Portland shop owner takes business to Mt. Angel and brings customers with him
Mt. Angel, Ore.—Bill Dallas and his wife, Suzy, sold their home and collision shop in Portland, Ore., in 2015 to move about 40 miles south to care for an aging parent. As it turned out, a building in the area that had been a body shop since the 1940s was for sale, so they opened Mt. Angel Auto Body, employing two of their former Portland shop’s technicians and drawing in work that includes their previous customers.
“We still do a lot of collision work out of Portland,” Bill Dallas said, pointing out at least four cars in the shop that belong to clients from the 14 years at his previous shop, East Portland Auto Body. “If they live anywhere on this south side of Portland, the drive down here is better and there’s not much time difference than crossing town.”
Dallas said the pleasant commute from Mt. Angel to Portland or Salem has the town’s population of about 3,500 people growing. He lists several housing developments in the area that have or will soon break ground on 25 to 50 new homes each. He’s purchased several commercial properties and one lot he hopes to develop in town.
“It’s pretty comfortable here, and it’s only going to get better,” he said.
Dallas spent more than two decades as a painter for a dealership in Portland before opening his own business, and he still does much of the paint work at his shop. He’s used PPG refinish products since the mid-1980s, and also has been a longtime customer of his jobber, Industrial Finishes. The shop’s parts vendors have changed somewhat since the move to Portland to Mt. Angel. Among the best, Dallas said, is the Capitol Auto Group for GM, Subaru and Toyota parts.
“They do a really good job for us, they really do,” he said.
One large non-OEM parts distributor will no longer sell to the shop because of how many of those parts the shop rejects.
“But that’s OK, because I can buy them from another vendor if I want them,” Dallas said. “I don’t mind using those parts when they’re good. There are times when there’s nothing wrong with them. But there’s times when there is.”
The company’s business is about equally split between collision repair work and restoration or repair of classics and muscle cars, some of which end up at the Barrett-Jackson auction. He said he gets some collision assignments through CCC Information Services’ “Open Shop,” and the shop also does work on buses for the local school district.
“We try to be part of the community,” Dallas said, noting that he’s served on the board of the local chamber of commerce and is a volunteer firefighter. “We advertise in some of the local papers, mostly because I’d like to see them stick around. People say it’s smart for businesses to be part of the community, but we do it to give back. Suzy grew up around here, and we’ve done OK. We are involved to give back.”
The shop is about 3,300 square feet but the one-acre lot allows for several multi-vehicle car ports, including one with a used Continental rack Dallas purchased to supplement the two racks he already had. He also recently added a Pro Spot welder for aluminum and silicon bronze, and is considering an update to the shop’s scanner.
“We have a scanner that can do most of it, and for what we can’t do, there’s a gentleman in town here who we go to,” Dallas said. “Taking a vehicle to the dealer is the last resort. I want to scan everything, because that’s what OEMs say to do. But insurers sometimes pushback on that and on all those systems that need to be repaired.”
Dallas views insurers’ resistance to rate increases as one of the biggest challenges for his business and the industry.
“The cost of materials goes up regularly, yet insurance companies won’t pay us any more for materials,” he said. “Labor costs continue to go up, but we can’t get raises in our rates. It’s very difficult to pay your techs a living wage when someone is paying you only $52 or $54 an hour.”
The shop has two technicians and a part-time employee, and Dallas said he could use another technician.
“But it’s so hard to find somebody, and sometimes it’s not worth advertising,” he said. “Unless they walk in the door, I’m not actively looking, because every time I have, those people don’t work out.”
Dallas said his advice to younger shop owners would be to make sure they invest in the real estate.
“Owning the property is the best decision I made,” he said. “If you own the business, you should own the property.”
He said semi-retirement is in the not-too-distant future. He plans then to scale back to about 10 hours a week, but will be turning the reins over to Steve Miller, a technician who has worked for Dallas for about 11 years.
“Steve is eventually going to take over the shop and it’ll be his,” Dallas said.