Editor’s note: The following stories are part of
The Forum’s Kid Bosses series,
which highlights kids and teens who are already entrepreneurs.
FARGO — Some dads love to wash and wax their own cars and detail the engine with a Q-Tip.
Some dads definitely don’t.
For the latter, vehicle-detailing can be the perfect Father’s Day gift. Leave it to the experts to retrieve those fossilized French fries from between the seats and scrub out gummy cup holders.
Here, we profile three entrepreneurial teens who run their own detailing businesses: Oscar Bergeson and Ethan Pepsin of
and Griffin Cassola of
Fargo teen gives care the Top Shelf treatment
For Griffin Cassola, car-detailing was in the DNA.
As a little boy, he stowed his matchbox cars and toys in tidy rows. When he got older, he made his younger sister remove her shoes before she climbed into his car. Through it all, he grew up watching his dad, Stephen Cassola, a bit of a car buff, carefully clean, wash and wax all the family vehicles.
“I always liked having things clean,” says Cassola, a quietly conscientious Oak Grove junior. “Especially cars.”
Now he has turned his knack for pristine polishes and immaculate interiors into a side hustle.
A year and a half ago, Griffin officially launched
The name not only represents high-end service but also refers to the upper section of a hockey goal — a nod to Griffin’s own career on the ice.
The young entrepreneur has cleaned everything from a fleet of older farm trucks which had never been waxed to a $250,000 Lamborghini. He’s also spent his share of Saturday mornings cleaning out Lyft and Uber vehicles where partying customers threw up the night before.
He schedules his own appointments, markets through social media and Google Business and has made enough money to buy two posh used cars of his own — his Dad’s old BMW 328 and a rare 2003 Audi RS6.
When Griffin first opened his doors, at least one customer backed up and drove away when they realized he was a teen operating out of his parents’ garage. Now he occasionally gets a skeptical client when they see he isn’t an adult, “but once they get the car back, it’s OK,” he says.
Top Shelf’s Google page is now filled with five-star reviews and he’s currently booked out for over a month.
In the winter, the heated Cassola garage is large enough that he can do weekend jobs. But his detailing really shifts into high gear in the summer, when he spends his workweek playing hockey one day a week and cleaning cars the other four.
While Griffin’s worth ethic and eye for detail have jump-started his business, so has his price point. As Top Shelf isn’t a full-time business with multiple employees and lots of overhead, he can afford to charge 20- to 30-percent less than a large-scale operation. So an all-inclusive detail that might normally cost $500 could cost just $300 to $350 at Top Shelf.
“We want to keep it lean for the customers too,” Stephen says.
Stephen says he and his wife, Kristi, have always believed in expecting their kids to pay their own way.
So as Griffin grew older, he knew he needed to get a job. When he really thought about it, it seemed more interesting to clean cars than to work in an hourly job earning minimum wage. “I wanted to do my own thing,” he says.
Stephen filed Top Shelf’s paperwork with the state because Griffin wasn’t yet old enough to register for an LLC.
In the beginning, he also helped Griffin clean cars. But a year-and-a-half and 150 cars later, that’s no longer needed. “He has eclipsed me and my skills,” Stephen says. “He’s doing it A to Z now. It’s truly his. And the LLC would be his if he was only old enough.”
Griffin’s stamp is on every stage of the business — even in the Top Shelf logo, which incorporates a mythological griffin.
All along, he’s managed to show a thriftiness and eye for the long view which some adults could learn from. His mom says he saves “99 percent” of what he makes. Some of the money has helped him buy more professional-grade equipment, such as commercial polishers, but he also invests his money.
Griffin’s smaller, more nimble operation gives him an opportunity to interact directly with customers. After a detail, he will often go through the car with the customer — pointing out any special treatments which were needed or explaining why some paint issues were especially challenging.
He’ll also send out an email to customers a week or two after the detailing to make sure everything is satisfactory. If they find a smudged mirror or missed spot, he wants to make it right.
