Colorado entrepreneur mounts comeback
Denver Automotive and Diesel Center opens with $1-million investment and years of industry experience
Denver—People rarely get second chances in life, but Joe Adessa, former shop owner and NHRA team owner, was able to orchestrate his own. Adessa’s dream of returning to entrepreneurship came to fruition in May when he opened Denver Automotive and Diesel Center (DADC) in south Denver.
After selling his first business, Southeast Automotive, in 2004, Adessa decided to focus on his racing team, J4 Racing, and driver Keith Jackson. Even though he had a good run, he said he decided to “hang up the headers” and sold J4 Racing and its assets to Jackson in 2010.
Following a short stint working as a technician, Adessa said he felt the need to have his own business again, and he used the proceeds from the sale of J4 as seed capital for a new shop.
“My wife (Jaime) and I cashed in everything to get this going,” said Adessa, who began planning last October. “My friends and family really stepped up to help me, too.”
It took an investment of $1 million, he said, to retrofit the 18,000-square-foot building that once housed an antique store, and to purchase the equipment needed to run a modern repair shop.
Fleet and diesel focus
Recognizing the need for a diesel repair shop on the south side of Denver, Adessa said he built his business plan around servicing both medium-duty trucks and import passenger diesels.
Adessa said he anticipated landing major fleet service accounts early on — and that plan has worked well.
Longtime factory-trained Ford diesel technician Patrick Chapman leads a team of four technicians in the 20-bay shop, Adessa said.
On average, fleet customers have 30-90 vehicles and need to have their trucks up and running, he said. The fleets that DADC services include a range of industries — from construction and rental car companies to landscaping and plumbing.
Drivers really beat up the trucks, he said, but it’s not uncommon for many of them to run for 250,000 to 300,000 miles. So DADC does, among other things, a lot of flushes, everything from brakes to transmissions.
Adessa said his building was reconfigured with the help of an architect to include a service drive, where customers are greeted by General Manager Tommy Lee, who Adessa came to know through racing and a previous business relationship.
Performing collision repair work was a part of the initial business plan, he said, but that didn’t come to fruition due to city zoning restrictions for new collision repair shops. But Adessa said he plans to try to include collision at an off-site location in the near future.
Given the volume of diesel trucks that the shop works on and the quick turnaround that fleet customers demand, Adessa said he keeps $500,000 in parts inventory on-site, mostly supplied through AutoNation’s Parts Center. “The goal is to use all factory parts,” Adessa said, especially for Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet trucks.
For import OE parts, WORLDPAC is his preferred supplier, Adessa said, adding that the shop also specializes in Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi.
Colorado Petroleum supplies the shop with Castrol oil, he said, with manual levers at each technician’s station.
Equipping the shop
Adessa said he selected Mark Gibson, owner of Gibson & Co., to supply service equipment because “he listened to me and understood what I needed.” He added that he wanted only one vendor to do everything.
Approximately $400,000 was spent on shop equipment, he said, with key purchases being 10 Challenger lifts, ranging in size from 10,000 to 15,000 pounds, and a four-post lift used in tandem with a Hunter HawkEye alignment machine. The lifts were painted a custom gray color that nearly blends in with the walls for an aesthetically appealing look.
Other notable equipment includes a Hunter tire balancer and changer; three on-the-car brake lathes; OTC jacks, a hydraulic press, and lifting equipment; RTI flush equipment; a Devar air compressor; and two Robinair A/C RR machines, one for regular vehicles and one for hybrids.
The shop uses Ford’s IDS laptop-based scan tool in tandem with a VCMII J2534 device for reprogramming, Adessa said.
Technicians also use their own scan tools, Adessa said, and the shop has subscriptions to several automakers’ service information websites.
Aiming to appeal to families and high-end diesel clients, Adessa and his architectural firm carefully designed the layout of the building.
The spacious showroom features a coffee bar, TV viewing area, a kids’ room, and a “serenity room,” complete with leather seating and a simulated waterfall — all in a calming color scheme of black, white, and state blue.
The concrete floor in the showroom was stained and polished and features several DADC logos. The shop floor also was polished and sealed, so it remains clean and resistant to stains.
The showroom is large enough to house several cars, one of which is a 1979 Chevy Camaro, which was completely restored and is for sale, he said.
Advertising and marketing
Helping to promote the shop on social media sites and using traditional marketing methods, such as direct mail, is in-house transportation and marketing manager Alton Wu.
A recent direct-mail piece targeted 5,000 vehicle owners in several zip codes surrounding the shop, he said. It simply let people know that the shop has opened and that Adessa is back in the repair business.
People who brought in the mailer to the shop received a $5 Starbucks gift card, which allowed Adessa and his team to track the response. Upon arrival, all customers are greeted in the reception area by Taylor Anhouse, he added.
Another method to attract new customers is through oil-change discounts offered through Amazon Local and Groupon. Although the oil changes are not profitable, he said they get cars in the shop, and often those cars need additional work, Adessa said.
A sandwich-board sign on the sidewalk featuring the diesel passenger makes that the shop works on has drawn quite a few customers, Adessa said. Since 65,000 vehicles drive up and down East Evans Avenue each day, he said he banked on attracting a high number of new customers this way.
The shop’s employees look professional in their uniforms, thanks to Service Uniform, in Englewood, which also designed the DADC logo, Adessa said — a great bonus to doing business with them.