BLUE ASH – When Dan Fluker started Dan's Auto Repair in Blue Ash 39 years ago, there were lots of businesses owned by African-American entrepreneurs in the TriState.
What sets the business apart is that it has survived and thrived under the Fluker family's ownership for all these years.
"This is an example of what businesses need to do – especially black businesses – in order to increase our economic empowerment," said Jim Clingman, author of the syndicated newspaper column, Blackonomics, and a founder of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce. "The unusual part is how they've been able to keep it going."
The body shop is located on Vorhees Lane between Blue Ash Road and Sycamore Road, where it has been from the start. Dan Fluker started the shop in 1975. Johnnie Brown, his wife Lillie's brother, joined him at the business the next year.
The two men had worked together at the former Kenwood Chrysler-Plymouth dealership's body shop, which Fluker had managed for 15 years before launching his own place. Lillie Fluker managed the office, kept the books and handled payroll for the shop.
Brown, now in his 70s, still works at Dan's full-time.
That doesn't mean the business hasn't changed over the years, said Danzivor Fluker, Dan Fluker's son. He has been running the business since 2006 when his father stepped down from the CEO role for health reasons. His father died in 2013.
Changing With The Times
One of Fluker's first orders of business when he took over operations from his father was to eliminate the salvage yard that had been part of the operation. He sold the old cars and used the $6,000 he made to computerize the business, create a website and update the shop's technology.
Danzivor Fluker's son, Daniel, now works full-time for the business, too, as office manager and technician. And he has pushed for other changes and updates.
The business takes credit cards now, for example, a change that was made just three or four years ago. Daniel Fluker also has helped with updating the shop's computers and email system and launching a Facebook page.
"Where we've modernized, that's where I kind of fill in the gaps," he said.
The shop also has expanded its service offerings. Earlier this year, it added a U-Haul rental operation. And customers can store their boats, cars or other vehicles on the property where the salvage yard used to be located.
Clingman praised those additions, saying those are exactly the type of expansions he encourages entrepreneurs to undertake when he teaches on the subject.
"You have to always be looking for other opportunities," he said. "That's a good lesson for his children and other young people who can see what a successful business looks like."
Still, the core business of Dan's Auto Repair is fixing cars, trucks and other vehicles, and long-time customers said the shop does that well.
Buening Insurance Agency Inc. in Blue Ash has been referring its auto insurance customers to Dan's since the business started, said Roger Buening.
Business Built On Foundation Of Trust
Buening's father started the insurance agency and developed a strong working relationship with Dan Fluker back when Fluker managed Kenwood Chrysler-Plymouth's body shop. When Fluker opened Dan's Auto Repair, Buening's business followed him.
"They really hit it off – my father and Danzivor's father," Buening said. "They really got to know one another through the dealings with customers."
Both men believed trust should be the foundation of their customer relationships, Buening said, and both businesses have thrived based on that.
"We knew that they would get the job done right and also had a fair price," Buening said.
Quality work at a reasonable price is why Denny McKeown's Landscape and Bloomin Garden Centre has used Dan's Auto for its repair needs for years, McKeown said.
"I've had dings and dongs in the past and have gone through dealers and other body shops, and it's always, 'Oh, we didn't know this was broken. We're going to have to add this on and add that on,'" McKeown said. "Dan has never done that. The price is always what he gives you."
The shop also is able to get the work done quickly, said Lillian Hawkins, who has been a customer over the past 10 years.
"I've never experienced more than a four or five day turnaround," she said.
Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Avondale has been using Dan's Auto since 2011 to maintain and repair its church buses, said John Ross, the church's treasurer.
"They have done a superb job as far as mending, fixing up the rust spots, taking care of all the rust on our buses and repainting," Ross said. "We're very satisfied."
The shop's other business clients include Cincinnati Bell, the City of Silverton, Deer Park School
District and Kenwood Towne Centre Security.
Satisfied customers have been critical to the shop's longevity, Fluker said.
Dan's Auto relies on referrals to get new customers and has been working with many families for a couple generations, he said.
The shop employs four people full-time – Danzivor Fluker and his son, Daniel, and Johnnie Brown and his son, Nicholas.
Fluker said he hasn't pressured his son to take over the business, just like his father never pressured him.
But Daniel Fluker said he's committed to making sure Dan's continues for a third generation.
"It would be a dishonor not to continue his legacy – a dishonor to all his work as well as my Uncle Johnnie – to not keep the business going," Daniel Fluker said. "I definitely will see to it that the business continues to thrive."
For more information about Dan's Auto Repair, go to http://www.dansautorepairinc.com .
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.