Several threads of Jeff Swafford’s life led him to owning Collision Masters in Waunakee.
Swafford grew up nearby.
“I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in the summertime. They had a little farmette out west of Prairie du Sac. My grandfather was quite elderly then. Being a machinist and somewhat of an inventor, he needed hands. I was a young set of hands. He could sit on his stool and tell me what to do. That’s kind of where I learned to use my hands as tools,” Swafford said.
Add to that, one of his good friends lived on a neighboring farm. He said that as the “littlest runt in the bunch, I was the tractor driver all the time”.
So as a youngster, Swafford wanted to be a farmer. “What little kid doesn’t want to drive around on a big tractor?” he asked.
All the while, he learned the value of hard work. Swafford recalled a few summers driving pea combine for the local canning company from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Another thread was banging up his mom’s 1973 Buick Regal. Swafford literally got into the auto repair business when a friend offered to help with the paint repair. Their efforts spun off into a business, Swaf Customs. He attended MATC’s collision repair program days, worked on cars nights, and snatched a few winks in between.
Swafford told another story about his grandpa.
“I remember him saying something that probably clicked something in my head. I remember seeing some spray guns and an air compressor. And he said, someday I’ll probably have you paint that wheelbarrow or maybe the tractor. I was just a little shaver, but I remember that. The idea of painting, I just thought that was cool,” he said.
In 1984, he began specializing in paint. Swafford did nothing but auto painting for a Madison dealership for a couple of years before realizing that he “couldn’t stay in those four walls all day long”.
Get out he did. All the way out to Los Angeles. He went to work for a European auto paint company, AkzoNobel. He called the move “the smartest thing I ever did. They taught me things I would never, ever, ever, ever have had the opportunity to learn. They gave me a business degree on the job, he said.” He started out demonstrating the paint and ultimately became regional field manager for five states out of Chicago.
Swafford left the industry for about a decade after he developed an allergy to automotive paint. After realizing the allergy abated, the lure of the business was rekindled.
He purchased and rechristened the former Waunakee Auto Body several years ago. He commuted during the week from Chicago for about five years while his daughters completed school. The family moved first to Sun Prairie and then into Waunakee in 2016.
His future wife, Dora, worked for a mortgage banker when they met in 1988. The couple married in 1991. When they relocated to the Midwest for his job, Swafford recalled that his life-long Californian wife “felt like moving to Chicago was moving to a small town.”
The Swaffords have settled in a home in Waunakee’s Castle Creek neighborhood. For Swafford, “I’m right at home here. It’s just like where I grew up.” And while L.A. and Chicago are great cities, the couple appreciates that “you don’t get to know people like you do here.”
Dora is a hearing aid specialist. Her husband explained that the career fits her perfectly. “She likes to help people. She lives for that,” he said.
He’s thankful for having grown a great crew at Collision Masters because he has little time for hands on work.
“The reality is my entire life I’ve worked 72-75 hours a week. I’m used to that. The whole family is used to that. Lately, over the last month and a half, it’s been 90-95 hours,” he said.
Swafford’s goal for the business is to have it “be as good as we can be at all times”. This requires constant staff training. He explained that “in a brand new Lexus there’s more lines of computer code than in an auto-piloted Boeing 787. We have to fix those things,” he said.
Swafford said his strength is attention to detail, no matter how small. “The little old lady who just needs her bumper pulled out so she can drive the car another year. I just like to take care of people. To me, that’s what I love to do the most.”
He summed up, “I believe everyone was put here to serve, but not everyone realizes it”.