Rick Dale is restoring America, one vintage item at a time. The 53-year-old entrepreneur has established a reputation as a master craftsman who can turn a rusty 1950s soda machine into a work of art that retails for thousands of dollars.
Dale has amassed a strong fan base as one of the stars of American Restoration, a nonfiction TV series that premiered on A&E’s History two years ago as a spin-off of the network’s highly popular series Pawn Stars. Along with his crew — including son Tyler, wife Kelly, stepson Brettly, brother Ron, and employees Kyle and Kowboy — Dale offers television viewers a weekly behind-the-scenes peek into Rick’s Restorations, his Las Vegas-based small business.
Whether Dale and his 25 employees are refurbishing a rare vintage gas pump or a 1940s jukebox, American Restoration has succeeded in capturing the interest of audiences. According to History, the show now averages 2.5 million viewers each week which Dale says results in thousands of customers. The show’s third season is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.
The Intuit Small Business Blog recently asked Dale, who has been restoring classic objects for more than 30 years, to share a few of his secrets to success.
ISBB: What have you learned from working with other small business entrepreneurs?
Dale: I’ve worked with Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars for years on restoration projects, and recently he’s taught me how to handle the growing pains we’ve experienced as a result of having our business featured on television. Last year, we built a new shop, and we can now accommodate visitors who want to tour our facility. (At the old shop, we literally had tourists jumping over the fence.) We have a new merchandise area and can safely give visitors a tour of the facility, where they can view each step of the restoration process. We’ve soundproofed each of our manufacturing rooms, so we don’t need to cease operations on the days we’re filming the show.
How does your business emphasize customer service?
I want our customers to feel good about the items we’ve restored for them, because after they leave here, they are going to tell others about their experience. Sometimes a restoration project can take three to four months, and I believe it’s important to keep in touch with them during that time and offer updates on the process. When they pick up the restored item, they are typically thrilled, but if they’ve envisioned it turning out a little differently, we do everything in our power to make adjustments.
Out of the thousands of customers I’ve had over the past 30 years, I’ve only had two who have left unhappy. I’ve never paid for a drop of advertising — all of our customers have been repeat clients or have come to us through word-of-mouth referrals.
How has your business changed over the years, and how have you adapted to those changes?
When small businesses first started using the internet to advertise, I thought social media was the enemy. For years, I had run my business by traveling the country, meeting with potential customers, and attending trade shows. Suddenly, everything changed, and collectors were able to go online and purchase collectibles directly from sellers all across the world.
When we decided to add a social media presence, I immediately saw how it helped grow our business and add to our bottom line. Kelly oversees our web page and Twitter and Facebook updates, and as a result, we’ve had many television viewers become customers. Our website now sells many of the items we restore and also features live webcasts, so customers can see the restoration process firsthand.
On your show, you’ve mentioned mentoring your son to take over the business one day. What advice do you have for him and other small-business owners who are just starting out?
I’m trying to impress upon Tyler that when he makes a business decision, he needs to own it. You can’t second-guess yourself in business — your team is relying on you to make the right decision and move forward. I’ve also told him it’s important to always know more than your employees. If you don’t, you won’t get any respect. You need to know how they do their jobs, and in the event they need help, you need to get in there and help or train someone else to ensure the job gets done.
Photo courtesy Smallz & Raskind/History