A Winning Niche

Feb. 1, 2012
David Nordeen and Steve Vlaszof have achieved millions in sales, double-digit manufacturer certifications, and industry recognition through hard work, solid relationships and a tight focus on a niche market.

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.”

Clear Goals

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.”


VeriFacts Automotive recently named DC Autocraft best shop of the year, based on the independent organization’s quality standards. Farzam Afshar, chief executive officer of VeriFacts, said the collision center has been part of the Verified Quality Program for six years.

Through the program, VeriFacts confirms that the shop has all the essential tools, information and processes in place for a safe and proper repair.

“They’ve been committed to quality for many, many years,” Afshar says of DC Autocraft. “They’ve been proving themselves year after year of being extraordinary.”

To be recognized as a top shop by VeriFacts is a rare honor, he says. And winners do not apply for recognition; the organization independently chooses shops they think deserve to be acknowledged. “I would say the shops [in our] program, they’re not doing these things to be noticed. They’re doing these things because that’s in their DNA. And our job at VeriFacts is to really distinguish and expose their greatness,” Afshar says. “They’re just going along and doing what they do best, which is fix cars right.”

Afshar says DC Autocraft’s win was not based on anything besides performance. As part of the quality program, VeriFacts visits the shop unannounced and evaluates their work. “They really performed, and their intention is not to get the award,” he says. “Their intention is doing the job right. We noticed, and we’re just acknowledging them, that’s all.”

The mission at VeriFacts is “every repair done properly.” DC Autocraft personifies that message, Afshar says.

“He’s not about himself,” he says of Vlaszof, who regularly fields calls from other repairers seeking advice. “He’s really committed to raise the bar for our industry. He feels if somebody doesn’t do something right, it reflects on him as well.”

In the VeriFacts program, the term “proper repair” is not used loosely. Independent examiners look for 200 aspects of quality, and carefully examine more than 400 resources to ensure that each shop has the right tools and uses the right techniques to repair vehicles well, Afshar explains. Some aspects of quality include proper frame measuring and pulling, following the manufacturer’s repair procedures, and getting cosmetic finishes correct.

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