Ryan Smith spends his days making vehicles look amazing.
Smith owns Pro Auto Spa, a salon where he and his crew polish and perfect customers’ vehicles.
Smith’s skill and attention to detail earned him a trip to Seattle’s Museum of Flight to work on iconic aircraft including the original Air Force One.
He spent the week of July 7-13 cleaning and polishing the aircraft that transported presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon and international leaders including former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
“We wiped down and cleaned the whole thing,” Smith said. “On the engines, we polished the metal to make it bright and shiny.”
Each member of the 55-person team had a specific assignment. Smith’s was to detail part of the wide blue swath that runs the length of the white aircraft.
He also worked on a B-29 Superfortress that served during World War II.
“I was personally polishing one of the bomb bay doors on the B-29, and I kept reflecting on how someone opened a bomb bay door like this one to end a war,” he said. “It was a complete honor to work on something like that.”
A highlight of the trip was meeting 97-year-old veteran Dick Nelms, who flew 35 missions over Germany and occupied Europe and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Smith was chosen for the team through his membership in the Detailer’s Network, a professional detailers group that has been maintaining the aircraft since 2003. Smith joined the group last year and attended training in California.
Not all members get picked to do the annual detail work on the aircraft.
“If you participate and are involved with the group, you’re potentially selected,” Smith said. “I was lucky enough to be selected.”
Back in Colorado Springs, Smith applies his detailing skills to make customers’ vehicles look brand new.
Smith and his crew perform paintless dent removal, hail damage repair, wheel repair, scratch removal, headlight restoration, ceramic coatings, window tinting and other exterior and interior detailing services.
The business dates back to 1998, when Smith founded Ding Magic in California.
“I started detailing in 1995,” Smith said. “I was going to college at the time and ended up buying a business.”
In 1997, he trained in paintless dent repair, then sold the detailing business and expanded his skills and services.
After moving to Colorado in 2012, he opened his first brick-and-mortar shop; previously, he’d been working out of his truck.
“One night, it hailed on our house,” he said. “We opened a little shop in the north part of town. We grew from there. My vision was to make it where you don’t have to go to different places” for a complete menu of vehicle appearance services.
After an interim move to a bigger shop, Smith relocated in October 2018 to a 45,000-square-foot facility off Garden of the Gods Road and changed the name to Pro Auto Spa.
“It didn’t really take off until we opened the shop,” Smith said. “We had one or two technicians, and then it doubled.”
After the shop’s first move, Smith was hired by Enterprise Rent-A-Car to detail its fleet. Then the business exploded.
“We do work for dealerships and body shops, and regular retail customers that bring their cars in every so often,” he said.
Smith’s wife and partner Joanna manages front-office work including estimating, bids, data input and dealing with customers and accounts. They have made a point of hiring women when possible, including the company’s general manager and detailing supervisor.
Smith said that, although he was studying for a business degree when he started his first business, he’s never taken a management course but has learned on the job.
“I read a lot of books on how to lead,” he said.
He’s found that the key to running his business is “surrounding yourself with good people and always working with people smarter than you are. I can teach people, and they can teach me.”
Smith still espouses the motto his father told him when he loaned the young man money to open his first business: Always be above board.
“Sometimes it costs to make things right, but honesty and integrity are important to us,” he said.
In the near future, Smith plans to host car shows in the large lot that surrounds his workshop, to bring in food trucks on Fridays and to offer free classes on detailing.
One hint he passes along: “Put a piece of Scotch tape on as soon as you get a rock chip. Moisture can get into the crack. Cover it to prevent that from getting inside.”