Shop Talk: Choosing the One That's Right for You.
Updated: Sep 25, 2018
SO YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SHOP
We’re sure over the years that hundreds of cars have caught your eye in one way or another. Each one, unique in its own way, piqued your interest. Now you have made the leap and decided to start a project of your own. Now you’re overwhelmed with ideas, so where do you even begin? After asking around to some acquaintances with traditional-model cars, you find out that many are admitted self-taught, hands-on kind of owners. However, maybe like many of us, you simply don’t have the time, tools, and talent to invest in such a large undertaking. Who does? Each individual is gifted with their own skill set, they just might not be of the mechanical sort. It seems it’s time to find yourself a shop, and not just any shop. You need to find a place you are comfortable with, trust with your new investment, and are just as enthusiastic about your plans as you are. Not to mention the need to meet all your needs and stay within your budget range. Have no fear, finding the perfect shop for the job isn’t as complicated as it all sounds. Here we’ve pieced together a quick guide for helping you through those tougher choices.
For some: the idea of handling the labor themselves was never an option, and that’s just fine. For others: it just seems more logical to outsource the project to the professionals, if not out of sheer necessity, but for economic reasons. As far as your investment is concerned, your savings may allow you to work extra hours so that you are able to cash in on paying for some or all of the labor needed to build your dream car.
Just think, if it takes a technician 4 hours to complete a fabrication job that might have taken you 10, you’d be all the wiser to pay him to do the job he’s already doing while you get to work continue to make money at whatever it is you specialize in. Taking this method, you may find yourself with a drivable, completed classic car in your garage instead of a few years (if ever!).
THE HUNT IS ON
Narrowing it down to the ideal shop for you is a pretty personal process, just as it should be. It is important to know exactly what you want, do your research, and find a shop that specializes in the type of work that you’re in the market for. Collision and restoration/customs shops are far from the same thing. You want the work put into your hot rod or vintage car done correctly, and the first time around. No one person is expected to know everything there is to know about every automobile in existence, so if you find a shop that is unfamiliar with your vehicle or haven’t worked on something similar before – your dream car just became their learning experience.
A real shop that specializes in custom and classic restoration work is staffed by, and usually owned by someone who has a deep-rooted respect and passion for the industry. Chances are they will also be active in their business from shop builds to clean up. This hands-on attitude ensures that whomever the shop owner may be, that they are also a part of the staff. That way your ride is properly looked after and gets the personal touch it needs.
As the owner of a perspective shop, it is important that they are able to work with you on areas you may want to tackle yourself, or step in and help out with those that you don’t feel comfortable with or qualified to do. Make sure that you sense a good chain of communication around the shop, not just with employees, but between the you and the owner. Remember: this is a big investment; its key that you are able to articulate your wants and ideas, as well as remaining available to bounce suggestions off of. Then, when you take your car home after the job is done, there is no doubt that you have the highest quality of work while maximizing your vehicle’s potential.
NOT JUST ANYWHERE
Just where are you supposed to find such a specialized shop? What’s right for some, isn’t for others -- options and opinions are your friend here. So what now? Ask. Talk to anyone and everyone you can with a hot rod or classic car and hear what they have to say. The type of person driving the kind of car you plan on building will have plenty of insight as to who they feel is the best fit for the job. Ask what they think about various shops. Always take opinions with a grain of salt however, you will want to do your own research and draw from your own experiences as well. Sometimes a difference in personality can result in a head-to-head clash and less-than-honest reviews, but that doesn’t mean everyone has had the same experience.
When shopping around, check out what the owner drives. Chances are, they played a major part in the build themselves. This is a great way to get a feel for how strong their talents are, what standards they may have, and what their personality may be like. Take a walk around the shop, what other vehicles are they working on? Ask the owner to see some past projects that they have completed, similar to what you may want. People that have real enthusiasm for this industry are generally pretty accommodating, and will be more than willing to talk business, show off cars, and share ideas. If at this point things don’t seem to be up to your standards or you just aren’t sold for whatever reason, walk away, and never feel pressured to stick around just for someone else’s sake.
