Edgar Perez uses a steam cleaner to clean the interior of a pickup truck he is detailing on June 17, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Edgar Perez decided that by the age of 17 he wouldn’t be working for anyone else.

At age 16, Perez was working at a local detail shop learning how to clean out each vehicle’s cup holder, conditioning the leather on the seats, wiping the dust off the brakes and making it look brand new.

He said customers’ faces would light up when they would see that he had removed stains they thought would never come out.

“They’re very surprised; they couldn’t have imagined their car would even look that good,” said Perez.

Customers started asking for him by name. He recalled how one was so impressed, he cleaned out his wallet pulling out $20 bills and others that added up to a $118 tip.

Perez said he liked to take his time on each job while his boss always wanted it done “quick, quick, quick.” He asked for a raise but was rebuffed.

So, he started saving every penny to buy equipment to start his own detailing business. He was so strict about saving that he wouldn’t even spend money on a McChicken sandwich at McDonald’s. Not everyone shared his vision.

“All my friends were like, ‘Why can’t you eat out? You’re working,’” Perez recalled.

His mother was also similarly perplexed, wondering why he was spending his money on a commercial-grade vacuum, steamer, a rotary buffer and other tools he’d need. 

He said he spent a total of about $18,000 to $19,000 on equipment and a 2014 Toyota Tacoma, which he bought because it would have a good resale value if his business didn’t succeed. A month after turning 17 in December 2019, he started his own company, Luxe Mobile Auto Detail, cleaning cars, trucks, boats, golf carts and anything else. He doesn't yet have a business website, but books appointments over the phone and can be reached at (503) 586-3527.

“If you have an airplane, I can clean it,” he said. “I can do anything.”

Although he had accomplished his goal, the first few months of owning his own business were difficult, Perez recalled. He was only charging $100 to clean the interior and exterior of cars, which he said is low. The pandemic and accompanying downturn also made it hard to drum up business, he said.

“The first few months were really, really stressful. Oh my gosh,” he said. “I was basically making as much as working at fast food.”

Perez was also still a student at Sprague High School. He said he would leave for work immediately after class in the afternoon but by then the day had sometimes grown hot, making it more likely for water spots to stick when washing a car.

But after talking with his school counselor, Perez, who was current on his course work and passing classes, was able to graduate early during the spring of 2020.

Perez was also a student at the Career Technical Education Center, a partnership between the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce and the Salem-Keizer School District that seeks to give students real-world skills in agriscience, manufacturing, cosmetology, construction and others.

Valerie Fry-Ramirez, the CTEC’s business liaison, said the program encourages students’ creativity and drive. She said each student takes a different path with some going on to an entry-level job or technical or professional career. Others might start their own business, she said.

“There is no right way,” she said. “There are just opportunities.”

Perez said he used what he learned about running a business from the program as well as doing additional reading and research. Eventually, he started building a client base and moved out of his parents’ house.

Perez wouldn’t say how much he’s making currently, but it’s more than the raise he asked for.

“I never thought I’d be making the money I’d be making today,” he said.

This article was updated to add Perez's phone number.

 Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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