“To have a successful business, in my opinion, in the end you have to put it in front of everything at all times,” he said.
Miles started in the auto body and collision repair business when he was 16 and hired by Paragon Collision Repair in Raleigh. Starting from the ground up he took out the trash, washed cars, buffed and polished cars, and helped out wherever they needed him. He trained as an I-CAR technician and then began doing collision repair. After 11 years of working at Paragon, he cashed out his 401K and decided to open Auto Arts Inc. in 2006. A friend had started his own small shop and Miles asked if he could share the space. They split the bills down the middle and focused on their own businesses.
Miles said it was challenging to go from making $90,000 a year plus the income from his wife’s job to living off approximately $17,000 from his retirement savings.
“To go from that to buying a home, cars and all kind of toys and stuff to nothing, it’s a big life change,” he said.
After working day and night, he started to build up his customer base. In the meantime, he found it wasn’t working out sharing the workspace with his friend so he decided to find a place of his own. A customer offered to help out so Miles could afford to move into the 5,000 square foot space. The rent was triple what he had been paying and Miles said he was “going at it again, blindfolded, not knowing how in the world we’re going to make this happen.”
It wasn’t long before Miles realized Auto Arts wasn’t making nearly the amount of money needed and they were just scraping by.
“When I didn’t have anything to work on, which was often, my wife and I put together these CDs with pictures of my work.”
He drove around to any place associated with the auto body industry - body shops, aftermarket accessories stores, stereo shops, dealerships and even car washes - to spread the word about Auto Arts and drum up business.
“I wasn’t going to try to take anybody’s work or take anybody’s job,” said Miles.
Instead, he walked in with confidence and offered to help out with any work they didn’t have time for, while building relationships with the other businesses in the community. Then in 2011 the lease for his building was going to run out and another tenant wanted to expand. It meant another move.
“It was like starting over again for the third time,” said Miles. The current shop is almost 10,000 square feet and specializes in collision repair and custom paint and body work. His wife Valerie said the “custom” side of the business often brings in the “collision” side.
“Many of our customers start off wanting something special or custom for their cars and then much like finding a good barber or hairdresser, they come back for small repairs or larger insurance work/jobs,” she said.
Their plan is to stay at this location and eventually purchase the building. Miles said he has grown his business significantly through word of mouth and his hands-on approach. “I don’t think it’s the well-oiled machine that I want it to be yet but at the same time I work in the business as much or more so than on the business,” he said. Valerie handles all of the marketing and built the company’s website. Much of their current business comes from a consistent presence at car shows, Facebook and Instagram where they post photos of their projects daily. Over the last four years Miles was asked to take part in three different television shows but declined.
“If I’m going to do it, it’s going to be the real deal, how I got here,” said the business owner who has gone through two moves and a recession.
“I’m not in it for money. I’m in it for the look on people’s faces when they get their vehicle back,” said Miles. “I love what I do and will die doing it.”