Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth. Today’s installment is brought to you by VidSummit.
Jessica Tran thought she was too old for TikTok.
As the founder of and sole car cleaner extraordinaire at her business JT Mobile Detailing, she’d had to get on Instagram to promote. She’d gotten some decent feedback to her Stories and short videos, which made her wonder if she could do even better by filming longer videos showing full car cleanings. TikTok was blowing up, but she was convinced it was for the younger crowd and that, since she didn’t have fancy camera equipment, “it was out of my depth and that it wasn’t something I should consider.”
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Then she got a car in that went beyond her usual cleanings. It was a “disaster detail,” she explains–the industry term for cars that need deep, deep cleanings, usually due to things like accidents with lots of broken glass, years of dirt buildup, trash hoards, or biohazards like blood. Tran figured if there was any cleaning she was going to record in full, it should be this one.
“I recorded that Saturn, I cut it up, and edited it. then I was like, you know what? Let’s just put it out there and see what happens. I finally downloaded TikTok, I posted it, and then it took off,” she says. “It’s been a really cool ride ever since.”
That “really cool ride” has completely transformed Tran’s business. Where she was once a one-person, mobile show with no home base, she now has a full-fledged brick-and-mortar location and six employees. All of this has grown JT Mobile Detailing’s revenue by five or six times the $80,000-$100,000 she was making per year by herself, she says.
With TikTok driving major traffic, Tran plans to keep her company going steady, and is in the market to finally buy her dream car: a 1989 Toyota Cresta.
We’ll let her tell you the rest below.
@jtmobiledetailingGot a pretty gross full interior detail being featured on my Instagram stories right now: tranjessica11♬ original sound – Jessica Tran
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: Very cool to get to talk to you! I’m familiar with you and with your videos, but pretend someone’s reading this and doesn’t know you. Give me a little background about where you’re from and how you got into cars.
Jessica Tran: My name is Jessica Tran. I’m from Huntington Beach, California. I’m a car detailer. I guess at this point, I would consider myself a little bit of a TikToker, but I got into cars out of just, like, a high school job. It’s weird, when I talk to other car detailers in the industry, I don’t really fully feel like I’m a car person. I feel more like I’m a cleaner. I love cars, but I talk to people and they’re like, “Oh, have you seen the new so and so, blah blah blah with this engine?” I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but what I do know is I love cleaning whatever car you’re talking about.”
I got into it as a high school job and it kind of blossomed into a career. Wasn’t super intentional, but I’m stoked with how everything’s turned out.
Tubefilter: When did TikTok become a part of this?
Jessica Tran: I think I joined TikTok two years ago or so. I’ve always been active just for promoting my own business. It was necessary for me to document these things on my Instagram, and so I just posted the cars I did. I’d post before and afters on my Instagram story. My friends kept saying, “”Oh, I ran into so and so from high school and they said, oh my god, your Instagram stories are so satisfying.” That gave me the idea that maybe I should consider documenting a full car. Still never did it because I don’t know anything about filming. I don’t know if you know this, but all of my TikToks, all of my content, is just filmed from my phone. I don’t actually have a camera or anything. So I just felt like it was out of my depth and that it wasn’t something I should consider.
One day I got this Saturn. It was a 2006 Saturn Ion. It was a “disaster detail,” is what we call it in the industry. I was like, you know what? If I’m going to film something, I should film this. I filmed it and I sat on it, didn’t do anything with it. I actually felt like I was too old for TikTok. I only knew about TikTok because my friends were on it. I felt like it was a really kind of like middle school, high school app. I didn’t know that I could be successful on this app. I wasn’t even watching any videos on the app.
I don’t know what happened. I recorded that Saturn, I cut it up, and edited it. then I was like, you know what? Let’s just put it out there and see what happens. I finally downloaded TikTok, I posted it, and then it took off. It’s been a really cool ride ever since.
Tubefilter: Tell me a little bit more about what a disaster detail is, for people who aren’t familiar.
Jessica Tran: It’s cars that are absolutely wrecked. I would say if it were tan seats, we’re now black. It’s the worst-case scenario for cleaning, but those are super satisfying to watch because you get the best transformation out of those. It’s pretty much either a hoard of trash or it’s a 30-year-old car that’s never been washed. It’s just caked in decades of grime, human blood, dog vomit, shattered glass.
