Goolsby Customs: Delivering the Goods
Goolsby Customs has become well known over the past 15 years for producing stunning rides year in and year out. To understand the success of the shop, though, you need to start at the beginning. The very early beginning.
Jonathan Goolsby raced BMX bicycles as a youngster and did what all young aspiring customizers would do – he tore apart his bike and repainted it. Growing up around Hueytown, Alabama, Jonathan was immersed in circle track racing and painting race cars. “You fix ‘em up, go out and race them, and fix ‘em up again,” Jonathan said. “You learn how to work on a car; you’re painting everything.”
Those experiences led to 11 years of doing collision repair for a local dealership. During that time, though, Jonathan was working on hot rods at a small home-based shop. In 2004, Jonathan and his wife Vonda decided to go out on their own. They bought an old body shop and Goolsby Customs was born. “We did collision work and hot rods,” Jonathan said. They dropped the collision work several years ago and moved full time into hot rods.
Why drop the steady collision work? They were putting the same passion into collision work as they did on hot rod projects, which was good for the collision customers, but not for the bottom line. “We weren’t making any money because we were over-doing the collision work,” Jonathan said. “It got to where we loved the hot rods most and fighting the insurance companies wasn’t worth it.”
Today the shop still has two primary lines of work. In addition to full-build projects, Goolsby has a service line for hot rods and other classics. The shop offers chassis and engine upgrades, basic tune-ups, smaller modifications, even oil changes. While the big builds get the publicity, the service aisle brings in new customers and keeps regular customers coming back.
Jonathan and his crew have turned out a variety of attention-getting cars, including the ’67 Camaro that was Goodguys’ 2018 giveaway car, and ’79 Mustang Goodguys Pace Car that helped us expand our event year breaks to 1987. Lucille, a ’40 Ford convertible built for Debbie Walls of Lokar, won the Goodguys 2018 March Performance Street Rod D’Elegance award. A 1974 Plymouth Duster and a pro-touring 1970 Mustang were showcased at recent SEMA Shows.
Those cars generate plenty of exposure for the shop. That’s part of the Goolsby marketing plan and it started with Jonathan’s first full build – his own 1960 Starliner. “That was one that I could take out to shows and feel like I could say ‘Hey, this is what I did’ and use it as a stepping stone,” Jonathan said.
That public-exposure strategy continues. Goolsby Customs attends 15-18 shows a year displaying customers’ cars, often driving them to the events on organized tours. “I really like doing shows because it’s face-to-face, meet-and-greet with people,” Jonathan said.
The shop website and social media are also important marketing tools. “The thing with social media is that it keeps everyone in the know of what’s going on now, where we’re going to be,” he said. “People want to know if we’re going to be at a show, is a certain car going to be there.”
The Goolsby Customs team gains some additional regional exposure (and has some fun) with a pair of circle track cars they run at local tracks. Jonathan calls racing his “out” – it’s what he does for fun to unwind. He’s done plenty of driving in the past, but most recently shop employee Jeremy Williams has been the one behind the wheel – and taking a few checkered flags.
Like many shops, Goolsby has its share of return customers. “That’s where the word of mouth comes in,” Jonathan said. “We’re close with our customers. We go to shows together; we hang out together.”
New or old, Jonathan says customers don’t usually show up with a complete design concept. “The customer usually has one set item that they want,” he said. “They come to you because they like your design and they are trusting you to build what they want. When a customer comes in, we sit down and talk. What’s the purpose of us building this car? Is it going to sit in a garage? Are you going to go after certain awards? What’s the meaning behind the car?”
Once the direction is determined the discussion moves on to engine, suspension, and other details. “You pinpoint each corner of the vehicle and see what we’re going to do,” Jonathan said. “You put all of that together and get the rendering done.”
The shop uses two or three different artists for this critical step. “The rendering gives them something to see,” Jonathan said. “And it’s a lot cheaper to pay for changes to a rendering than changing the car once it’s built.”
Jonathan enjoys the luxury of having a pretty stable staff. “We don’t have a big turnover,” he said. He credits the investment he puts into filling jobs that do open. After settling on a strong candidate, Goolsby brings the candidate to the shop for a tryout – usually one or two weeks. “We put them in a hotel and let them work like one of the regular guys,” he said. “If everything looks good, the guys who work here like him, we like him, we’ll offer him the job and maybe some moving expenses.”
That effort and expense pays off with a new employee who can do the work and fit in. “We don’t want to hire someone off the street and have them come in here with an attitude that pulls the rest of the shop down,” Jonathan said. “It’s like a big family here.”
Like any shop, keeping track of time and parts for a project is important. Customers want to know what they’re paying for and the shop needs to make a profit. “When we first started, my wife and I were doing everything,” Jonathan said. “We realized as we got bigger that we couldn’t do it all.”
Now the shop uses a software package to track parts and labor so the customer gets a twice-monthly billing statement that outlines work completed and parts installed. Employees log in and out on an app on their cell phones to detail their work. All of that information flows onto Jonathan’s office computer. While the shop doesn’t require deposits, this system produces accurate, detailed bills so the customer understands what he’s paying for.
Where is the future heading for Goolsby Customs? “The cars will change to some degree toward more of the late ’70s and ‘80s cars as they get more popular,” Jonathan said. “It’s neat to see the next generation come into play; seeing how that will evolve will be interesting.”
Jonathan’s First Car: Toyota Celica
Jonathan’s Worst Car: My dually “because it gets me to all the shows.”
First custom: BMX bike. “I was big into BMX racing when I was young. That was the first thing I tore apart and started painting.”
What you like to do when you’re not working: Circle track racing. “That’s my out.”
Your favorite meal: Spaghetti or tacos.
Alabama or Auburn: “Oh, Alabama all day. You gotta pick ‘em when you’re here.”
Photos by Steven Bunker