Daku’s Auto Body Shop: 75 Years Strong and Counting 

Feb. 23, 2024
OEM certifications and ADAS calibration business build upon the family's legacy 

Seventy-five years in business. Four generations of family involvement. Thousands of customers helped. The legacy Daku’s Auto Body Shop in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, has built is an incredibly impressive one, and they’re nowhere near finished. 

Now run by third generation brothers Richard and Robert Daku — and soon to be led by Robert’s son, Stephen, carrying it into the fourth generation — the shop was founded back when there was nothing more than fields surrounding the existing 12,000 sq. foot facility. An entire residential neighborhood has since grown all around them, serving as a constant reminder of the shop’s endurance. 

Getting to where they are today hasn’t been easy, say the brothers, but it’s certainly been worth it. Here’s a glimpse into what’s made Daku’s a success for three quarters of a century and counting. 

Growing Through the Generations 

Known lovingly by Richard and Robert as “grandpop,” Elek Daku and his wife Elizabeth founded the business in 1948, after he had worked in New Jersey for a cousin fixing military vehicles during the war. 

It didn’t take long for the business to take hold and start expanding. Soon after opening, Elek added the first addition to the back of the original building — where he and Elizabeth also lived, and which now serves as the modern-day office — in the 1950’s. Elek’s son (Richard and Robert’s father), Alex, then added to the building again when he took the business over in the 1980’s. Those additions were both eventually removed to make room for the current state-of-the-art production facility that Robert and Richard built when they assumed ownership in the early 2000s. 

Both brothers agree the shop’s success stems from a shared passion and dedication among all generations, a willingness to take risks, and an innovative, technology-forward mindset. Taking the shop from 4,500 sq. ft. to its current 12,000 is a perfect example of that, they say. 

“We knew we had to have a shop that was set up better,” recalls Richard. “We knew we had to invest this kind of money to stay alive, to stay in the business. We’ve always kind of stuck our necks out, and every day we make decisions that are a gamble…whether it’s with DRP relationships, buying equipment, or opening our in-house calibration company — OEM Calibrations and Diagnostics.” 

Richard says his grandfather shared the same kind of future-oriented mindset and was always curious about the latest technologies and where the industry was headed next. Change didn’t scare him. 

“My grandfather was always ahead of his time,” he says. “I think that's where we get it.” 

Not only did Elek do plenty of custom work in the shop, he fabricated his own tools and even patented a tool at one point. 

“He was an engineer, even though he never went to school for it,” Richard says. “He’d make and build things in the shop all the time. Back in his day, that was cutting edge. You didn't plug a computer in a car back then, you know? Even after he retired, he was still reading all the car magazines, still learning, always fiddling and building stuff in his basement.” 

“If he could see where the business is now, he’d have a smile on his face and he'd be very proud to see us keeping up with the times.” 

Alex, too, is in awe of what the business has become. “He’s amazed by what we do, by how the shop has grown,” Richard says. “And he’s incredibly proud, too.” The amount of work the shop takes in, the money that’s charged for jobs, the new technology…it’s all “amazing” to him, and he still loves to talk about the business at 83 years old during his daily visits to the shop. 

No matter who was in charge, each generation ensured that the business never went stagnant. 

“If you think where you’re at is good enough, then that’s where you’ll stay,” Richard warns.  

Daku’s forward progress has never stalled, Robert agrees. 

“You have to spend money to make money,” he echoed. “But I look at it this way…if we didn’t stay on top of this technology, we wouldn’t be able to fix today’s cars.” 

Another important takeaway from the previous generations? “You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” says Richard. “My grandfather and my father both always said that, especially in reference to insurance companies and reimbursements.” 

A Focus on Learning 

One of the largest investments the family has made in the business is equipping their shop with the latest OEM-specified tools and equipment and training their staff to achieve numerous manufacturer certifications — around ten of the “big” ones, to be exact. They’re also an I-CAR Gold-recognized shop, thanks to the heavy focus they place on education and training for the entire team. 

These certifications benefit the business in a myriad of ways, says Richard, with the ultimate benefit befalling the customer. 

“Safe and proper repairs are always our top priority,” he shared, saying that maintaining and pursuing certifications holds the shop accountable to the highest standards. Doing so not only builds confidence among customers; it also makes the shop attractive to insurance companies and differentiates them from competitors. 

“Our goal is to be as accurate as possible,” Robert says. “Around here we believe that if it’s not right, it’s wrong.” 

