Listening, Learning, and Finding a Path to Success
Justin Labato is an industry consultant, mentor, and owner of JL’s Auto Showroom Auto Salon. Watch his interview and read on to learn how he came from a place of adversity to find success in the detailing industry.
Out of Challenge Comes Opportunity
Justin could never have guessed that a tough time in his life was going to lead him to his future livelihood. After losing his job, the engine blew on his car. At just 25 years old, he was struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But he remained hopeful and started getting creative. He found a beat-up vehicle on the side of the road, and he decided to restore it.
“That car on the side of the road just kept collecting a lot of road dust,” he says. “So it wasn’t very pretty. And it was white, so you saw everything.”
He reached out to a friend and former colleague who knew about detailing and asked him to share some of his knowledge. Justin was instantly hooked. He liked detailing and he saw an opportunity to build a career out of it.
The Beginnings: A Hard-Working Mentality
Justin has a passionate eagerness to learn, so once he set his sights on a career in detailing, he wasn’t afraid to do whatever it took to get him there.
“I wasn’t shy on working,” he says. “I’ve always worked hard. From the age of 19 years old to 30, I competitively kickboxed. So when it comes to hard work there’s nothing on being at the gym three or four days a week and sparring.”
Step 1: Education
Justin’s first step was to reach out to a list of detailers to learn the craft firsthand. He was young and ambitious, so not everyone wanted to show him the ropes.
But Justin’s perseverance paid off and a well-respected technician in his community offered him a job. He spent the next few months learning as much as he could about detailing.
Step 2: Seizing Opportunity
Six months into his training, his boss was offered a job with a family member, which presented the opportunity for Justin to take over the detailing business.
Without a formal college education, Justin had a steep learning curve ahead of him before he could run his own business. But he didn’t let that stop him seizing the opportunity when it arose.
“He saw an opportunity and position, which gave me an opportunity and position,” Justin explains. “We made a gentleman’s agreement. I didn’t have money, I came from being unemployed, and I had a couple of hundred dollars in the bank account. I was at zero, unemployed, and then given the business.”
Step 3: Listening and Learning
In a way that has now come to characterize Justin’s career, he did everything he could to learn. First, he sought help from others in his community. He contacted a friend and local business owner who ran a car wash and detailing business, who was able to share with him how to create price packages.
Justin conducted his own market analysis by cold calling other detailers and listening to how they conducted business.
He also emphasizes the importance of honing your craft. When he started out, video content and social media were not the huge platforms that they are today. So he had to listen and learn on the job.
“Practice, practice, practice,” he says. “And not just practice, but try to make it perfect practice, so it becomes a standard.”
Step 4: Focusing on Improvements
Justin was young when he took on the business, but he was always willing to learn. Rather than looking at his past and dwelling on where he might have gone wrong, he spends his time figuring out how he can be better.
But, like many professionals in the industry, he admits that the business side of the work was harder to learn. And being good at detailing doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to make money at it.
“I focused too much on the paint, too much on the products, too much on the craft,” he says. “I wish I’d learned a lot of the business stuff sooner because I think I would have been a lot further along.”
“I focused too much on the paint, too much on the products, too much on the craft. I wish I’d learned a lot of the business stuff sooner because I think I would have been a lot further along.”
Now that he’s been in the business for more than a decade he has not stopped pushing the boundaries and striving for growth.
Step 5: Making the Right Investments
One way that Justin has successfully grown his business is by building a network of mentors and industry leaders around him.
“Show up at events,” he says. “Show up to Mobile Tech and show up at SEMA. I understand these things cost money. But we all know the old saying ‘it takes money to make money’. And if you’re not investing in yourself, then you’re not investing in your business.”
When Justin attended his first event in 2014, he was finally able to meet industry icons like Mike Phillips and Renny Doyle, who he’d long admired from watching videos. Justin decided to take Renny Doyle’s training, which he says helped him learn the business side of detailing, in addition to the craft itself.
By being active in the detailing community he ensures he’s updated on all the developments within the fast-moving detailing industry. It also provides him with more opportunities to learn and improve.
“If you’re not investing in yourself, then you’re not investing in your business.”
Justin Labato’s 3 Tips for Detailers
1. Find Out the Type of Business That Works for You
Justin realized early on that a mobile business was not going to be as lucrative for him. He likes the stability that comes with owning a shop, so that if something goes wrong with one of his tools, he has options. He also found he was missing out on business at his shop while he was out on the road.
However, a physical location comes with other challenges, such as larger overheads, so it’s important to assess what type of business will work best for you.
2. Find the Path of Least Resistance
By listening to others, Justin has been able to learn from their experience and make smarter decisions.
“The path to success will always have resistance, but by listening to people that have been there, done that, you may not be able to execute things the same way they did, but you’ll at least be able to take things they did to make your path a little bit easier,” he says.
He advises anyone entering the business to listen twice as much as you speak!
3. Take Action to Grow
Justin reached a saturation point in his business, where he had the work, but wasn’t able to do it all himself. And he wanted to make more money, so that’s when he started to take on more staff. He admits that hiring can be challenging, but it was one of the ways he needed to take action in order to grow.
“Adding somebody else helped expedite the turnaround time to get more work,” he says.
His business now books five to eight weeks in advance and he says that taking deposits, which he started in 2013, helped him to do that. In fact, he’s noticed that other detailing businesses in the area have started to do the same thing.
4. Create Demand
Justin recognizes that his customers come to him and book weeks in advance, because he’s created a demand for his services. Detailing is not a necessity, but by doing his job well and exceeding expectations, Justin’s clientele come back again and again.
“We’re in a luxury business,” Justin says. “Nobody needs to have their car professionally detailed. They want. They could go to the store for products and maintain their automotive investment by themselves. But what they want is a professional to give it that show car glamor.”
5. Listen to Your Customer
Justin recommends having a website and social media accounts for your business, but the key is maintaining them. That’s why responding to reviews is absolutely crucial. Justin applies the same philosophy of communication to his customers. Listen, respond, take action, and grow.
This is one feature of Prescribing Growth – a series of interviews with auto recon industry leaders. In this series, we share the experts’ stories and they get to talk about their tips and tricks of running a successful business.