Tubefilter: How much of your business is that? How often do you get a car like that?
Jessica Tran: Oh, hardly ever. Rare. When I got that Saturn, I was like, I’m not going to get a car like this ever again. Since that Saturn, I had two disaster details in my life, in my whole career.
Tubefilter: What’s an average day for your shop?
Jessica Tran: The average day is a lot of just, like, maintenance details. Maybe one ceramic coating here or there. A lot of standard details, which is like a wash, clay seal. I think the average detail that I do ranges between $300 and $500. It’s pretty much just maintenance, like standard stuff, nothing too crazy.
@jtmobiledetailing Replying to @sunflowersierra ♬ original sound – Jessica Tran
Tubefilter: How do you choose which ones to film?
Jessica Tran: Honestly, it’s up to the customer. Before I had a really big platform, I was just filming everything because I wanted content. I had more time on my hands, so I could film a lot of the cars I was doing. Now with this full-grown business that TikTok has given me…I’m doing today, on the docket, at least six cars. It’s just impossible for me to film all six. It just depends if I like the customer when they drop off and we hit it off and they’re super sweet and they ask for a video. Yes, sure, why not?
It’s weird because I feel like content in detailing, it’s a two-way street. You do need consent from the customer. If the customer wants one, I’ll probably film. If the customer is really cool, really genuine, and I really like their personality and they’ve got a cool car to go with it, then I’ll film it.
Tubefilter: You have people ask you to film their cars?
Jessica Tran: Oh yes, I’ve had, I think about 10% of the people will put in their little submission form for getting a detail and they’ll put in the notes like, “Will this one be on TikTok?”
Tubefilter: That’s really cool. Do you happen to know do you know how much of your customer traffic comes from seeing you online versus what other marketing and just existing as a shop?
Jessica Tran: I’m sitting in my office right now. I opened it a year ago. I signed the papers on June 1 exactly. Before I opened this studio, when it was just me and I didn’t have staff and it was mobile, it was like none of it was from TikTok because I was at my capacity with word of mouth. Then when I opened the studio, I got staffing. With six people on staff, we can do a lot more cars. I would say the numbers completely flipped. I would say, like, 90% of my business is TikTok-generated from people viewing my videos. Then the other 10% is my existing customers previously. Then word of mouth from TikTok, the people who found me on TikTok, they’ll tell their friends and they’ll bring their cars in.
Tubefilter: Congratulations on the office! How much are you doing in terms of actually detailing cars yourself and then doing content on top of that? What is your split of stuff, especially now that you’re managing a team?
Jessica Tran: I’m still touching almost every car. I just don’t do an entire car from start to finish in its entirety that much anymore. This morning, I did a car in its entirety start to finish, but for the most part, I would say I still touch pretty much every car, but for me to do an entire detail, that’s, like, less than 1%. That’s like when I need to film it, then that’s the car that I’m doing.
Tubefilter: Do you think you would have gotten here with your business without TikTok?
Jessica Tran: Oh, absolutely not. There’s no way. I was at capacity for myself when it was just me, and a person can only do so many cars a day. As a single person, I was maxed out anywhere from two to three cars a day. There is no way I could have done the volume that we’ve done this last year if I did not have the staffing, if I did not have TikTok to generate the cars to bring in to fill the schedule for the staffing. When it was just me and I was just working out of my truck, I think I was probably realistically capped at making, like, $80,000, $100,000 a year. There’s no way I could have done more because there’s not enough time for a single person to do that kind of volume.
Tubefilter: What do you do now, if you don’t mind? What does the shop do? You don’t have to say if you’re not comfortable.
Jessica Tran: This first year we have so many write-offs, but it’s definitely five to six times as much.
Tubefilter: That’s awesome. How did you source people to hire?
Jessica Tran: These are acquaintances in the industry that I knew of. A buddy from high school. We weren’t friends in high school, but you’re like acquaintances, mutuals on Instagram. He was a detailer, so I reached out to him and said, “Would you want to detail for me?” He didn’t have a super high workflow, so he’s like, “Yes, actually, I’ll come aboard.” Then there was another detailer that I reached out to. He came on. And two of them actually were customers.
