Shop Life Repairer Life

Running a Family Operation

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Dailey’s Body Shop has always been a family-run operation. Growing up in Cynthiana, Ky., Tom Dailey worked with his father in the shop before eventually taking it over. Now, he works alongside his wife, daughter and son. And while Dailey says working with family isn’t easy, he’s learned a few things over the years that have contributed to his continued success.

My father started the body shop here in Cynthiana close to 50 years ago. Because my dad did business in this town for years, everybody knew him. I was born and raised here and everybody knows my family.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of school in the afternoons to go to the shop and work on cars. Once I graduated from high school, I realized my love of cars is where I wanted to be. It’s been ongoing from there and we’ve been in the business ever since.

It’s a tradition that we’ve really kept. We’re family oriented and I think a lot of people enjoy that. There are a lot of people who do business with their family, but not everybody can get along doing that. That’s something we’re really proud of.

I’m usually the first one here in the morning, and I start my day by feeding our four shop dogs. They greet all my customers. Ninety-nine percent of customers like my dogs and I’ve found through the years that the one percent who don’t are usually the people I end up not doing business with. I always joke that these dogs are very good judges of character.

Cynthiana is a small town—only about 12,000 people—so there are a lot of people here I’ve known my whole life. We’re located right downtown, so before we open, some of the locals will stop in and have a cup of coffee. We shoot the breeze and talk about what’s going on the police scanner and if there are any opportunities for towing. Just taking the time to sit and talk with them for a little bit is a nice way to form relationships and keep that family-oriented feel that we like and our customers like.

Once my son, daughter and wife get here, we have a brief meeting about what we’re doing and what’s on tap for the day. Then we hit the floor running.

I have four kids and two of them work here at the shop with me: my daughter, Tomi Jean, is the painter, and my son, Dexter, is the lead bodyman and welder. My wife handles all the front office and talks to the customers. And we have two other employees in the shop as well—a total of six of us.

SPECIFIC ROLES: Tom Dailey's son Dexter, top, works as a body technician; wife Teresa, center, runs the front counter; daughter Tomi Jean, bottom, is a painter. Photos by Jessy Biddle Photos by Jessy Biddle

My kids grew up in the shop. Tomi’s first word was “car.” I can remember her running around the shop as a little girl and Dexter pushing the broom around in high school.

It was actually really organic how they started working in the shop. About nine years ago, I had this wrecked red Eclipse that I bought from someone. Tomi always wanted a pink car and I told her, that’s the one but you’ve got to work on it. That was our first project.

I learned everything I know from my dad and know that everything—all the little tricks that you can only learn from experience—has been passed down to me. I remember going in and showing her how to do a fender, for example, and then turning her loose.

Once I saw her use the paint gun, I knew she was going to be a natural. Both her and Dexter were so smooth with it. They’ve both got a natural rhythm and they picked up painting almost automatically. I’ve trained other employees through the years and you can tell pretty quickly whether someone’s going to be a good painter or not.

Interestingly enough, that turned out to be her favorite, whereas Dexter didn’t like the pressure of the paint booth. He decided he wanted to focus on bodywork and welding, so he went to welding school and got his degree.

Usually in every shop, everybody wants to be a painter. Originally I thought I was going to have problems, but they both decided what they liked pretty quickly and that cured any battling amongst us.

I am pretty relaxed about my approach to the roles. Like I said, it’s been organic and I never try to push anyone into a certain role. That way, it’s been really natural.

For example, Tomi has really taken a liking to our towing services. About four years ago, she became a certified towing operator. We’re up to three trucks (including a big one for semis) and it’s opened up a lot more jobs to us. When we can go to wrecks and say we also own a body shop, you have a lot more of a chance convincing that customers that you can do a good job and start on their car ASAP.

Working with family is not easy. It takes a lot of patience. Early on, there was a little tension amongst us because it was my way or no way. You probably could have had one of those reality shows about us. I learned to step back and listen to them. Now, if they come up with an idea, we’ll discuss it and if we have time, we’ll try it both ways to see who’s right. It’s really opened up discussion in the shop a whole lot more and we work a lot better now. We’re all headstrong people, so when you put all of us in the same room, there’s a lot of trying to figure out the right way. We’ve gotten to the point now where we can communicate.

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT: Dailey learned the business from his father, who founded the shop more than 50 years ago. While he still occasionally helps out back, he owns and manages the business today, focusing on allowing each team member to carry out their respective roles. Photo by Jessy Biddle

You’ve also got to learn that work is work and family is family. That can be hard to separate sometimes. You’ve got to leave what happens at work there and continue on with family life or else you can’t function. It’s taken time to figure out. Now, the whole staff eats lunch together every day. On the weekend, as a family we usually pick out something to do on the weekend together. We still do a lot of personal project cars, and that’s a way for us all to work together.

There can also be a lot of pressure being a family shop. Of course you worry about your employees and keeping them busy, but when you employ almost your whole family, it becomes another matter. We have to keep it going because we’re all in this together.

That’s where the benefit of being a family-owned shop is, though: We’re always here for each other. Tomi and Dexter plan on taking over the shop when I’m ready to step back. That’s something we are always thinking about and even though it’s a ways down the road, I’m trying to prepare them. We all pretty much know how to do everything in the shop, so if anything ever happens, it wouldn’t be a disaster to switch.

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