“We can deliver cars, we can pick cars up. Most companies won’t be able to deliver your car to your house when you’re at work,” Griffin says.
Griffin sees himself doing this through high school and perhaps during summers in college — if he does opt to attend school locally.
“I like it, it’s fun,” he says. “I make some good money. It’s a different job because you get to interact with people, so it’s a little more in-depth. You get a lot more skills.”
The Car Kings will come to you
Have suds, will travel.
That could be the slogan for two Moorhead High seniors’ new detailing business,
which will bring their pressure washers and elbow grease right to customers’ doorsteps.
The customer need only provide the water hook-up, the driveway and, of course, the car. Owners Oscar Bergeson and Ethan Pepsin will do everything else.
The idea for a mobile car-detailing business stemmed from necessity. “We don’t have the money to invest into getting a shop,” Bergeson says.
While that has limited their operating season to summer and fall, it’s also made them stand out as a business. “I think people see it as more convenient than to have to drive the car somewhere and have it there six-plus hours,” Pepsin says. “And then the next thing they know, they have to get a ride to pick it up.”
The two friends launched Car Kings last spring, after Bergeson got his own car. He headed to a local parts-supply store to buy car-wash accessories, then realized “this was something you could do for other people.”
Their first summer was like an extended soft opening. They didn’t market much and mainly concentrated on cleaning cars for family and friends.
But over time, they amped up their efforts: posting before-and-after photos on their new business page, participating in
events and reserving booths at car shows and cruise nights — where people had to share their phone numbers in order to sign up for complimentary car-wash door prizes.
Sometimes, the best advertising has been simply arriving in a new neighborhood to wash cars. One day, while working on a car in a client’s driveway, four different people came up and asked them what they were doing. Each person left with a Car Kings business card.
Their efforts have paid off. “We’ve been really busy,” Bergeson says.
At times, almost too busy. After posting about their services on
early this year, 40 people responded with requests for appointments. “That was definitely a lot to work through,” Bergeson says.
He kept his cool and stayed organized, scheduling clients through Google Calendar, double-checking that every inquiry had been responded to and using the “favorite” option on Facebook to indicate who had been scheduled.
While they will detail a car, inside and out, bumper to bumper, they get the most demand for interior cleaning.
Guided by their own experiences and the many how-to’s on YouTube, they’ve learned how to vacuum, scrub and wipe down every inch of a car’s interior. That includes cleaning the overhead headliner, pressure-washing floor mats and steam-cleaning and extracting carpets.
“It helps to be a little OCD,” Pepsin says, smiling.
They’ve already cleaned enough vehicles to learn some valuable lessons. Like the fact that wood chips and
, as both have a way of burrowing into the carpet.
The work partners charge around $250 to clean a sedan interior and $300 for the exterior as well. An SUV or truck will cost $50 more, although they are already thinking of price adjustments.
For one thing, they’ve learned a three-row SUV is significantly more work than a two-row SUV.
They can clean as many as three cars in one day, although that day might stretch from 9 a.m. to 10 at night. “The days when we do three cars — they are pretty long-winded,” Bergeson says.
Their profits go partly toward leisure, partly back into buying more equipment for the business and partly into savings. “We both like to fish, but we have a company account that we can put a percentage in every time,” Pepsin says.
“For the most part, I would consider us in the middle of spenders and savers,” Bergeson says.
Although neither one was lasered in on a specific major, both say their car wash experience has made them more interested in entrepreneurship and business.
Even if Pepsin would someday work for an employer, he says he still would want a side hustle “just to have another stream of income.”
For now, they are content to keep growing their business. Both have hopes to launch their website by mid-July, which could also be used for booking appointments.
And until then, they’ll keep manually taking appointments and making vehicles clean again.
“My favorite part is when we get done with it, having the owners see it and stuff,” Pepsin says.
“ I don’t feel like I’m laboring,” Bergeson says. “It’s fulfilling.”
To book an appointment with Top Shelf Detailing, visit
on Facebook. To make an appointment with Car Kings, visit their
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