Driving in the fast lane

Auto shop specializes in high-performance and custom projects

Chuck Jones knows his way around a car. And while he is just as happy to perform a simple oil change for a customer, he can also fabricate a racecar or restore a vintage hot rod. And his Fruit Valley shop–with wall-to-wall cars in various stages of repair–is a testament to that. Recently, he had a Corvette, BMW, racecar and the shell of a ’36 Ford pickup, among others, in the shop.

Jones’ "interest in things that go fast" began when he started racing go karts at the age of 9. And at 16, when many that age are lucky to get access to the family automobile, he bought his first stock car. Jones, with more than 15 years of professional experience, has worked in a number of auto shops and is ASE Master Technician certified. Jones also worked in the shop of Vancouver-native-turned-NASCAR-celebrity Greg Biffle, who closed down his auto shop in 2000 when he moved to North Carolina to concentrate on his racing career. And before opening his own shop, Jones worked as the crew chief and car builder for another local racer, but it required long hours away from home during the season.

In 2003, along with fiancée Vicky Kayton, Jones opened Chuck Jones Motorsports. The shop initially focused on general auto repair, but specializes in all aspects of high-performance and racing fabrication, restoration, repair and maintenance. Early on, the general auto repair side of the business kept the shop open, but a recent shift in marketing has increased the amount of "project" cars coming into the shop.

"We were not turning anything down in the beginning," said Jones.

The business enlisted the help of the Washington State University Small Business Development Center to develop a marketing plan to reach customers interested in high-performance and custom cars and restoration. They began to reach out to area car clubs and racing events to promote the shop. Additionally, Jones said as much as $30,000 to $40,000 has been spent on specialty equipment in the past year to expand the shop’s abilities.

General automotive repair remains the majority revenue gainer, but as word-of-mouth spreads, the other side of the business is growing. The shop has completed and is working on a number of from-the-ground-up restorations and custom projects on classic and high-performance cars.

Depending on the car, some of the projects range from a few thousand dollars to nearly $20,000. Jones said there are no typical clients, as a growing range of individuals have an interest in cars. He credits an increasing number of television shows focused on car restoration with making it a more mainstream activity.

"It’s a big market, we are just trying to get a piece of it," said Jones.

As the business grows, Jones hopes to relocate eventually from the current 3,000-square-foot location. The Fruit Valley location was chosen mainly because of price. Lease rates are high, and it was difficult to find a location with just a one-year lease, he said. A larger shop in a high traffic area, such as Hazel Dell or Salmon Creek would be ideal, said Kayton, possibly within the next year.

Ideally, they would like have custom and high-performance work producing the majority of the revenue. They expect to bring on part-time help from a student from the Automotive Industrial Arts program at Clark College, and are looking to acquire equipment that allows them to manufacture custom hot rod chassis.

As small business owners, Jones and Kayton cited financing as the greatest challenge to getting started.

"As a new business, it’s hard to get business loans," said Jones.

But presenting a finished product to a customer or hearing feedback on the difference they made for a client makes all the hard work and risk worthwhile, they said.

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