For Dustin Soto, “baking powder” isn’t a cooking ingredient—it’s his stock in trade. He sandblasts and bakes on colorful, durable industrial finishes in the powder coating shop he started in 2016.
Mirror Image Coating serves local fabrication shops, auto dealerships, and specialty retailers like Ben’s Bicycles in Milwaukee. He also coats items for hobbyists with a passion for vehicle restoration and customization. These are people who want their vehicles—and more—to look sharp. Dustin said, “I’ve had people bring in everything from stainless steel coffee mugs to lawn furniture.” He’s also coated large sculptures for artists. “Anything that’s metal that will fit in my oven, I will do.”
From craftsman to entrepreneur
Dustin started Mirror Image Coating after honing his skills working for other firms since the age of 18. At 31, he recognized an opportunity to use his knowledge to serve smaller customers who were looking to avoid the higher fees charged by larger industrial shops. Typical projects fees range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Dustin has made quick turnaround a point of competitive differentiation. “I like to get the customer’s parts back as fast as possible—three to five business days. The mom-and-pop shops really like that,” he said.
Accomplishments with the SBDC at UW-Parkside
- Business counseling
- Site location assistance
SBDC provides sounding board
Dustin found out about SBDC services before launching his new business. While doing coating work for customers on the side he met Bob Martin, a consultant with the SBDC at UW-Parkside whose hobby of customizing motorcycles brought him to Dustin. Bob explained the help the SBDC could offer—business planning, marketing assistance, and financial guidance. Dustin followed through, and the SBDC “helped me bring it all together,” he said. “I knew the industry and I was ready—I just needed help to go out on my own.”
Bob made introductions that led Dustin to exhibit at local car shows to build awareness of his new business—a marketing strategy that was extremely successful. Now, “Facebook and Instagram are my main channels,” Dustin said. “Social media has been really good for my business. My friends share, and it turns into more business.”
“Dustin was so tenacious I knew he couldn’t fail,” Bob observed. “For a person without a college degree, his marketing acumen is right up there. He has an eye for what people want.”
Poised for growth
For Dustin, the toughest aspect of his start-up has been doing everything himself. “The marketing, meeting with customers, doing the work—it can be overwhelming,” Dustin admitted. “That’s a lot on one plate.” He communicates with customers by email or text to gain more uninterrupted time for his craft. “You don’t want to be starting and stopping if you want to get a perfect coat,” he explained. Dustin’s father and wife help out with customer service when Dustin gets busy.
Mirror Image Coating is a small shop now, but it is poised for growth. “I’m already looking for bigger shop space,” Dustin said. He would like to purchase a location but must make a decision about taking on debt first. Bob has been his sounding board. “I was going to take out a business loan, but I also had my own finances. Bob helped me decide to self-finance my start-up,” Dustin said. “My next goal is a real estate purchase. I don’t want to be renting forever. When I decide to move, I’ll work with the SBDC again.”