Motormessenger speaks exclusively to Clark Aitken, professional detailer for Aberdeenshire’s Polished Bliss.
SK: What’s this car [a 993 911 Carrera 4S) in for today and what does that involve?
CA: ‘This 993 is getting a maintenance detail. I’ve washed it, given the wheels a clean and removed any minor tar spots. I only saw about two tar spots in total. The car will then get a top up of wax and wheel sealant, I’ll give it a hoover and finally clean the glass. This is typically a four to five-hour job.
‘The biggest job is a Ne Plus Ultra detail. This is the one for customers who need the work done no matter what the cost. The Enzo we did was around 120 hours, but the biggest job was a black Bentley Arnage R. It was around 160 hours of work and it was so badly scratched it was like grey, like matte. It was so bad. The guy owns a couple of restaurants in Aberdeen and used it as a chauffeur car for customers. He decided it was in such bad nick that something had to be done, so it was either spend a bit of money to repair it or he would keep his order for his new Rolls-Royce.
‘In the end, it was about a £4k bill for our work but he cancelled his order for the new Ghost because he was so happy with the outcome of the car. It was about 100 hours of machine polishing alone, I’m sure.
Clark motions towards the gleaming Porsche perched on the ramps behind us.
‘We’ve had some good transformations on 993s, actually. It’s really one-day jobs or new car details that we do most of – I mean, the amount of Audis we do now is ridiculous! If I go quiet on Instagram for a week or so it’s generally because I’m doing Audis and I don’t want to repost them!’
I look around the small unit and its rows of perfectly-organised microfibres, polishes and brushes. My surroundings are almost as spotless as the 911 being detailed.
SK: Along with Angela and Rich [the other founding members of Polished Bliss], when did you realise that you could turn a detailing hobby into a business?
CA: ‘It was Rich and Angela who originally started Polished Bliss. January 2016 will be ten years since the company was launched. I was at VW at the time as a valeter. I’d previously been at university doing a design degree. My mum died and I thought that life was too short; I don’t wanna be sat in a classroom or an office – I wanna be out getting my hands dirty. I had always been that guy who had to clean his car, even when I was 17.
‘I took a job valeting and at the time I was only starting on the detailing side and I was also one of PB’s first customers. I stated speaking to Rich and Angela when I went round to the house to buy products and we decided we could either work against each other or work together. In 2007, I was officially the PB detailer and within about 6 months we had a 2-3 month waiting list. It just rocketed.
‘If you’re good at detailing, you can build up a client base quite quickly. We established ourselves and basically got the whole of Aberdeen and Grampian to ourselves before everyone else. When we got this place, we were one of the first companies to get a studio in Britain. Having both the detailing services and the advice on the website for customers really helped us. We never thought it’d get to the stage of 9 and ten-month waiting lists.
‘Detailing generally is a luxury; most of our clients have a minimum of two cars and some have ten or fifteen in their collection. Generally we’ll get a cancellation or something. It’s a bit like tattoos – you don’t go to a tattoo artist who can fit you in that day or week because it usually means they’re not very good.’
SK: What do you think got you into detailing in the first place?
CA: ‘I can’t even remember how I first stumbled across the PB site. It was probably on the Seat forum as at the time I had a Cupra R and I met Rich through it. I’d been machine polishing and bought my dual-action polisher from the States as that was the only way to do so at the time. It was all self-taught; I’d never done a training course or anything.
‘My Dad’s always been into cleaning his cars. When I first started using Zymol, I was stealing all the Zymol he used for his Porsche and putting it onto my Saxo. That was the first time I used the high-end stuff, but he doesn’t have the patience I have. He’s very much the sort of ‘use half a tub of wax on one panel’ – the thicker the better.’
SK: What would a normal day as a pro detailer look like?
CA: ‘This is a much easier day today. Generally I’d be in here for 8.30 and if the car hasn’t been dropped off the night before, I hope it’d be here for 9. If it’s a good, one-day protection detail, then if I’m done for 5.30/6pm then that’s perfect. Sometimes it’s a case of going home, walking the dog, helping the wife with the little one, eating my tea and then coming back to work about 10pm, then I’m here until about 3 or 4 in the morning. You can get two or three weeks of that continuously, and then you’ll get a week or two of straightforward new car details.
