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Dream Chasing: Lessons Learned in Starting a Hot Rod Shop

Posted by on October 12, 2011 with 2 Comments

If you missed my article last month, I’ll help you catch up. In 2007 I decided to open up a hot rod shop that specialized in pro-touring modifications and repairs. It took until this past April to pull the trigger and go full-time. After a very quick six months of business things are going very strong, but not without some late nights and stressful moments. What have I learned so far…?

Be quick to make decisions: I learned that working in your business and on your business are two different things. There are a lot of factors that you cannot control, and if you don’t believe me just turn on the news. However, there are many things within your sphere of influence that you can control, such as the quality of work you produce, the level of customer support you offer, and the vendors you partner with. People are still spending money on cool cars. Don’t allow the external “downers” to dictate how your business is run. I’ve learned that life comes at you quickly and that you can’t be afraid to make decisions to keep the dream alive.

The “Redemption” Camaro – one of my first commercial builds.

Cash-flow is everything: If I didn’t need a paycheck I would still work on cars all day long and not worry at all about the money side of things. Unfortunately though, the reality is that without money the business simply doesn’t exist. I know plenty of people who have no idea where their business stands, but I can know within a few minutes if the current month is producing a profit. I can know which jobs were most profitable and which ones lost money. It took awhile to get here, and I gave a lot away early on. A great friend and mentor of mine once told me, “If you can’t keep track of small money you will never have an opportunity to manage big money.”

Time and Materials: When doing big jobs I bill monthly and always have customers pay for their parts up front. I don’t take big deposits, but only enough to cover the parts. I came from the general automotive world where you could bid a job based on flat-rate hours and still do OK. However, I have since learned that every time I told a hot rod customer a price up front, it usually took me double the time! Take it from me, if you are ever planning to be paid for custom work it really doesn’t matter how simple a job seems up front. Whenever you are working on a forty year old car there are always going to be unexpected surprises. Believe it or not, it’s not fun working on someone else’s car for free! Today I just tell them $70 an hour plus materials.

My car that started it all for me – the GenX ’68 Camaro

Bootstrap…Bootstrap…Bootstrap: I could walk onto the Snap-On truck and load up with a bunch of cool toolboxes and make the shop look amazing, but the truth is that my old 1970’s box works just fine. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have all the latest stuff, but right now it would destroy my bottom line. I’m proud that I don’t owe any creditors or have any partners, and I prefer to keep it that way. You don’t need outside money to open a hot rod shop. Grow slow and calculated if you want to build a business to last.

Get a Mentor: I have several that I trust. Look to people who are successful and ask lots of questions. Read books on business, hot rod building, and anything you can get your hands on.

Every now and then you’re going to get tired. Get used to it. It’s worth it!

Watch out for time killers: I’ve blown through a ten hour day and only billed 3 hours, and I’m sure that a lot of self employed people can relate! It’s an absolute must to learn how to become more productive during the day so that the little unimportant things don’t chew up the clock. Here are a few things I have implemented that have worked for me:

  • Check email at certain times only, not the instant that e-mails come in.
  • Schedule blocks of time where the phone doesn’t get answered and there aren’t interruptions
  • Work a swing shift one day a week.

The moral of the story: Working your dream job requires sacrifice and good business sense. It’s not always a grind though as just this week I ordered an 850hp blown LS engine for a ’69 Camaro! How much fun is that! What’s even more fun is that after years of effort my shop is now full and the schedule is getting filled up through the end of the year. Keep dreaming!

If you have any questions, shoot me an email Chris@hotrod-repair.com

-Chris Holstrom

http://www.chrisholstromconcepts.com

 


  • http://garyscalf.com GJSZ51

    Congratulations, Chris and I hope you have continued success! How much of your work is done “in house” and, how many employees dod you have?

  • http://www.find-your-muscle-car.com GoldenGirl

    Great information! Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge.