From Technician to Business Owner, former student’s passion for the automotive field reignites amidst career shifts.
Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center’s Automotive Alum Dallas Smith graduated from the program in 1996. After working as an Automotive Technician for a decade following high school, functioning as an instructor for a period of time, and working in the oil field for 5 years, Smith decided to switch gears and return to the Automotive Industry but in a different role; an aspiration that ignited in 2016 and led to the opening of The SouthSide Garage.
Smith took it upon himself as an early high school student to learn more about cars, as his interest in them began long before he enrolled at the Tech Center as a Junior.
“When I was 15, I bought a ‘64 Chevy Truck for $650, and I tore it down to the frame,” he said. “I remember my dad thinking I was never going to get that thing back together, but I did, I drove it and that was my first car.”
Smith gained additional knowledge at EOC Tech that allowed him to begin working in the field before he even finished high school.
“I knew a lot before I started the program but they did teach me more of the technical and electrical work, along with computers,” he said. “During my senior year, I took an ‘On-The-Job-Training’ (OJT) Position at Hudiburg Chevrolet as a Tech Helper, and within a year, became an Automotive Technician. I did Interior Trim, Electrical/HVAC and light engine work.”
Smith remained at Hudiburg for 10 years as an Automotive Technician but in the year 2006, sensed that a shift needed to happen and decided to make a career change, which led him to the National Center for Employee Development (NCED) in Norman, OK. Smith taught Diesel Repair for Postal Employee Training, a position contracted through Oklahoma University. He taught there for 5 years alongside Joe Lee, who is now his business partner.
After his 5 years at NCED, Smith decided to transition into the oil field and worked for Scientific Drilling for another 5 years.
“I monitored the tools and took surveys,” he said. “Then I worked my way up in the position and actually started steering a well, which consisted of actually controlling the rig.”
Smith said that he loved the work, but he hated being away from his family which is what ultimately caused him to shift back into the automotive world in 2016.
“I think in my thirties I started wanting to open my own business,” he said. “I was making really good money in the oil field but when it started going bust, I just thought I would try it and see what happened instead of going to work for somebody else.”
Smith and his friend, Joe Lee decided to combine their money and start the automotive repair shop.
“I had 10k and Joe had 10k so we put it together, bought some used equipment and took over a lease that Joe’s brother had on a building,” he said. “And just slowly started building our business.”
Located in Moore, OK, at the time, Smith said they took in whatever business they could get in order to pay the bills.
“Joe continued to work in the oil field for 6 months and I was dedicated to the shop,” he said. “He would help at the shop on his days off but it took about 6 months for our business to grow steady. I don’t think I pulled an actual paycheck for a few months either.”
SouthSide Garage grew from the years 2016-2019 with Smith and Lee as the only employees, to up to 15 employees, depending on the time of year. The team also opened a Body Shop, currently located off of Shields Blvd. Lee manages the Body Shop completely, as he had owned his own in the past. Because of the growth of their business, Smith said he decided they needed to relocate.
“In 2020, I couldn’t stand it any longer, so we bought this building. When it came up for sale, it was a pipe dream to buy it, but we loved the building, loved the architecture, and decided to go for it.”
Despite financial challenges that came with buying and remodeling their building and the obstacles that Covid brought to businesses, SouthSide Garage was able to keep current customers, grow new business and stay afloat amidst health restrictions and the shifting economy.
“Two weeks after we moved into this building and had finished construction, Covid started. But we were considered essential,” he said. “We had a bad month, but after that, we stayed steady and it’s been both a blessing and a learning opportunity for sure.”
Smith’s role certainly has changed from the Automotive Technician title he once held, but he remained open throughout the ebb and flow of his widespread career, considering himself a lifelong learner.
“Just with running a business, the skills I need here are a little bit different than when working in the shop,” he said. “ I devour books on finance and banking because I find myself swimming in those pools more often than I find myself working on cars.”
Smith’s responsibilities tend to consist of dealing more with customers, communicating with the technicians, assisting when problems arise or supplies need to be replenished. But even though he isn’t directly repairing cars, Smith is at the shop any time the doors are open, leaving him with little free time, he said. Regardless, he continues to find great purpose in what he does.
“I really like working for the employees. I get to interact with them and play a role in growing them,” he said. “I like making sure they can take care of themselves – some of these guys are pretty young and just starting in their careers.”
Smith prides his business for their honesty, efficiency and expertise, and believes it’s those qualities alone that separate SouthSide Garage from other auto repair businesses.
“If you’re told something here it’s the truth, whether you like it or not,” he said. “If I tell you a price, I try to stick to it the best I can. I don’t put cheap parts on, I’m not the cheapest in town but when your car leaves here, it’s going to be fixed.”
While his training at EOC Tech as a student has grown from a technician to a business owner, Smith sees the value that his training added to his career and encourages current students to soak it up and keep learning, even after they finish school.
“I really loved the Program and enjoyed my time at EOC Tech,” he said. “It gave me a good foundation of the Industry. At a young age, you can’t take it all in but they give you a solid foundation to build off of.”