When the body shop was constructed and the concrete was poured, a house moving company picked up the canopy and moved it to the front of the building. Storm recalls people nearby asking, “Why is that fool putting that big canopy in front of that nice new building? Is he going to sell gas too? ...No, he isn't selling gas, but he is writing estimates in the shade when it is 95 degrees outside.”
That was back in 2009, and Storm said over the past eight years, Precision Auto Body Design has built a successful business. Autobody News talked to Storm, the owner of the body shop, about some of the unique features at the facility.
Q: How did you get involved in the collision repair industry?
A: I started working with cars 57 years ago, when I was 12 years old. I spent a lot of time at the Studebaker garage next to my dad’s black smith shop in Milbank, South Dakota. They had a one-stall body department in the back and it was a learning experience. I remember my first project well: a 1937 Chevy Coupe. Unfortunately, my dad sold the car before I completed it.
The body man gave me my first set of porta walls—you know, the white rubber ring that goes on top of a black wall tire. Actually, you probably don't know. Anyway, you usually developed a slow leak in your tires but that was okay. I also got a set of three bar spinner hubcaps for my ‘54 Plymouth two-door sedan. They were used, but really cool for a 14-year-old kid. I know where the car went but I don't know what happened to the hubcaps except for one. It's here in my office but hasn't found its way to a wall. Maybe that is because there aren't any walls left.
After high school, I moved to Huron to go to college and never left the area. While working for Farm Bureau Insurance, I had a repair shop at my home where I repaired cars during the evenings
and weekends. Later, I went to work for a GM dealership.
Q: When did you open Precision Auto Body Design?
A: In 2003, I opened Precision Auto Body Design, Inc. We started out in a small 50 foot by 100 foot rented building with one technician. Because the building was rented, we started out with a 25-foot downdraft bake booth with a basement. We did not want to put a pit in the floor and did not want to have to repair it later. We bought a new Chisum Signature Plus Five-Tower Frame machine and all of the tool boards that go with it. I have never met Lavel Chisum, but knew that I wanted to have a frame machine that he had designed. If I ever have the opportunity to meet him, I’m sure that I will recognize the hat. Even though the space was tight, we hired two additional technicians. We got a lot of work done in the six years that we were there.
Q: After outgrowing that location, you built a much larger shop. Can you tell us what it included?
A: After outgrowing that building, I designed a new 15,625-square-foot building that we moved into [in] April 2009. I designed this building in my head for years. The new construction included Geo Thermo floor heat and air conditioning for the entire facility. Two new portable prep stations were purchased from Shop-Pro Equipment. The frame rack was moved to the new location, and the paint booth was sold. Two new Global Finishing Solutions’ downdraft paint booths were purchased from Lowell Zitzloff of PBE Specialties; one is a 30 foot Ultra ATP and the other is a 27 foot Ultra Plus 1. The mix room between the paint booths includes a vestibule that connects everything together. We also purchased a Mattei Rotary Compressor and Dryer from PBE Specialties.
Q: How have you used your business sign to help promote your business?
A: When you decide on a name for your business, it is also necessary to design a sign to promote it. We feel the sign that we have has done an excellent job. It includes two reader boards. One side of the reader board is used to promote what we do in the shop as a business. Because we live in a community of 11,000 people, we use the other side of the reader board to promote activities that are going on in the community. One day a customer came in and looked at the shop and the showroom and commented, “It looks like the name of the business tells me the kind of work that will be done on my vehicle.”
A longtime friend of mine--who has passed away--painted signs and did some crazy things with neon. He once told me that in business, having no sign is a sign of no business and a poor sign is a sign of poor business. It’s a very true statement and I will never forget it.
Q: What are some of the unique features you included in the shop?
A: The building includes an 1,800-square-foot reception/showroom area with offices, restrooms and a breakroom. The reception/showroom area has various memorabilia items on display such as vintage gas pumps, air meters, juke boxes, die cast collectible tractors and cars, neon signs and much more. We have many retired customers who visit our showroom and relive their childhood experiences with stories of how they grew up learning to drive a particular model or year of car and/or tractor that they see on display.
Q: What specialized equipment have you added in recent years?
A: We have added a chassis liner midrise lift for each technician in his work area and two chassis liner Lift’N Rack frame machines for our smaller repair jobs. We have all the necessary equipment to repair the new aluminum Ford F-150. We also have an Elktron Multi-Spot Resistant welder and an aluminum-silicone bronze wire-feed welder. Our frame repair equipment now includes a Chief Laser-Lock measuring system. This system was a demo model. After a couple of days in the shop, we purchased it from Tom VanDehey of Chief Automotive Technologies. Most recently, we have added two Festool vacuum sanding stations that help keep the air in the shop clean. Wash bay and detail areas are equipped with soft water and a spot-free rinse machine to help speed up the detailing process.
Q: What process do your technicians use to repair vehicles?
A: As far as techs right now, I only have myself and two others. One is my son Phil, who does a great job, and the other has been with us for about a year and has learned the trade mostly from my son. I also have a retired body man who works every day in the winter months from 9 a.m. to noon. He does a lot of tear down, but he is 83 years old. He is a great guy to have here every day. We could really use a couple of techs right now but they are hard to find.
All our technicians are combination people. They prefer to repair each vehicle from start to finish. This slows the process somewhat, but it enables the technician to stay current with each part of the repair and refinishing process. Each is a certified refinish technician with PPG and works closely with Auto Body Specialties (ABS) of Sioux Falls, SD. ABS supplies us with all our shop supplies, paint products, and aftermarket sheet metal and bumpers.
We work on approximately 60 cars a month and may do a restoration of a classic car when time permits. I probably have approximately 20 cars of my own, as I have a passion for classic cars.
Q: What do you attribute your success to?
A: To be successful, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication from the owner and the technicians. I have the best technicians. We strive for 100 percent customer satisfaction. We are quality and detail-oriented with a job done right the first time. The workload is a little slow right now, but it is that way everywhere around here. We are still busy, and that is good.