Family Style: Eddie’s Rod and Custom
How would you like to go to work every day beside your dad, mom, wife, and younger brother? Could you do that for 15 years and still be on speaking terms? Eddie Pettus of Eddie’s Rod and Custom in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has survived and thrived in that environment. He admits it was tough at the start, building a business from scratch and learning how to work with family members. But it worked. Quite well.
“It really took a year or two before we started trusting each other,” Eddie said. “Now I wouldn’t change it for any other way. I think it’s the greatest thing in the world that I work with family now.”
Eddie has been around the hobby and business his whole life – he’s the car kid of a car guy. “When I was around five my dad started taking me to car shows,” he said. “All I cared about was cars. Growing up he would always try to keep me involved in cars.”
Eddie’s dad owned and operated an import car garage when Eddie was young. That and the love of cars kept Eddie focused (for the most part) in high school. “My dad said, ‘If cars are what you want to do, then we need to figure the direction that you want to go,’” Eddie said.
Eddie knew about the WyoTech trade school and he said he wanted to go there after high school. “My dad told me that if I went to WyoTech, got good grades, he would sell the business that he’d owned for 18 years,” Eddie said.
That’s what happened and Eddie’s Rod and Custom was born. “We sacrificed everything in the family to give it a shot,” Eddie said.
WORKING ON ANYTHING
Like most shops in the early years, building a team and a reputation meant working on just about everything that came through the front door. Given the shop’s geographic location, much of the work involved rust repair. That meant making cars look like cars again, which kept the cash flowing and honed the metal-working skills, but it didn’t show off the shop’s creative skills. “It didn’t matter how good we were doing, no one really knew what we did,” Eddie said. “We were mastering our metal fabrication skills but it was to replicate a stock panel.”
During the early years, though, a ’49 Chevy came through the door that presented the Eddie’s Rod and Custom team the opportunity to do their version of an Overhaulin’ build. “It was his [the customer’s] father-in-law’s car and he was in Australia for three weeks,” Eddie said. “While he was gone, we stole the car. We started the work. We brought him in on Father’s Day and showed him what we’d done. It was fun. That was our first major car.”
The ’49 was a good learning experience and it also was a smart marketing move. “It got us recognized in the beginning and we got a lot of work from that,” Eddie said.
That same customer also provided the impetus to expand the shop’s offerings. He said he wasn’t going to take the car somewhere else for paint, so Eddie did the right thing: he hired a paint specialist from a local dealership.
HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
As the business grew Eddie took a road less traveled when adding staff. In addition to family members, his first hire was his best friend from high school. As he’s needed additional team members, he’s hired inexperienced people and trained them. “I’ve been blessed by being able to take green employees, teaching them, and sticking with them,” he said.
The big break, in terms of significant exposure, happened in 2017 with the debut of a slick ’63 split-window Corvette resto mod. The Corvette’s success was timely; the team was burned out on routine work because they wanted to show off their creative juices. As Eddie said, “I stumbled across a really awesome customer who gave us free reign and a good budget to build a pretty neat car. People found out who we are and it gave me a new lease on life.”
Growing up attending local car shows and seeing an array of foreign cars in his dad’s shop, Eddie isn’t picky about what types of cars or trucks come through the front door. One car in the shop that you won’t find in many is a ’61 Austin Healey Bugeyed Sprite. A customer inherited the car from her dad, who raced it for years. She wanted to build a version of the Sprite that had the racy look without the constant breakdowns that she remembered as a child.
Eddie proposed finding a low-mileage, mid-’90s Mazda Miata and adapting the driveline to the Sprite. That meant pulling the Miata engine, narrowing the front and rear suspensions by 12 inches, and shortening the driveshaft. A full perimeter frame now supports a coil-over suspension and a four-cylinder engine producing around 130 horsepower, compared to the stock 43-horsepower engine.
At this stage of the shop’s growth, Eddie wants to focus on complete, high-end builds, as well as maintaining previous builds. This new approach is actually the culmination of a long-held dream. “Back in 2001 when Chip Foose won the Ridler with the Grand Master Chevy, that’s when I decided that this is what I want to do,” Eddie said. “We want to keep three to five cars (major builds) in the shop,” plus other work like full chassis swaps and caring for previous customers’ cars.
In support of this new direction, the shop now has a trailer rig that attends major shows to show off the shop’s efforts. It’s part of a marketing push that Eddie said he needs to improve. “I wish I knew (back at the beginning) how important marketing was, getting your name out there,” he said. “I pushed against that. I realized it’s not that way. You actually have to go out, you have to market yourself.”
Don’t worry about the long-term future for the shop. By the time you read this story, Eddie and his wife will have welcomed a second child to the family, giving them two future shop interns to keep the business growing.
A Closer Look: Eddie’s Rod and Custom
Eddie’s Rod and Custom Shop
2015 Werner Cr. NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402
Years in Business: 15
Number of Employees: 12
Square Footage: Just under 10,000 square feet
Your First Car: 1981 Toyota pickup
Your Worst Car: Old Pontiac Grand Prix
Your Favorite Meal: Mexican food/tacos
Your Favorite Weekend: Antiquing with family
Best business advice you’ve received (not from a relative): Do what you love and do the best you can and everything else will work out.