known he was being admired as a mentor, he would have been stunned. He was himself reeling from his newfound notoriety, having been selected to the Air Force One Detailing Team at Seattle’s Museum of Flight and for the Gordon McCall’s Motorworks Revival Detailing Team at Monterey Car Week. And about that trophy Mendez saw him holding? It was for prepping the neglected paint on a 1968 Iso Grifo that had just won second place at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance!
It would be three years later, while walking the exhibit floor at the 2017 Mobile Tech Expo, that Mendez saw Santana for the first time. “Holy crap!” said Mendez. “There he was doing a product demonstration. I felt part of something big—something really important.”
Since then, the two have become friends and meet every year at MTE and the SEMA Show. Last year Mendez brought his yellowed, dog-eared copy of the magazine for Santana to autograph. This past Christmas, Santana sent Mendez a wall plaque displaying the autographed 2014 Detailers Digest article.
Santana and Mendez polishing a car hood in the SONAX booth at the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
“You never know how your journey or a writer’s portrayal of that journey will affect others,” said Santana. “I am honored and blessed by Hector’s recognition. What an incredible feeling to meet a detailer from across the country who looked on me as a mentor. Had I known, perhaps I could have helped him more!”
All is well at Onsite Detail Pros after 20 years. The company services the three-county Tampa Bay area, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota.
“If my and Rigo’s story helps just one struggling detailer, then it is worth it,” said Mendez. “I think how close I came to failure, and it would have cost me more than my business. It nearly cost me my life.”
Santana, Mendez and George Verduzco of Splash Eco Auto Spa at Ceramic Pro certification training in San Diego, California.