John Danbrook is the owner-operator of Danbrook Automotive in Tillsonburg, Ontario, a full-service vehicle maintenance and repair garage. Growing up on a dairy farm in Mapleton, Ontario near St. Thomas, John started to tinker with cars and machinery in his teenage years. After losing his job with a garage he was managing in 1990, he was pressured into starting his own auto business with the expenses of three children and a mortgage payment nipping at his heels.
Today, on its 30th year in business, Danbrook Automotive continues to thrive upon its foundation of honesty, integrity, and fairness, boasting a long list of 5-star reviews from the community. After learning of the shop’s humble beginnings within an existing ESSO station to where it’s at today, I knew it was a story worth sharing. Enjoy!
How did you get started running your own business and how did it get to the point it’s at today?
I was actually pressured into starting my own business because I lost my job with a garage that I was managing for someone else in 1990. With that happening, it basically became a survival situation with my wife going through a nursing program with Fanshawe College, three children to take care of, and a mortgage payment that needed to be paid. At that point, one of the only ways to maintain all of that was to start my own business.
I was 29 years old at that point and had no plans of going out on my own, but it forced me to. I started in Tillsonburg at an active gas station, but they had a two-bay garage that they weren’t using at that time. The garage had been vacant for years and the franchise that owned it didn’t want someone coming in and giving them a bad name, so it took some convincing to get them to rent it to me. Throughout my time at that location, it actually increased their gas sales.
What was the most important factor in making your business a success?
Treating people fairly and being honest. Fix what needs fixing and recommend future repairs with integrity.
What attracted you to the automotive industry in the first place?
I always liked tinkering with cars. When I finished high school, I tried to get an apprenticeship but wasn’t able to find one, so I stayed in the cash-crop farming business in Avon, Ontario. After work, I would go hang out at a friend of mine’s car repair garage since he was usually working late at night. I would always go there and help him with things, so he eventually ended up hiring me as an apprentice.
Whether you’re self-employed or not, how important do you think it is to have a passion for what you’re doing in your career?
I’ve always believed that you have to be a natural at it. You can’t teach someone something that isn’t interested in it, and, in my case, you can’t teach the mechanical skill. You either have it or you don’t. The people that have certain abilities will typically recognize that and exercise it, which is the group that I fell into.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to a young person hoping to get into the automotive industry?
If you want to get into this trade, you have to start with an apprenticeship. You should try to create a relationship with a garage and go through the apprenticeship process with that garage.
In high school, they have transportation, plumbing, electrical, and woodworking courses, so if you sample those, which is what I did, and think you would enjoy a hands-on career, then you try to pick one of those that you would excel at.
Where do you see the automotive repair business going with the rise of electric vehicles?
Everything needs tires, brakes, axles, and there are still repairs that need to be done even though there isn’t an engine. In all honesty, I think there will be fewer chronic problems compared to a standard internal combustion engine since the electric systems are more modular. There aren’t all these tiny components around the engine in an electric vehicle.
Current garages will adapt to these new vehicles, but there isn’t as much to service. We will deal with alignment and brakes, but there aren’t fluids, belts, or other standard maintenance tasks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Patrick MacDougall and I am a licensed REALTOR® based out of Tillsonburg, Ontario. I service the Oxford, Norfolk, and Elgin County areas and work every day to bring as much value to others as I possibly can.