5980 Victoria Ave., Kirkton | 519-229-6532
Custom Cool: A childhood fascination becomes a business
It started with Dad’s ’57 Chevy Delivery Sedan: the first hotrod in Dennis Dale’s childhood. And the love of all things General Motors went from there – hours gluing and painting plastic models, stacks of drag racing magazines and hot rod cartoon books, drafting and machining courses in high school (not auto mechanics, ironically), an after-school job in the wash bay at Stratford Motor Products, promotion to the lube rack, a GM-sponsored trade school program at Fanshawe College, and another eight years’ experience at the dealer.
Now sitting in the reception area of his own custom car shop in Kirkton, festooned with hotrod memorabilia, trophies, posters and photos, Dennis is clearly in his element. “Yeah, it just gets into your blood,” he says. “So creating a business and making a living at this is a dream come true.”
This is actually Dennis’ second business location – the first was in Stratford where he operated for 15 years. “I went out on my own at age 26 in October 2001 with just a floor jack and a couple of torches, and worked solo for three years,” he says. “Then business got so I could hire another mechanic who was with me for 12 years.”
TIME TO ROLL
When the landlord retired and wanted to sell, Dennis started looking elsewhere. Then in the spring of 2015 the building next door to his home in Kirkton went up for sale. “A frozen yogurt company was using it for storage, but it had bay doors, insulation and lots of room so it was perfect for me.”
However, Dennis’ bank was not keen, so he was referred to Perth Community Futures. “I hadn’t heard of them, but I talked to Meghan [Marshall] and she referred me to PF Solutions to help me write a business plan. Then I went back and got approved to buy this building. My equipment is all paid for, and my employee is getting ready for trade school.”
Dennis’ new assistant is from Monkton, started with Dennis as a co-op student and is now full-time.
“We still do routine repairs,” says Dennis. “A lot of my regular Stratford customers followed me out here. The big change is that this space lets me take on longer project work.”
Now with plenty of indoor storage, large bay doors, two car jacks and room for more, Dennis can devote more time to larger custom car projects. (He has five of his own, in various stages of completion, ranging from 1962 to ’72. All GM products). “We started last winter with six customer projects – one of them was four solid months of work.”
Often those custom cars involve replacing or altering large areas of the exterior, frame, suspension and interior, installing hopped-up engines and exhaust systems … “We do everything except paint, which we arrange to send out. But I also do custom touches and details like striping and paint effects.”
The cash flow is also a bit different. “Instead of invoicing four to seven times a day it will be more like ten a week. And I’ve gone from working eight to 10 hours a day to 11 or 12,” he says. “But it’s fun. I love it.”
Nodding to his house next door, he adds, “And you can’t beat the commute.”