Progressive practices lead to recognition for Western Slope shop owner

Glenwood Springs, Colo.—Dave Malehorn, owner of Professional Auto Body, is not above seeking the advice of others. So he has surrounded himself with individuals who help him improve his business and the Western Slope communities that he has served for the last 27 years.

“I don’t often look behind. I’m always charging forward trying to improve,” said Malehorn, who takes pride in having been honored with a Torch Award for Ethics by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Northern Colorado and Wyoming earlier this year. His shop was one of five recipients of the award, including Metric Motors in Loveland, Colo.

In a recent interview with Parts & People, Malehorn reflected on the business practices that led to his shop’s recognition by the BBB, and several other awards over the years.


Are you OK?

A simple, yet meaningful question that each customer is asked upon walking into Professional Auto Body is, “Are you OK?”

Malehorn said that motorists needing the services of a collision repair center have recently experienced fear, anger, or frustration following an accident. A simple act of extending concern for the customer’s well-being, he said, goes a long way toward “healing” the customer. Statistics show that a typical driver gets into an accident only once every seven years, he pointed out.


Valuing employees

Although Malehorn, 51, is not close to retirement age, he said he is able to come and go from his business with confidence, thanks to Shop Manager Phil Pich and the 12 employees he oversees. Pich is a valuable employee whom Malehorn plans to position to eventually become a shareholder, then owner. 

“I give employees the power to make decisions,” Malehorn said. “I’m all ears when they come up with great ideas.”

As an example, the shop was experiencing wasted time locating keys for vehicles in for repairs. One day, someone suggested that a key board be created, mirroring the layout in the shop. Small improvements such as this, Malehorn said, aid in efficiency.

“My business is what it is because of the people I surround myself with,” he said. “To have that consistency with my employees allows me to have consistency with my business.”

Employees receive ongoing training as needed, Malehorn said, and they also participate in profit-sharing. If an employee is underperforming, he said he approaches them and asks how they can be better supported, suggests additional training, and ensures they have the tools to succeed.


Change presents opportunity

Malehorn compared the many changes that collision repairers face with insurance partners to Hendricks Motorsports team and the annual rule changes that NASCAR forces on them.

Rather than resist change, a Hendricks Motorsports official told Malehorn that they focus on areas that are not addressed by the rulebook, creating an advantage for their team.

Malehorn later implemented this way of thinking in his shop.

“My office staff looks for opportunity after change, rather than trying to stop the tide,” Malehorn said. By focusing on where the opportunity for profitability is, stress levels are greatly reduced, he added.

For example, he said, his staff used to resist using like-kind-and-quality parts, seeking out price-matched OEM parts when they could. Now, since aftermarket quality has improved, the staff simply uses what the insurance carrier specifies, and makes up profit margins in other areas on the R.O.


Embedded in the community 

 Michael Chandler, owner of Chandler Marketing Co., Professional Auto Body’s advertising agency, once told Malehorn to embed himself in the community when he advertises on radio and television.  This is a marketing method he outlines in his book Dream Weaving, Malehorn said.   

To this end, most of Malehorn’s radio ads champion community causes. One that he says is near and dear to his heart is raising funds for the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society. Malehorn’s wife, Polly, and his daughter, Emily Miskiewicz, have both been diagnosed with MS.

In addition to supporting youth programs and several other nonprofit organizations, Malehorn said he partners with Enterprise Holdings Foundation and has secured grants for many organizations, including Family Visitors, Youth Zone, Bullyproof Outreach, and Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts.


Branding with a bluesman

The official corporate branding for the shop is “Big Jake,” a fictitious bluesman who dons black attire, a fedora, and sunglasses and is played by Malehorn’s brother-in-law, Victor Wells.

The ads have been running for so many years, people will even come into the shop expecting to see Big Jake, Malehorn said with a chuckle.

Actual incidents with customers’ vehicles are often the premise on which the ads are based. For example, a deer fell from a railroad trestle and landed on the hood of a customer’s car. After that ad aired, a customer called in to say she was appalled and would never do business with the shop. “Some people love it, some hate it,” Malehorn said with a shrug. 

Other forms of marketing include in-person visits with insurance agents and dealerships, and coordinating events with continuing-education provider Fifth Gear.

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.