A Winning Niche
David Nordeen and Steve Vlaszof launched DC Autocraft about 12 years ago with a tightly focused vision: Repair high-end European vehicles.
Since then, strong relationships, deep knowledge of their industry, diligent work, and an incredible 10 manufacturer certifications have helped them grow consistently year after year. At the 2011 SEMA Show, VeriFacts Automotive named the facility best shop of the year, based on the independent organization’s quality standards.
But company president Nordeen and vice president Vlaszof say their greatest success surpasses awards.
“Our biggest accomplishment is the satisfaction of our customers,” Nordeen says. “That in itself is what makes or breaks any business.”
Nordeen and Vlaszof met through mutual industry contacts and had much in common. Both are California natives, and both had fathers who had worked in the automotive industry.
Nordeen’s expertise had been in automotive engineering, while Vlaszof’s specialty was collision repair. Together, they thought, they could create a top-notch repair facility that stood out from the competition.
“We discussed it and we got along pretty well,” Nordeen says. “We decided to basically give this segment a try, and see if we could do it … what we considered better.”
DC Autocraft is based in Burbank, Calif., a city that Nordeen jokes has more vehicles per capita than any other place on Earth. He says that to be successful, they needed a tight focus.
“Otherwise, if we try to be all things to all brands, the efforts would be diluted. It’s not possible for us with the size of our organization to be all things to all people,” Nordeen says. “You need to have your goal clearly in sight.”
Part of the plan in specializing was to gather multiple certifications from high-end vehicle manufacturers, so the shop could draw that market. Today the shop has ten certifications: Ferrari, BMW, Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Porsche, Audi and Bentley. A significant amount of technician training is required to maintain those certifications, but the payback is worth it, Nordeen and Vlaszof say.
The certifications help DC Autocraft maintain good relationships with customers. The shop’s leaders say they service customers, not just cars. And their clients often have multiple vehicles, Nordeen says.
“So a customer with a Porsche might also have a BMW or a Mercedes or an Audi,” he says.
Besides focusing on a niche, several other strategies helped Nordeen and Vlaszof grow their business:
Emphasizing quality. “There is always quicker ways to do it, but to do it right takes time, training, [and] correct parts,” Vlaszof says.
Rewarding employees. Thanking them, paying them well and investing in them with training are all ways to show your staff you appreciate them. Nordeen says they have many of the original employees from when they launched the shop nearly 12 years ago.
Maintaining close manufacturer relationships. Nordeen owns an oil and gas company in Europe, and when he travels for that business, he also visits with auto manufacturers with which the shop is certified.
Those connections are significant because Nordeen and Vlaszof learn early about trends that will impact the market. The relationships also allow the shop to get a head start on new training, which helps it offer services to customers that no one else can offer.
The training is also necessary to maintain manufacturer certifications.
“These vehicles are designed several years in advance,” Nordeen said. “We know what’s coming. [We know] what tools to order, what training is going to be appropriate for our market in the future. It allows us to develop talent in our organization so that two years from now when that technology comes … we’re prepared for that.”
Leveraging experienced staff to mentor promising workers. They work to recognize veteran, knowledgeable staff and pair those individuals with promising, newer technicians, forming an informal mentorship. “[We] try to expose our people to more and more and more training and technology, so that they are really valuable. Not only to this shop, but to the industry,” Nordeen says.
'A Professional Sport'
The challenge of continued learning—training, staying on top of trends, and listening to customers’ needs—is part of what drives the shop’s leaders.
“Challenges are what keeps you vested in the art that we have,” Vlaszof says. “So I think the challenges are just part of our daily cycle. I don’t have any one major challenge. I think collectively … that’s the appeal.”
The work that employees do also helps them maintain a level of quality recognized by VeriFacts, Nordeen says.
“This is a team sport, and it’s a professional sport,” he says. “Your investment in them with this training … that is probably the highest regard we can pay to them.”