MAKing It: Word of mouth fuels Wasilla diesel engine business

SPONSORED: Daniel and Jenna Chase, owners of DC 907 Diesels, started their business with a passion for diesel engines and a big dream.

Presented by First National Bank Alaska

When dealing with big trucks, having a lot of elbow room is non-negotiable.

That’s been a recurring theme for Daniel and Jenna Chase, of DC 907 Diesels in Wasilla. They’ve expanded their space twice over the years to service the many Ford, Dodge and Chevy diesel trucks that come through their garage doors.

Jenna said word of mouth has always spread awareness of their business, even back when Daniel was fixing engines as a side project after hours.

“It kind of grew that way, with his coworkers,” said Jenna. “Daniel never advertised.”

Those referrals continued to work. To meet demand, Daniel quit his 9-to-5 job and the couple found another space to lease — which they quickly filled up, too.

After that, DC 907 Diesels hit a real estate wall. They told their banker at First National Bank Alaska, Assistant Vice President and Loan Officer Veronica Pillans, they were struggling to find a new place with the features their business needed at a decent price.

In a stroke of luck, Pillans stumbled across a listing on social media. It was perfect, located squarely between Wasilla and Palmer, with more bays for trucks. The Chases put in an offer.

“Everything just kind of fell into place,” Pillans said.

That new space, on Shoreline Drive in Wasilla, has given the couple a chance to expand their business, where they service diesel engine needs of all kinds, ranging from routine oil changes to entire engine overhauls.

And still, today, Daniel oversees every customer truck that comes in. The Chases say that’s essential for keeping that family feel — and letting clients know they’re going to be taken care of, no matter how much business has grown.

“I want to make sure everything’s done right,” Daniel said.

Catching the diesel bug

Like many good business dreams, the Chases’ started in a garage.

Daniel’s background is in motorcycle service. But he learned to work on diesel vehicles with his dad, which he credits for sparking his fascination with diesel.

“I kind of got the bug for it, then,” he said.

According to Daniel, it doesn’t take much to make a diesel-powered truck more fuel efficient or better performing, which is one of his favorite aspects of his work.

Diesel engines are distinct from gasoline engines. While both contain internal combustion engines that convert fuel into energy, the fuel is ignited differently.

For gasoline engines, fuel is mixed with air and ignited by a spark plug. With diesel, air is compressed before the fuel is added. When the fuel mixes with the compressed air it causes an explosion — called direct injection — which powers the vehicle.

Diesel engines have higher fuel efficiency and offer more power. Gasoline engines are lighter and less expensive.

For Daniel, diesel vehicles are simply more fun. Mechanics can tweak and improve the engines more than a gasoline vehicle, he said.

And, “you can tow very heavy stuff with them,” he said.

In 2013, Daniel started fixing trucks in his parents’ garage in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The couple soon discovered that diesel repair was an untapped niche. Coworkers at his Anchorage mechanic job would often ask Daniel for help on their own trucks after work.

“There was basically a need for a good diesel shop,” Jenna said.

In the beginning, Daniel was a one-man show, working on the cars, answering phones and helping customers at the front desk. There wasn’t room for much else.

The new space on Shoreline Drive, which the Chases bought in 2020, has five lifts and more open floor space. Expanding allowed them to hire more staff and fit more repairs into each day. Jenna left her other job in 2020 and today manages accounting for the business.

Today, DC 907 Diesels employs six mechanics, and two team members handle service writing, managing repair tickets and helping with customer questions. The team is passionate and excited about the work, Daniel said. Many of their staff have gone from servicing friends’ trucks, to working on ambulances and fleet vehicles, too.

Beyond banking

The couple’s serendipitous real estate find is an added benefit of having a relationship with a local First National expert. Pillans joked that she was the Chases’ banker and real estate agent.

“I think that’s kind of what sets First National apart,” Pillans said. “We know our customers and we find out what their needs are.”

Jennifer Matthews, a senior business development officer and treasury management consultant with First National, recounted a time she took her brother’s truck to DC 907 Diesels’ old location to get serviced and the lot was completely full, with nowhere to park.

“It’s really awesome when you can take a smaller company who you can see is outgrowing their current location and be able to watch them grow and become this phenomenal company,” she said. “That’s the part of my job that I love — that we all love.”

Matthews likes to check in with the businesses she works with, to make sure they have the tools they need for the day-to-day — and to help them navigate unknown waters, like the pandemic.

Jenna said it was harder than usual during COVID-19 to get financing for their new location, when they were moving into their new space and everyone was coordinating remotely.

She said she likes how familiar the bank is with their customers, especially in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, where local banks are fewer and further between than in Anchorage.

“First National, when I walk in, they all know me now. I can sit in with whoever I need to and they’re there to help,” Jenna said.

Matthews said her work is about more than financing loans or projects; she connects clients to tools and knowledge to help them run their businesses successfully.

Finding success in small business

Daniel loves his work. He enjoys solving complex engine issues, which provide constant challenges and learning curves. He takes online classes to stay up to date.

“It’s something new every day,” he said.

Business hasn’t slowed. Even during the pandemic, DC 907 Diesels’ bays were always full, Jenna said. Daniel laughed, saying they probably could have expanded the first month they moved into the new location.

Their future plans include adding three more bays to get more trucks in for service. After that, and before hiring any new staff, they would need to buy property and build something new.

“I guess it kind of depends on where the real estate market goes,” Jenna said. “Wasilla’s growing a lot, and it’s hard to find space. We’d rather be in a key location.”

They love the spot they have — and that’s worth more than expanding, for now.

Plus, the smaller size enables their team to provide superior service for customers. Daniel is no longer working on friends’ trucks from his parents’ garage after hours, but the ethos hasn’t changed.

“More space would be amazing. But I don’t know if we’d want to grow that much,” Jenna said.

At DC 907 Diesels, “you still get that family size,” she said. “Just the small business.”

First National Bank Alaska has been Alaska’s community bank since 1922. We’re proud to help Alaskans shape a brighter tomorrow by investing in your success as you take the leaps of faith, large and small, that enrich communities across the state.

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This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with First National Bank Alaska. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.