They brought their cars in and I don’t know if they had…I probably should have asked them, but I don’t know if they had detail experience and just became a customer to meet me to get their name in or what happened, but the two of them were actually customers, I actually worked on their cars. Then months later when I said I was looking for more staff, they were like, “Hey, you did my car months ago. I don’t know if you remember, but I would love to work for you.”
All the staffing came very organically. It was just people we knew and people that we had already established, not a relationship, but I guess like an internet relationship, like social media relationship with.
Tubefilter: Do you have anybody working on videos with you?
Jessica Tran: No, that’s still all me.
Tubefilter: Is that working for you or are you looking for help on that side too?
Jessica Tran: It is working for me to a certain point. I would love to bring someone in because, like I mentioned, I film everything on my phone. I don’t have a lot of experience with videography and editing or anything. I would like to take my videos to the next level and give it more of a polished feel. I would like to bring someone on, but it’s really hard because I feel like I’m not good at verbalizing the idea I have in my head, so I don’t know if I could get them to film it and edit it exactly how I’m picturing it in my head.
@jtmobiledetailingPeep Car Supplies Warehouse for detail supplies and peep my cap for a gross sweat stain♬ original sound – Jessica Tran
Tubefilter: Got you. I feel like everybody hits that threshold where they’re like, “Man, I have to bring somebody in. I have to teach them how to think like me and edit like me.” Then it’s a whole thing. Do you have any other goals or plans for this year?
Jessica Tran: No, I think we’re happy with where we’re at. We’ve finally found our groove after a year. I think a couple months ago it really hit like, oh, we’ve got a system in place and everybody knows what we’re doing and everybody is comfortable. There’s not many challenges that come up that freak anybody out anymore. I don’t know, I feel like we’ve really fit into our flow, and as far as other goals, personally, I can’t say that I’m looking to expand the business any more because running a business is like the worst thing in the world. [laughs] I think I’m happy with where it’s at now that I’m comfortable. I have really small personal goals. My dream car is $5,000. I could buy it today if I wanted to.
Tubefilter: What is it? I’ve got to know.
Jessica Tran: It’s a 1989 Toyota Cresta.
Tubefilter: Oh, a Cresta. They have such a look.
Jessica Tran: I could find one right now for $2,500, $3,000, and then put $2,000 into it and build it out to be what I want it to be. I don’t dream of owning a G-Wagon or a Porsche. I don’t really have a big drive to make this business any bigger than it is.
Tubefilter: Totally. My first car was a 2002 Saturn SC2 and I wish I’d never sold it. It also had such a look.
Jessica Tran: I know! Looking back, I wish I held onto my first. It’s weird, your first car is such a junker. You can’t wait to upgrade and be like, “I want to make it big, I want to be successful, and I want to be able to afford a nice car.” Then you get there and then you’re like, “You know what, I miss that first little one.”
Tubefilter: Right? I miss that little car! Don’t let anybody talk you out of a Cresta.
Jessica Tran: No, that’s the goal. I need to find one without any rust and then I’m willing to put $1,000 into it to restore it.
Tubefilter: Can’t wait to see it when you do. My last question for you, I wanted to highlight that you’re on TikTok’s first API Visionary Voices list. What was that experience like for you?
Jessica Tran: Honest, it was super surreal. I don’t feel like my content is very…”polished” would be the word that I keep thinking of, because I look at a bunch of other creators and they’re doing such good stuff and so I didn’t feel…It was a big shock to me that I was being considered because I was like, “I do all this stuff on my phone.” I see myself as a trade worker. It’s interesting. It was an incredible honor to be recognized. Like, “Hey, you’re making content that is influential and inspiring enough for us to consider you.” Then to name you the API Visionary Voice…It was weirdly validating and scary at the same time that like, okay, I’ve hit this level, but also I feel good that my content has a value to it.
Tubefilter: It does! Congrats on making the list. Is there anything else you want readers to know about you?
Jessica Tran: No, I don’t know. I feel fairly transparent in my videos, so I feel like if you wanted to know anything else, if you just watched, it’s weird. I know I make car detailing content, but if you watch the videos, I talk about myself a lot. If you want to get to know me and watch some satisfying car detailing clips, I guess just head on over to the TikTok channel.
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