Classic resto — by the numbers
Denver—Reading financial statements is second nature to Noah Stevens, so is restoring cars. In an unlikely combination, Stevens, a Florida transplant, has successfully shifted from corporate accounting into entrepreneurship as owner of Mile High Classics.
As a young economics graduate from Florida State University, Stevens briefly pursued his passion restoring vintage Ford Mustangs, working at a restoration shop in Jacksonville, Fla., but soon set his sights westward, moving to Colorado to work a corporate job near the mountains.
It turns out that he couldn’t stay away from cars long, and found himself restoring a Mustang in the evenings and on weekends in a rented garage, while auditing businesses’ financial statements during the day, all the while working toward earning a CPA license. “By the time I earned my CPA license, I was out of the business,” Stevens said with a chuckle.
Stevens’ accounting background proved useful in his transition to entrepreneurship.
“I would go into someone’s office and interview all the main characters,” he said, gaining insights into good management decisions that yield good results. “It has enabled me to make better financial decisions.
“It was a big risk, but I think it paid off well.”
He is now enjoying a profitable business after 4 1/2 years.
The word got out on his restoration ability, and he found himself restoring his first customer’s car, a 1967 VW bus. That evolved into a single customer giving him multiple cars to work on, enabling him to leave his accounting job and open Mile High Classics in 2013. Today, the shop’s work spans everything from fire truck restoration to classic American muscle cars from the ’40s through the ’70s.
In 2015, Stevens purchased the building that houses his shop at 325 S. Lowell Blvd. After several renovations and upgrades, he said he finally has it operating at his ideal volume.
Outfitting the new shop
The building, a former body shop, required several upgrades. John Baker, of John Baker Sales, supplied Mile High with a Garmat Tier 1 downdraft booth. Unbeknownst to Stevens, when he applied for a paint booth installation permit, the building was rezoned in 2012, causing a delay as they waited for a retro rezoning status for a spray and dipping booth.
Capital Paint and Refinish supplies the shop with BASF Glasurit, he said, a line that is excellent for matching vintage OE colors. “I can type in the color and get its OE formula. Original colors are a pretty big deal.”
The shop was also outfitted with two two-post Mohawk lifts with 10,000- and 7,000-lb. capacities. Mohawk’s piston size and use of chains, instead of cables, in the lift make it much stronger than a typical lift, he said. Additional purchases include a Quincy rotary screw compressor, new copper airlines, and T5 lighting.
No shortage of work
The majority of customers are baby boomers who want the car they saw or experienced in their youth and can now afford, which always has some sort of sentimental tie. Prospective customers find the shop through Google reviews and his website milehighclassics.com.
“There is a ton of work to do out there,” he said. “I have trouble keeping up with new customers.”
At any given point, the three-man crew works on eight cars. Currently, there are another four in queue with customers patiently waiting. Stevens said he’s looking to hire a talented technician that knows bodywork and has mechanical aptitude.
Notable builds to date include a 1946 Chevrolet fire truck restored for the town of Superior, which uses the truck in parades. Another is a complete frame-off restoration of a 1964 Chevrolet Stingray Corvette, modified with disc brakes.
Before accepting any job, Stevens said he needs to perform an accurate estimate, understand what the customer wants the finished product to be, and the budget they’re working with.
“A lot of times the car can’t move,” he said, so he conducts field estimates if the job is promising. Other times, cars are towed in.
The customer only pays for completed work and parts in stages as the project progresses, he said, helping him avoid getting behind on projects.
In house quality control
“I like to think we’re a complete restoration shop,” he said, pointing out that they do in-house upholstery and paint. “Some competitors’ projects revolve around someone else’s schedule and quality control.”
The only things they do not perform themselves are tire installation, driveshaft balancing, and engine and transmission machine work.
There’s a great sense of satisfaction when finishing a car, Stevens said. “If we do a complete restoration, I have to drive a few hundred miles in the car to see if anything is going wrong.”
Looking at year-over-year revenue, Stevens has consistently has grown the business 10 percent annually for the last four years.
Profit margins are tracked per job by looking at cost of goods versus sale price, which includes parts, paint and materials, and labor.