Built on Integrity
Dave Harvath left a handful of tech positions in search of work in an honest shop. When he couldn’t find one that truly put customers first, he decided to open his own.
Harvath learned the trade the hard way, and gained his desire for honest, customer-centered service by watching failed repairs take food off his family’s dinner table as a kid. Now, the owner and lead technician at D&D Automotive Services in Stevens Point, Wis., Harvath has used his life experiences to build a quality auto shop, and a high-performance service center.
Growing up in a single-parent household, it was my mom, me and five brothers and sisters. I was a middle child but I made a lot of the decisions. From the time I was 10 years old, I had a full-time job and went to school.
I would accompany my mom to the repair shop. I saw the way they treated her and I didn’t like it. My mom would pretty much take food off our table to pay for those repairs. There was no worse feeling for me than for us to get the car back and have the same issue come back a few days later.
I remember hearing my mom cry at night because of the repairs and the stress, so I started tinkering with our car when I was 14. With the help of some family friends, we took care of the car and I began to learn more.
The integrity that my family needed when I was young has always been my mentality, and what shapes the way my shop runs now. It’s about the customers and making sure we’re taking care of them.
Our check-in process is where it starts. It’s personal, thorough and helps both our shop and the customers. When a customer comes into our shop, they’re greeted by either myself or our service advisor. We then get their information, or have them fill out a new customer information packet, that includes questions about their knowledge of the vehicle’s service history. Then we go out for a walk-around:
Step 1. I go around the vehicle with the customer, looking at the tire condition, wiper blades and any body damage to the vehicle. I point those out so we know we’re on the same page. I generally try to be positive with the customer, encouraging them if they’ve done a good job maintaining the vehicle.
Step 2. Then I have the customer sit inside the vehicle and operate different systems. I start with the hood release, because you’d be surprised how many men and women don’t know where the hood release is in their vehicle. It’s a good opportunity to show them, and let them know it’s important to know if they were to have any issues on the road.
I have them operate all the lights, blinkers and horn. I ask them if there are any warning lights on their dash or if they’ve had any check engine lights, or other big concerns.
I have them start the vehicle while I listen for noises, belts squealing or anything else. After they turn it off, I do a visual inspection. All the while, I’m talking to the customer, pointing out parts that look like they’ve been replaced or letting them know if I see anything that might be a concern.
Generally, I’ll ask them to get out of the car and show them what might need to be addressed, like a serpentine belt. I’ll let them see what is wrong, cracks and wear, and show them what a good belt looks like. Cabin air filters are a big thing, and most don’t know they have them. When you pull out a cabin air filter with mice nests and dirt, they get repulsed, but are usually amazed.
Step 3. Then I get in the car with them. I take notice if there are car seats in the vehicle and ask about their families. I try to find out about people, and feel like I can make the best recommendations if I know about them. A single mom with seven kids is on a tighter budget than a working married couple driving new cars.
I learned the hard way. I never took a shop class in school because I thought those classes were for dummies. I always thought technicians were beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking, high school dropouts. My goal was to get an education, go to college, become a lawyer and be able to support my mom and family. I graduated valedictorian and had a scholarship for law school.
However, the summer before college, I found a job cleaning floors at a truck shop to help pays the bills. As the guys were working on vehicles I started talking to the technicians and helping them diagnose engine problems.
That’s when I got the nickname, Dyno Dave. The boss got wind of it and talked to me about my interest in repairs, saying I was a natural. So, I started doing the light repair work on diesels.
Once, I was changing the oil on a semi truck, and while I was pouring the oil into the top with my second 5-gallon can, one of the guys walked by and said “Hey Dyno, you’ve got a leak.”
I had forgotten to put in the drain plug. I asked him what to do. He said, “Get down under there and put your finger in the hole.” So I did it, and asked him to get the drain plug for me. He said, “No, figure it out.” Each guy that walked by just said, “No, figure it out.”
I probably laid underneath that truck for 25 minutes. I was ticked, full of oil and soaked clear through. Finally I said screw it, ran out from under the truck, grabbed the plug, slid back under and put in the plug. After, I went over to the first guy and asked, “Why didn’t you help me?” He said, “Because now, you’ll never forget to put in the drain plug.”
It was a learning experience that has always stuck with me. I learned to be thorough and precise in my work, and that it was important to be held accountable for the repairs you make.
On my last day, before I was going to leave to go to college, my boss asked me if I was interested in being a technician. It was a tough decision, but I knew that taking the job would help provide for my mom and family.
I later went to work for a local dealer. I was his only mechanic at the time and I waited two years before asking for a pay increase. My boss denied me a raise and said, “No, you’re just a mechanic, you’ll never be nothing more than a mechanic.” I quit the next day. Then life happened: I got married and moved to Madison, Wis., and worked for a number of shops. Every shop I worked at, though, I ended up having more moral dilemmas.
After moving back to Steven’s Point, I found a job with a national chain, and was their lead tech for years. I was still bothered by the things that were going on, but the last straw was when an elderly woman, whose car I always worked on, was sold a new engine while I was out from a ski accident and a broken leg. That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore, so my wife suggested I open my own shop.
Now, I’ve always made sure that our shop is female friendly. A lot of shops see them as easy targets. I’ve wanted to make sure my shop directly fights the negative stereotypes that people have, that I had, about service centers.
My shop now has a personal touch. After our hands-on inspection, we invite them back into the shop where we write up their initial issues, and discuss any other items we found during the walk-around. It helps me to pre-qualify the customer, and find out what type of customer they are. Even if they don’t have the repairs done, it allows me to put those things under the recommended services section of the order and I can go ahead and set up email reminders for them.
This process works extremely well, and 99 percent of our customers like it. If in the case a customer is in a hurry, we do the walk around for them, performing all the same checks. Added to our initial walk around, we include a courtesy 35-point inspection on every repair we do. We call it a no-wrench inspection, anything that is obvious and could be cause for concern.
We never charge for these processes, either in labor or the time we take to do them. It’s all part of giving quality customer service. At my repair shop, the goal is to provide exceptional customer service, and it’s my responsibility to educate my customers so they can make the best decision regarding their vehicles.
We do it with regular customers and new customers, and I build that rapport with them. To me, my customers aren’t just dollar signs. I know all my customers individually. I may not always remember their names, but I always remember their cars.