Mr. D marches to his own drummer
Brea, Calif.—Dave “Mr. D” Chesleigh, owner of Mr. D’s Custom Paint & Body, said he got into the body and paint business because he enjoyed making cars look good and didn’t want to get his hands greasy doing mechanical work.
“When I was a kid, my dad was a UAW mechanic for General Motors, but he was also a body and paint expert, which is how I got my initial training,” Chesleigh said. “Then he went to work for Disneyland a year after it opened and eventually became foreman of the mechanical shop, where he remained until he retired.”
Chesleigh said when he was young, he and his father, Robert, had a small business called B&D Automotive in La Habra.
“Dad went by Bob, so it was B for Bob and D for David,” he said. “He’d open up the shop after he got off work at Disneyland and do mechanical work. There wasn’t anything dad couldn’t do and I was his right-hand man, but I just didn’t enjoy the grease and dirt.”
After doing some body and paint work with his dad for friends and neighbors, Chesleigh decided he wanted to go into the collision trade, so he went to work for Greg’s Auto Body.
“I started as a general flunky, sweeping up and helping the techs,” he said. “I already knew a lot but I needed more knowledge. So I watched and learned, and in 1974 I opened Mr. D’s,” he said.
Through the years the shop has moved twice and experienced ups and downs like everyone in the industry, he said. But business has been up in recent years.
“We are averaging 10 to 15 vehicles a week, many of them first-timers referred by satisfied customers, and our average repair order is $2,250.”
Chesleigh said he’s had no formal body training — all of his experience has been from working with his dad and just doing it.
“Plus reading about it if I wasn’t sure what to do,” he said. “I’ve always been a reader so I’ve studied and read the trades and everything I can about the latest trends. Now, with the internet and computers, it’s easy to find the information I need.”
Finding qualified technicians has always been a problem, he said. “Through the years, I’ve hired a few graduates from trade schools but they haven’t worked out. They come in with a box of tools and no skills.”
He said several of his techs have read collision certification tests online and answered the questions correctly, so they know the material, they just haven’t actually taken the tests and gotten certified.
“As for painting, myself and two of my techs have gone through formal training from PPG, RM, Axalta, and Matrix, and some of my guys are ASE-certified because we do all collision-related mechanical repair as well,” he said.
He and his technicians have also received training from Matrix, 3M and L&P Auto Paint.
“Larry at L&P arranged training in our shop from Matrix when we first started using their products,” he said.
Mr. D’s specializes in classic and custom restoration, but about 60 percent of its business is collision, and 10 percent is fleet work for West Coast Corvettes, Emergency Ambulance Service, Simpson Strong-Tie, Medcoast Ambulance, Mammoth Electric, and City Cycle Center, among others.
“We have a downdraft spray booth, a computerized mixing system, and we spray waterborne Matrix paint exclusively because of its ease of use, color matching, and value to the customer,” he said.
The shop also has a low-VOC acrylic urethane system, a gas welder, resistance welder, aluminum welder, plasma cutter, various diagnostic scan tools and an old-school Nedo Messfix measuring system and in-ground alignment system.
“Much of the new factory paint is actually multi-stage ‘custom paint,’ which is both good and bad,” Chesleigh said. “Good because of the luster and durability, but bad because of the time it takes and the cost of materials. However, we have no choice since that’s what the OEMs are using.”
Currently, the shop has no DRPs but works with most insurance companies, which still recommend his shop because of its reputation for quality work, earned over the past 40-plus years.
“I believe a DRP makes the shop work for the insurance company and not the insured,” he said. “I prefer working for my customers. It’s a challenge because of ‘steering’ that many insurance companies practice.”
Chesleigh said he has never done a lot of advertising, except in the Yellow Pages back when people read them. “I’ve always felt that quality work and word-of-mouth recommendation are the best form of advertising for us.”