Against the Grain

Mar 25, 2010

David Branson, owner of DBR High Performance in Springhill, Tenn., (30 miles south of Nashville) is happy with the successful speed shop he’s built with his partner Adam Drake, but there are two elements to the business that he’s especially proud of: making his clients’ cars go fast, and the fact that his business seeks to honor God.

“We are an old-style speed shop,” says Branson, “like the glory days of hot rodding. Our shop is a place that anyone can bring any car for performance enhancement. We pride ourselves on not focusing on a particular make or model. We’re not a Mustang shop or diesel shop, we’re a speed shop. We make cars handle better, go faster and look better. Our specialty is making stuff go faster and our motto is: There’s no such thing as too fast.”

Branson also feels very strongly that he’s not in it alone.

“We are a Christian-based business and that’s important to me,” he says. “I want my business to honor God.”

In the midst of all of his exuberance and commitment, Branson keeps another goal front-and-center in his mindset-a goal very much dedicated to how his customers feel after they’ve left his shop:

“When customers bring their cars here,” he says, “we want it to be an experience. We want it to be a full experience, because we know that they’re bringing in a car they love. They bring it to us because they want to enjoy it more. And once we get our hands on a customer’s car they become family. It is apparent that customers feel the same way.”

Picture-Perfect

Some of the fun comes from the wonder of digital cameras.

“Part of that experience is that we want them to actually see the work we do for them,” Branson says. “We take pictures of everything we do-”a few hundred pictures of smaller jobs, on up to a thousand photos of the larger projects. Our larger jobs get a DVD made of all the photos we take of their project. The customer can see us doing our work and it makes it much more of an experience for them.”

Branson says he comes by his passion honestly and organically. The truth is that he’s never known anything other than making cars go faster and work better.

“I’ve been doing automotive work my entire life,” he says. “I did it growing up, and then I got a bachelor’s degree in college and did it while I was attending college by working in a small Bavarian auto repair shop and taking side jobs for performance upgrades, too.

“Then I went to work for Custom Classics in Chicago,” he continues. “It was my uncle’s business and I worked for him for five years and attended UTI, an automotive trade school. I was a production manager there and in charge of high-performance work.”

That’s where the idea for DBR High Performance germinated. Branson knew he wanted his own speed shop and that desire is pretty much all it took.

“I got married and we wanted to start a family and wanted to be closer to our families, which is why we chose Nashville. It’s about two hours from our hometown, where both of our parents live.”

And it doesn’t hurt that there are nice rides around.

“Nashville has Mercedes,” says Branson, “and I worked for them for two years. Adam, a college roommate, and I began the footwork for DBR. We bought a building and were originally going to do a car for the public relations aspect. But we got into that building, and there was such a need in the area and then we got all this work and we bought a unit next to us and went full-time. We officially opened DBR High Performance in January 2009.”

Taking Off

Contrary to all the fallout for many businesses last year, Branson saw his business instantly boom-and it shows no sign of stopping.

“The (poor) economy didn’t affect us at all,” he says. “We are strictly a high-performance shop and our customers seem to be the type that wants to work on their vehicles, regardless. They’ll cut pennies elsewhere, but because of the type of clientele we have, our business hasn’t felt the economic troubles at all. In fact, we’ve had a massive increase in business since we opened.”

So who are these clients that have helped spectacularly launch a new business in the midst of an economic recession? They’re folks Branson’s developed relationships with and who learn of DBR High Performance via various media outlets.

“We have clients from all over-”Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois-”and some are big-dollar clients,” he says. “They tend to be a more high-end client who has toy money. They make millions, so thousands for a car project isn’t a big deal. It’s like me buying a Mountain Dew. I don’t think about it.

“When we launched the business, we had clients already from my past work,” he adds. “I’ve got a pretty good list of clients from Chicago, and it makes sense for them to come here now. But, being honest and doing a lot of praying helps, too.”

As does traditional and non-traditional advertising, including participating in online communities and hosting quarterly events such as the “No Cars Allowed” car show and the annual Fox Body Tribute.

“We’re on radio now and that’s been very successful,” he says. “Automotive forums have also been awesome, and we sponsor races and local racers.”

And, of course, word of mouth.

“The truth is that if you do a good job and you’re honest, word spreads,” he says. “There are other speed shops around, but they don’t really do what we do. We also get some customers from them because they are focused on a niche market, and we’re not. Doing the job right and doing it once, customers come back because they want more work, not because something broke.”

Upscale Showroom

All of that dedicated, high-quality, high-performance work takes place in a well thought-out shop that reflects DBR High Performance’s creative, cutting-edge approach.

“Our showroom is very upscale,” says Branson. “Brian Duncan has worked to design a retail area that welcomes customers with wooden floors and potted plants mingled with turbos and intakes. The customer feels more at home than in a parts store. No square inch of the showroom is left untouched or without thought.”

He says the facility is about 3,000 square feet, including a 700-square-foot showroom.

“We can pretty much get everything, from a 1910 car part to a Lamborghini part. We like to branch out and supply anybody with anything. We sort of brag about it,” Branson notes.

In the service area, main tech Jameson Stinnet keeps things clean and orderly. Moreover, clients could eat their lunch off of DBR High Performance’s floors, if they wanted to. The team is adamant about cleanliness, for a whole host of reasons.

“We clean and dust on a daily basis,” Branson says. “In our service area, we’ve got three bays and painted floors and the techs clean up twice a day. We just did a big transmission job on a Jeep and, before we even started, we knocked all the dirt off and cleaned the floor, then put a transmission in, and cleaned the floor again.

“You never know when a customer will walk in and see the place,” he explains. “It’s also a better work environment. We always want the place ready for the customer who may walk in unexpectedly. Creating a positive first impression is about being clean and organized, and keeping the customers’ cars clean and dusted. We keep fingerprints off and windows clean.”

And the best is yet to come. Branson has plans for a large expansion of DBR High Performance, largely because he can’t keep up with current demand.

“We’ve purchased five acres and we’re going to build a new facility,” he says. “It will be 15,000 square feet, be very trendy and we’ll have an AWD dyno. We’ve massively outgrown our current facility, and what’s happening now is that a big job may be put on a two-month waiting list. We’ve simply outgrown this facility.”

Count on that new facility making an even bigger impression on clients.

“Our new place will have a 4,000-square-foot showroom,” he says. “We’ll have a car in it, and there will be a wonderful customer waiting area, probably with leather couches and a big-screen TV. We’ll get the all-wheel drive dyno-there’s not one at all in Nashville that I’m aware of, and I don’t believe there’s one within a 250- or 300-mile radius.”

It’s a vision of the future that brings out the unbridled enthusiasm for business and automotive work in Branson.

“It will all be state-of-the art,” he adds. “It’ll be in an industrial area, so we can make noise and we’ll have a burnout slab in the parking lot, which will be big for lots of shows and events.”

Just more good news for a company that keeps the faith and has gotten off to a tremendous start.

“Lord willing,” Branson says, “it’ll happen the beginning of 2011, and there just won’t be anything like it around here.”