‘Most of the cars we’re booking in are repeat customers so we generally know what we’re expecting. We have customers coming in from Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh, with some people coming from England next year. For cars we don’t know, we have to go on pictures: when people tell me ‘it’s mint!’, then I usually know it’ll be anything but.’
SK: So is it safe to assume that cleanliness plays a big role in your life?
CA: ‘Certainly to do with cars it is. We’ve a German Shepherd in our house, so we have to hoover multiple times a day. The house is generally clean too. I don’t have OCD with everything but with cars, definitely. If someone shuts a door with a hand on the glass, I want to hit them. I’m one of those people where the radio has to be on level two or four, some even number – silly little things like that. I try and tell all my customers how to shut the door or tailgate properly!
‘I’ve got a bike; I’ve probably used it about four times in total. If I used it, I was going to need to find time to clean it, so it’s sat in the garage for a while.’
SK: Tell me about some of your most memorable details.
CA: ‘The negative thing with detailing is that it makes you completely blasé about the cars you do. I remember when the R8s first came out, I couldn’t wait to do one, and now it’s just an R8. Unless you’re doing something very substantial, you do think it’s just a car.
‘The Enzo detail was very good, because you had the challenge of working with thin paint which you were still able to correct, while still removing around 2% of the overall thickness. It was also the most expensive car I’ve ever had to wet sand too. We’ve done an F40 a couple of times; that’s a frustrating car because the paint is so thin you’re never fully able to correct it. It’s awesome to open the garage in the morning and smell the oil coming off of it though. To be able to say that I’ve worked on two McLaren P1s is pretty special too. While the second one (McLaren Glasgow’s car at Alford Speedfest) was really a wash and wax, it was great fun.
‘Some of the cars I’ve really enjoyed doing are more regular. Last summer we had a dark blue Jaguar XFR – it was so badly scratched that I couldn’t believe we managed to turn it around in such a short space of time. In the end, we got it perfect in four or five days. I enjoyed that one because I exceeded my expectations on that. We did some Impreza 22Bs beforehand; even one still on its original tyres from Japan. The paint comes up really well on those.
Clark sets down his coffee, clearly eager to press another point.
‘We found that when we had the shop open, it was affecting our work. If Angela or Rich was working in the shop, five or six people could turn up and I’d be taken off of whatever car I was on to help . Most customers have been really understanding about our decision to move our sales exclusively online – while it would’ve been nice to help people out with the shop, it just didn’t work well as a business decision.
‘We’re still here for advice. If you need advice on your car, make an appointment and drop in past – it still works.’
SK: So if you weren’t detailing cars, what else would you be doing for a living?
CA: ‘I couldn’t even tell you. It scares me to think about it now we’re in so deep. I’d have probably been in oil – my dad encouraged me when I was younger but it didn’t interest me. With the way that the jobs are now, I’m glad I didn’t!
‘Now I’ve found what I think I’m good at and enjoy most of the time, I can’t think of doing anything else. From September we’ll be doing paint protection and self-healing films. It’d be some sort of car cleaning role – I couldn’t make it as a footballer, after all.
‘The detailing is a showcase of what we can do with the products. Every year since the recession we’ve increased the previous year’s sales so we’ve done well. We try not to stock products that would contradict others – they all have to offer something different. We’re not a supermarket of products, but it’s harder for us to maintain that now as customers request more and more products, though.’
SK: With your 996.2 911 GT3 CS, is it more about detailing or driving?
CA: ‘It’s driven more than it gets cleaned. I just went through a set of rear tyres in about 3500 miles. We went out to the West Coast in June with torrential rain and mud – the car’s never been so dirty. I had it out three or four times after that before I decided to give it a wash. Every time I take it out of the garage I think ‘Ah, I’ll go for a drive. I can’t be bothered cleaning it.’
Thanks goes to Clark and Polished Bliss for their time and photos of Clark at work.