Designer Street Rods – Building Style with Substance
When Rodney Beasley talks about building his business Designer Street Rods, he means just that. He built the building before he built the business.
Starting in high school, Rodney worked on friends’ cars and saved most of the money he earned. After just a few years, he was running out of space at home and decided he needed more room. In addition to designing the interior space of the 10,000sq. ft. facility, Rodney also completed much of the work on the Cleveland, Georgia, shop. “I did the grading, electrical work, plumbing and interior work,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been there for so long.”
Rodney grew up around his father’s ready-mix business, even cutting his teeth with the paint gun on concrete trucks. Watching his father operate his own business gave Rodney the confidence he needed to go out on his own.
“My dad owned his business, so I grew up around that. I wasn’t afraid to go for my dream and do what I always wanted to do,” Rodney said. “It was tough in the beginning to start off with a full-size shop.”
That perseverance paid off as Rodney slowly built the business with a combination of smaller jobs and full builds. “It was difficult for several years,” he said, “but I worked as hard as I had to, to keep things going.”
A couple of full builds in the early years helped display they shop’s abilities through word-of-mouth marketing. Local customers still make up about half of his business, with more customers coming from out of state as word of the shop’s accomplishments spreads.
CAR SHOW MARKETING
Rodney is a believer in exhibiting at car shows. His trailer is a familiar sight at many Goodguys events, for example, and has become a more common sight recently since Designer Street Rods built the current Goodguys Grand Prize Giveaway car, a 1967 Nova.
Rodney says a couple of customers are good about letting him take their cars to shows to show off his work. That lets potential customers see finished projects. “We do about 10 to 15 shows a year,” Rodney said. “People see you year after year and they get comfortable about bringing us a car.”
Rodney and his team of six stay busy primarily with full builds, but the shop does some repair and maintenance work for regular customers. In addition, the showroom doubles as retail space, selling parts to walk-in customers as well as other nearby shops.
KEEPING UP WITH CUSTOMERS
The Designer Street Rods team notices the changing trends in types of cars as well as what customers want. Rodney said he sees fewer customers wanting ’30s street rods, but more focus on ’50s classics and ’60s muscle cars. For example, two current builds are a ’62 Chevy Impala and a ’65 Chevy pickup.
How projects are built is changing, too. “For a long time, customers wanted carburetors,” Rodney said. “They didn’t want power windows. Now everyone wants a reliable fuel-injection system, a nice radio, air conditioning, and power seats.” They want cars to look original but perform and ride like newer vehicles.
Another changing customer preference involves color. While bright colors (orange, copper, etc.) are still popular, darker colors are gaining ground. “I’ve always liked black because it was always challenging,” Rodney said. “Working on black cars taught me that the bodywork has to be correct.”
Beyond color choice, Rodney says his customers are all different when it comes to design goals. “We try to sit down and go over our ideas for the build,” he said. “We like to do a lot with a car but sometimes you are limited by the customer.”
Rodney confesses to a high school sin that we’re all guilty of to one degree or another: sitting in class and drawing cars. That continues today as Rodney sometimes does sketches of design ideas for customers. Professional renderings are also increasingly requested.
“I always wanted to be involved in that part of the business,” Rodney said. “Customers are more interested in seeing renderings now.”
Like most shop owners Rodney faces two universal challenges: finding and keeping good people and managing the finances. Rodney said that in his part of northeast Georgia there are a lot of one-man shops and he sometimes hires from that talent pool, often because the single operators tire of working with customers. These candidates usually have a strong skillset and eventually decide they would rather just work on cars and earn a paycheck rather than dealing with all the other requirements of operating your own business.
For Rodney, managing the business side means tweaking the billing options to fit individual customer situations, varying from monthly billing to local customers who pay every week or two.
The other financial challenge is setting prices. “When I started, I probably didn’t charge enough,” Rodney said. “I was trying to get everything going. I felt if I gave people a good deal they’ll keep coming back. I’ve learned over the years that you can’t do that. You have to price things for what they’re worth. I’ve had customers tell me that I need to charge more. That helped me understand.”
He said it’s important not to undersell yourself. “If you price work too cheaply, people start to wonder if you’re good enough.”
What does the future hold for Designer Street Rods? Probably moving to a larger facility. Rodney says he’s outgrown the current space and could probably use an additional 5,000 to 10,000 feet of space. Additional space will also mean more employees to handle the additional work.
After nearly 20 years in the business, Rodney knows what he likes best about the work: “Getting to work on the cars. Everything is a challenge,” he said. “If it’s not a challenge, I almost don’t like doing it.”
Designer Street Rods
Location: Cleveland, GA
Photos by John Jackson