That’s a lesson the brothers — and their father — all learned from a young age. 

Every owner of Daku’s has mentored his predecessor, with each generation taking the next under his wing…even if it meant a young kid was “in the way” or mistakes were made. Daku’s is a place where mistakes can happen, says Robert. “You learn from them and do better next time. It’s an important part of becoming a leader.” 

“Just being here, you’re learning…you may not realize it, but you’re learning,” Robert remembers his dad and grandpa saying. 

“We were brought up in the shop,” Richard recalls. “I was around 11 when my dad started letting me sweep up on Fridays. He'd give me 50 cents, and it progressed from there. After school, we would sand a fender or something, or even get out of school early to work in the shop sometimes. We never thought of anything else other than taking the business over from my dad.” 

It’s been much the same for Stephen, who went to business school and has been learning around the shop for 20 years himself. He currently works as an estimator while being mentored by his dad and uncle to step into a management role in the next few years. 

Both brothers have high hopes for what’s to come, and full confidence in Stephen’s ability to carry the shop into the future. 

“He’s smart,” says Robert, “and he’s learning to look at the bigger picture. He’s been doing this for a long time, so he’s seen a lot. He’s got the personality to lead, too.” 

Outside the family, industry mentorship has been vital as well. The brothers credit their long-term involvement with 20 Groups as a big reason for their success. 

“I'm going to say we wouldn't be here today if we hadn’t joined our business group 25 years ago,” Robert says. 

From their laundry list of certifications to guidance during their expansion, leadership advice, continuing education, and more, there’s no part of the business that hasn’t benefited from mentorship.  

“It’s really what made us grow. It really put us on the cutting edge,” Richard agreed. 

Anyone Can Fix a Car… 

The Daku brothers were taught that anyone can fix a car, but the successful shops are the ones that prioritize customer service — and that’s exactly what Daku’s has done since 1948. 

“Taking care of our customers is huge…meeting their expectations,” Robert says. Customers are never just a number, he adds; everyone at Daku’s goes the extra mile for the customer and that leads to long-term, trusting relationships. 

“We've always had good customer service,” Richard says. “The biggest driver of our business is word of mouth. We want to make sure people leave recommending us, and our feedback is overwhelmingly positive.” 

Communication is “huge,” he continues, which is why Daku’s updates customers at regular intervals, regardless of what’s happening with their repair. “Just giving them a call means a lot.” 

This type of attention to their customers’ needs is what has kept Daku’s busy for nearly a century, with people still coming through the doors who remember Richard and Robert’s grandfather and father. 

“Who knows,” Richard muses, “maybe one day they’ll remember us, too!” 

Because Daku’s is so deeply entrenched in their community, they make it a point to give back whenever and wherever they can. 

“The community supports us, so it’s important to us to support them,” Robert says. The impressive list of sponsorships on their website is proof they do just that. It’s clear that their customers — and their community — are a top priority for the brothers. 

Daku’s customers aren’t the only ones who stick around for a long time, though — the shop has had many long-term employees, too, several of whom have been with the business for decades. Fair pay, good benefits, investments in continuing education, and a culture of appreciation are key…so is encouraging employees to enjoy a work/life balance, a lesson Robert learned from his father long ago. 

“‘Leave work at work; don’t bring it home,’” Robert’s dad told him. “I tell that to my son, too, and all of our employees.” Robert’s wife, Tina, also works in the business as an administrative assistant, so they’ve helped each other stay accountable to that over the years. “Don’t let work consume you,” he advises other shop owners. 

Looking to the Future 

During our conversation, Richard was sitting in his office at Daku’s second location, Gilboy Ford. After the dealership closed their body shop, they enlisted Daku’s help on auto body repairs. Richard spends his mornings there to avoid shuttling cars back and forth for estimates, and he says it’s a partnership that has greatly benefited both organizations. 

And while the brothers are landlocked now at their main location, both say opening another shop in the future somewhere else is always a possibility…but that will likely be under Stephen’s direction. 

For now, they want to focus on growing their calibration business, which they both agree will only continue to become more important with the introduction of autonomous cars and new, more advanced technology. 

“Cars are smarter than I am now, I like to say,” Robert quips. “They’re driving computers!” 

He wonders sometimes what his grandpa and grandma would think if they could see not only the technological advancements of cars, but more importantly the expansion of the business. 

And it’s clear they’d be excited and proud…incredibly proud, just as Alex is, and just as Richard and Robert both are of the success and longevity they’ve achieved. 

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