BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When Dave Giest opened his body shop in 1981, the traffic on Waterville Street was so sparse that he could “walk across the road blindfolded at three or four in the afternoon.”
Now, what once was called “the village with a future” has a steady stream of cars past the shop and is set to become a city. Giest laughed as he recalled a Toledo friend who chided him for opening a shop in Whitehouse 40 years ago.
“He said, ‘Who in the heck is going to come to Whitehouse to get their car fixed?’”
On October 12, the body shop will mark its 40th anniversary. It’s a milestone that both Giest and Ray Moore Jr. – a longtime employee who bought the business from him in 2008 – credit to their shared philosophy toward caring for the customer.
Standing in the office of the body shop, Giest pointed to the bulletin board, where a sign states: “If you don’t take care of your customers, somebody else will.” Another sign asks, “Who cares? We care.”
Giving personal care has been a hallmark of the shop, even if Giest admits he was more comfortable working on the cars than dealing with the paperwork and insurance companies.
As a kid, Giest said, “School wasn’t my bag.” His father had died during World War II and his mom remarried and had five daughters. The family moved a lot. It was a decision in 1961 to enroll in the Wolverine Trade School that set Giest on his career path. His certificate still hangs on the wall of the shop. For many years, he worked for Rittenhouse Motors, a Maumee body shop located where Appliance Center now resides.
“I would have stayed there my whole career, but they went out of business in 1975,” he said.
He was working for George Ballas in Toledo when a wave of layoffs hit in 1981, and he was out of a job for the first time in his life.
Having moved with his family to Whitehouse in 1972, Giest was aware that the B. Wise shop – which originally opened as Roy Barnes’ Shell station in 1951 – was sitting empty. So he contacted the owner, Wayne Fisher, and struck a deal. Giest rented the property before purchasing it in 1989.
The first vehicle he worked on was a pickup truck that belonged to his neighbor, Mike Stiff. After working the shop by himself for two years, he brought in help, but it wasn’t until 1991 that Moore joined the team.
A recent graduate of Penta Career Center, Moore heard from his instructor that Giest was looking for help. He was one of two to apply and was hired after promising that he would be available to work on Saturdays.
“When I came here, I didn’t have a lot of experience,” Moore said. “This was my first full-time job. It didn’t take long before he (Giest) had me whipped into shape.”
A photo from his first months shows Moore with long, dark hair.
“After I got it caught in a creeper a couple of times, I cut it off,” Moore said.
After working together for a while, Giest told him he’d be retiring at age 65, and they worked out a deal for that to happen.
“I decided to keep the name because it had a good reputation and I’d been in the shop for years already,” said Moore, adding that Giest has always been like a father to him.
Giest agreed, noting that Moore is like a second son to him.
Newcomers to the shop occasionally still call him Dave, but Moore has built his own reputation because of his work and his people skills, Giest said.
“Ray is more of a people person and he’s more of a businessman. I was happiest out there working,” Giest said, pointing to the bays.
Business and computer skills are increasingly necessary in an ever-changing auto body business.
Insurance companies and adjusters used to steer customers toward preferred shops, but now customers are more likely to download an app and then take photos or videos to send in for an estimate. So instead of an adjuster in the middle, shops invest more time into estimating and interacting with insurance companies and customers. The companies also put the squeeze on auto body shops monetarily.
“We fight to get $52.00 an hour and mostly its $50.00 an hour,” Moore said.
To cover the cost of overhead, employees and equipment upgrades, that hourly rate is low, the two men agree. Auto body work is a skilled trade that involves not only replacing and repairing the exterior parts but also reprogramming systems.
“You can go to McDonald’s and make more money than getting into the trade,” Giest said. I see the day when we can’t hire a good body man. That’s what’s happening to the industry.”
Over the years, auto body repair has transformed along with vehicle design, so investing in equipment and training is essential. Dave Giest Body Shop has also grown physically in 40 years, with three additions to the original building, including a paint booth in the back.
Moore is skilled at painting, so Giest quickly ceded all the painting work to his new employee early on. Over the years, he’s not only painted cars but also motorcycles, an airplane, refrigerators and even an old trash can that was made into a replica of a Coca-Cola can.
One investment that is appreciated in the warmer months is the whole-shop air conditioning that Giest installed before he retired. A sign in the window advertises it as “the coolest shop in town” for the AC, but it’s also for the attitude.
“We look out for the customer more than bigger shops,” Moore said. “We stay small and keep it simple so we can take care of our customers.”