Don’t forget: this is your money that you’re investing and its your vision. So if you think that you might be settling for less than, DON’T! You deserve the best results possible and to have your expectations met in completion. Trusted shops and owners will almost always go above and beyond for their customers; and as your prospective builder, will usually exceed your own expectations.
That’s right. “Show me the money!” Count costs. Shops with experienced and reliable reputations will be able to provide you with fair, honest estimates to let you know how much your dream car MIGHT cost. Many customers tend to forget what ‘estimate’ means, so please keep in mind that the estimate that you are given is just that, a guess, and it is often likely that it will be exceeded. Until the builders are able get inside of your vehicle and properly assess just how much repair, rebuilding, molding, etc. will be necessary to complete the services you’ve requested, they have no way of knowing the precise number of hours involved or complications that may arise. Based on their years of experience in this business, the shop owner can give you a number that, to the best of his knowledge, it may cost. It’s next to impossible to guess the exact cost for your requested services, however, shops that are noteworthy will get you pretty close.
You should be prepared to pay an up-front cost in order to get your project underway, as well as, making payments in regular intervals if you’re not paying in one, large sum. Do not make a commitment on a project if you don’t have the money to continue the work you’ve requested; or if the money you do have isn’t rolling in on the regular. Remember that while you are choosing the shop to do the work: they are also committed to doing the work for you.
Most shops that you choose from will handle updates on your vehicle in a few ways. Most commonly a quick, to the point phone call is the easiest way to keep you informed and ask you to stop by and have a look at the progress for yourself. Your shop may also send pictures via text or email periodically to show you what they’ve accomplished. Another great way that shops like to keep in touch is over social media, and it is common to inform a customer that they are always able to check for progress on your ride online. This is a simple outlet that allows shops to share everything from past accomplishments and finished works to day-to-day work.
You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that you aren’t the only horse in the race either. Builders commonly have several projects underway simultaneously. This allows them to keep busy (and make money) most of the day. They are able to jump back-and-forth between tasks while they wait for things like literal paint to dry. That being said, prompt and up-to-date payments not only ensures that no problems arise, but also that the work doesn’t stop on your car. Keeping busy is important to shop employees and they won’t want to stop the progress on your project due to missed payments. If that occurs, your car is pushed out of the normal rotation and the momentum will slow. On-time payments will always make the shop happy, and when your builder is more likely to go above and beyond for you. Whether it’s a bonus of throwing in a little something extra, or staying an extra forty-five minutes at the end of the day to finish something up, the best type of working relationship here is to simply make sure that you are meeting each other’s expectations.
Every shop, builder, technician, and service employee on the planet has their own tales of stalled, halted, or completely abandoned projects because the vehicle’s owners’ eyes were bigger than their bank accounts. Understandably, those stories are never told with a smile
PART OF THE TEAM
Whomever you may choose for the job, when time comes for your decision, they will be working for you. The whole process is a combination of you, your car, the talent of the workers, their experience, and your taste, and their knowledge. Disagreements arise no matter what type of business/client relationship is at hand. The most important thing to remember is that your builder is on your side. Burning bridges is never the solution. Yes, its your money invested; but its also that shop’s reputation, as well as the individuals’ who work there and they are laid out on the line each time a finished project leaves the garage with their work attached.
Try to resolve any/all issues as amicably and reasonably as possible, simply because you’re all working toward the same end goal together. Reputable businessmen will stand behind their work and let it speak for itself, this is how they keep the work coming in and the doors open. If both sides are willing to discuss disagreements, even if both sides butt heads, it is possible to get everything sorted out without larger issues in tow.
Lastly, please remember that the particular shop you choose for the job is your decision. Once you’ve committed, you’ve made that choice based on the your own research, knowledge, and time put into this process. The business that you choose to work for you, along with all of its employees, know that their career’s reputation is always on the line and they have years of experience that you do not– so make sure you listen to the advice they have to give.
Because owning a hot-rod or classic car is a hell of a lotta’ fun – Building it should be too!