Austin Pruett graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2019 with a Master of Arts degree in philosophy, theology and apologetics.
Now, he’s a master at making automobiles look heavenly as the owner of Fort Worth Auto Detail. It came about because he had difficulty finding work as a teacher, but he’s not complaining. As far as he’s concerned, everything worked out and the result was divine.
“I think first and foremost was my lack of experience – at least that was the most common response that I heard,” Pruett said. “It seemed like I was caught in the old catch-22: how do you get experience without a job, but you can’t get a job without experience.
“Secondly, I think COVID certainly played a big role. When I really started looking and interviewing, it was at the kickoff of COVID and schools really did not know what was going to happen. To be fair, I don’t think any of us knew what to expect.”
Pruett interviewed with a lot of private schools and community colleges that relied heavily on enrollment, and they did not have an accurate projection of what their enrollment was going to look like come fall of 2020. So it was difficult for them to plan how many teachers would be needed.
“I had several opportunities that I thought were done deals, only for the school to come back and say they are not going to be offering those classes or that they decided to add those classes to an existing teacher’s workload,” Pruett said. “Unfortunately, all my grades and all my degrees really did not amount to much. One day I do hope to go back and pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy.”
In the meantime he turned to auto detailing. And despite his lack of experience, business has been good.
“Honestly, the idea came out of a place of desperation,” he said. “I had worked a call center job all through seminary where I sold a million dollars of dental insurance, which was great during school, but I ended up getting laid off at the start of COVID. My two skill sets were academia and sales. Academia turned me down and I wanted to avoid sales at all costs. So I looked for something I could do on my own.”
A few years prior he and his wife Samantha had bought a black Mazda CX-5, a fairly modest car by industry standards. But to Austin, who grew up driving beater cars, it was like the Holy Grail of vehicles. He wanted to keep what at the time was the most expensive item they had ever purchased in pristine condition, but he had no idea how to do that.
So he went down the YouTube rabbit hole and watched every detailing video he could find. He then had the experience of detailing his own vehicle and thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I looked at the Fort Worth detailing market and it seemed like no one had a stranglehold on the area,” he said. “There are certainly some big players in Dallas, but personally I felt the Fort Worth market was lacking. Because of the lack of big players, my enjoyment in the craft, plus the low startup cost, it seemed like my best option at the time.”
There was also the blessing and the pressure of the birth of the Pruetts’ daughter, Sophia, in May of 2020. Something simply had to be done to provide for the family.
Pruett used unemployment and assistance checks to get the business started. After a trial run of six months, things were going well enough to make it a full-time gig.
“That really took a lot of pressure off, of having to make the business an immediate success,” he said. “It allowed my wife and I to approach the business with the attitude of ‘We are going to give this everything we’ve got, but if it does not work that’s okay.’
“Also, to do a proper full detail, it takes a lot of man hours. In the beginning when it was just myself, I was spending eight hours on a single vehicle. Thankfully, just about everybody was working from home during that time and did not have to use their vehicle that much. So the fact that I needed their vehicle for eight hours really didn’t matter to the client.”
Pruett worked in his shop alone for the entire first year and a half before hiring an employee. It was a challenge, but he made it work to the point that he had the funds to bring someone else onboard, and then another. Now he is up to three employees besides himself.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how physical detailing can be. You are moving around the vehicle multiple times, getting in and out of the vehicle multiple times, squatting, contorting your body. Not something I recommend everyone undertake,” he said. “It was always the plan to move away from detailing and move toward actually running the business.
“After 2021, we realized we had reached a point where if we wanted to continue to grow then we needed help. I was booking weeks in advance at that point and just felt stuck.”
So, in the spring of 2022, they hired their first employee and moved into their physical location in Southwest Fort Worth, a 1,700 square-foot shop at 12015 Bella Italia Drive. Long term, he hopes to have a team of up to 15 employees.
“We make between $10,000 to $20,000 a month in revenue. We have over 75 five-star reviews,” Pruett said. “We are one of two detailers in Fort Worth that are IDA (International Detailing Association) certified. We are on the expertise.com list for best detailers in Fort Worth.
“We specialize in paint correction and professional grade ceramic coatings for which we had to get additional training to be certified to apply.”
Pruett donates some of the proceeds from his business to charity, including the Fort Worth Pregnancy Center, the 24th Fighter Squadron Booster Club, Alliance for Children and more.
“Donating has always been really important to my wife and I,” he said. “It’s really great when we can donate to charities and organizations that are local and have similar values to us.”
Moving forward, Pruett would like to expand the business, offering more services and adding more space.
“We have come a long way, but by no means have we made it,” he said, “We have a very long road ahead.”
This article, written by Rich Mauch, originally appeared in the Fort Worth Business Press and is shared with permission.