Small Shop, Big Builds: Lakeside Rods and Rides
Looks can be deceiving. If you happen to find yourself on 220th Street in Rockwell City, Iowa, you could easily drive past the Lakeside Rods and Rides steel building and think it’s just another small-town guy trying to make a living building cars. But you’d be woefully wrong.
Inside the 8,000sq. ft. metal building, spectacular builds come to life in the hands of owner Roger Burman and craftsman Bobby Hofbauer. The small shop has turned out more than its share of show winners, including nine Goodguys Top 12 awards, many Top 12 finalist selections, plus a little piece of hardware called the Ridler Award.
Burman began his career not far from the current shop, working on cars and motorcycles in a small space behind his house. He completed his first customer-build street rod in 1989. As the business expanded, he moved to the current location (and a 6,000-square-foot storage building nearby) in 1999.
There is another distinct aspect to the small shop’s business model. It focuses on major, long-term builds. Most builds take 18 months to two years to complete. “I do full builds most of the time,” Burman said. “Doing small jobs doesn’t work out because if the long-term customer sees you working on someone else’s car instead of his, he’s not happy.”
WORTH THE WAIT
Burman’s system must work well because there is a consistent waiting list for new projects. “I normally have a two-year waiting list,” he said. “After that they don’t want to wait.”
“There’s no shortage of work,” Burman continued. “I turn down work weekly. I don’t want to have 10 cars in my building and have 10 owners angry with me. I’d rather have three or four cars in here that I’m working on.”
Burman isn’t opposed to expanding, but finding qualified help in his part of Iowa is a challenge. “There’s no real job pool to pick from where we’re located,” Burman said. “There are ‘help wanted’ signs all over the place here. Sometimes people are unhappy that they have to wait a couple of years, but I’ve never been out of work. You just try to do what you do, keep customers happy, and hope for return customers.”
Burman’s business philosophy has proven successful so far. Many of his customers come back with second or third builds. Often more.
“I’ve done more than one vehicle for most of my customers,” Burman said. “I have one in the shop from Vancouver Island and we’re on the fourth or fifth car for that owner. I’ve had other customers like him. It’s not so much when the car gets done, it’s the build. They want to be into the build.”
Burman said the nice thing about repeat customers is that you have an established working relationship. He knows what the customer likes, and he knows the customer is dependable financially. “I bill every two weeks, normally,” Burman said. “It depends on the guy you’re working with. I tell the customer that when we start to build the car, we’re not stopping while he takes a vacation.”
One long-term customer has had Lakeside build more than two dozen projects – probably 15 custom cars and 10 custom motorcycles. “You’d get one car done and there was another one ready,” Burman said.
While Lakeside often caters to long-time customers, that doesn’t mean the shop cranks out the same types of vehicles over and over. Consider some to the builds that have won national recognition:
• 2006 Ridler Award winner – built for Kevin and Karen Alstott of Fort Dodge, Iowa – ’35 Ford roadster; this car also won the 2007 America’s Most Beautiful Roadster title, the 2007 Goodguys Street Rod d’Elegance award; and the 2007 Goodguys America’s Most Beautiful Street Rod honor
• 2004 Goodguys Custom Rod of the Year – 1955 Chevy
• 2008 Goodguys Street Rod d’Elegance – ’35 Ford coupe
• 2010 Goodguys Street Machine of the Year – ’67 Camaro
• 2012 Goodguys Muscle Machine of the Year – ’71 Camaro
• 2015 Goodguys Street Rod d’Elegance – ’35 Ford coupe
• 2015 Goodguys Truck of the Year Late – ’62 Dodge crew cab
• 2017 Goodguys Truck of the Year Late – ’66 Chevy pickup
The design/build equation is different for each project. For the most part, the customers usually have some idea what they want, but that’s not always the case. “Sometimes customers come in with exact ideas,” Burman said. “Others just want to do what we think will look nice.”
That often means working with other industry partners for design, paint, interior, and other aspects on occasion. For example, Brockmeyer Design is often a partner on the concept and design for a project.
Burman is adamant that his high-end builds are functional. “I like to build stuff you can use, jump into and drive places,” he said.
It’s common to see Lakeside builds on the road, heading to shows or participating in organized cruises. For example, the ’65 Chevy Suburban built for regular customer Randy Marston was driven from Des Moines to Fort Worth on the Goodguys 2018 Hall of Fame Tour, then on to Phoenix. A couple weeks later, Marston hit the road with a round trip from Phoenix to Pleasanton in the Suburban.
Marketing is not an issue for Lakeside. Burman said repeat customers, a two-year waiting list, and customer recommendations keep him busy.
Building a Ridler Award winner was rewarding, he said, but it did not correspond with an immediate bump in business. “I didn’t see any golden eggs land after [winning the Ridler],” he said, “I think there’s more hype about that than actually takes place. It was a great once-in-a-lifetime experience to get a chance to compete.”
OLD TRENDS BECOME NEW
Throughout the years, Burman has seen the ebb and flow of design and vehicle trends. “There are not as many street rods as they’re used to be,” he said. “Now there are more trucks and late-model stuff.”
But what’s old often becomes new again. He has two street rod projects in the shop now. “Street rods fell off for a few years, but they are coming back,” Burman said.
Looking ahead, Burman has a realistic outlook. “I like what I’m doing now and if it stays the same, that would be great,” he said. “But I would like to find some more help.”
“I just like being in the shop working.”
Lakeside Rods and Rides – 2486 220th St. Rockwell City, IA 50579 – (712) 297-8671
Photos by John Jackson / NotStockPhotography and Goodguys Staff