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Cruz Control – Cruzer’s Customs Instills Texas Cool into Vintage Rides

A parent’s work experience often influences a child’s career choice. That can mean deciding that you don’t ever want to go into the same line of work as a parent, or finding that you have the same passion as your parent for a particular line of work. For Brian Cruz, owner of Cruzer’s Customs in New Braunfels, Texas, his father’s work ethic as well as his hobby inspired him.

“My dad worked every day, whether it was at work or at home,” Brian says, “It was work, work, work for him. His joy was his hot rods and old trucks.”

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Brian caught the old car bug when he bought a ragged pickup while he was in high school. Working on that truck and others that followed, plus helping friends with their rides, prompted him to open his own shop in 2010.

Like most shops, getting started meant working on whatever came through the doors, but soon full-build projects started filling the shop’s space. Early builds included a ’52 Chevy pickup, a ’59 Corvette, and a ’46 Dodge pickup.

Cruzer’s Full Shop

These days, Cruzer’s Customs has a two- to three-year waiting list of full builds on the schedule and an array of vehicles in the shop. Current projects include ’55 and ’57 Chevys, two early-’70s Chevelles, a ’32 Ford five-window coupe, a ’69 Camaro, and a Buick Grand National.

There’s also a ’58 Chevy Cameo pickup, which Brian says is one the more difficult builds because the fiberglass bed needs so much work to look good.

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With the exception of interior work, Cruzer’s can handle nearly all aspects of a build in-house. This includes having a dyno that allows projects to run as good as they look when the roll out of the shop. That’s important to Brian because building a personal relationship with his customer is critical to the success of a build.

“You want to meet them,” Brian says. “You want them to come to the shop and see what you are doing to fully understand the process, the billing, etc. Also, what happens after the car is built. That way everyone is on the same page.”

Educating Customers

Repeat customers are easy to work with, Brian says, because they’ve been through the process, and they understand why a complex project takes so much time. New customers, though, often come through the door expecting a project to be completed as fast as they appear to be on various TV shows.

“There are some that don’t have a clue as to what goes on, how it’s done and what it costs,” he says. “Some people get it, some don’t.”

Brian recalls how a custom-home builder asked about building a car and was surprised when he was told that not only was there a long waiting list, once the work on the car began it might be another year or more. The home builder said he can build a home in a year, so why does the car take so long? “I don’t have the work force,” Brian says. “I can’t build a one-off car in that time. It’s just not the same.”

But customers who understand the process are pleased with the results, especially those who work with Brian to strive for timeless-style builds. He says he tries to impart on the customer the understanding that you want a car or truck to look as current in five years as it might now.

Keeping Them Happy

When the process works, both Brian and the customer are happy. For example, the recent build of David Biegler’s ’64 Buick Riviera met their combined expectations, garnering media exposure and major awards like the Goodguys 2022 Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year title, as well as generating scores of customer leads for the shop.

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Brian says he enjoys the customers’ reactions to a completed build. Normally the customer doesn’t see the final result until the car is unveiled, so the reveal is always rewarding for everyone. One of the best involved the Riviera.

“He hadn’t seen it in a long time and when we revealed it at SEMA, he finally got to see it,” Brian says. “His family was there. It was really cool.”

Managing customers’ expectations while keeping current projects on schedule is a challenge for most builders today, including Brian and his team. Finding and keeping good employees is always a challenge. Although supply chain issues are improving, lead times on major components are still lengthy.

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Recruiting the right employees is not easy, given the shortage of skilled prospects. Beyond skills, though, Brian looks for a strong work ethic and a passion for the job. “If you don’t have that and you’re not passionate about what you do, what do you have?” Brian says.

Supply chain bottlenecks caused by the pandemic are improving, but suppliers face some of the same challenges as shop owners. For example, major components such as a custom chassis can take six months or more to receive after they are ordered. Brian says the situation is improving, but customers often have a hard time understanding the long lead times on certain components.

Cruzing Ahead

With a two- to three-year waiting list of full builds, Brian knows there will be work for his team, but simply finishing one build and starting the next isn’t enough. Keeping up with design trends, continuing to build a network of industry colleagues, and constantly improving his business skills are ongoing goals for Brian.

Like many builders, Brian opened the doors because he liked the work. But that meant he needed to learn the business skills to make sure the shop survived. So, how do you go from bending metal and spraying paint to crunching numbers and creating a business plan? “It was learn as you go,” Brian says. “I got advice from a lot of good people. I tried to take bits and pieces of it and use it to the best of my knowledge.”

A key part of the shop’s growth has included Brian’s wife Jessica joining the team several years ago and lending her organizational and management skills to the business. Their son now works in the shop, too, helping it to become a multi-generational family endeavor. With family support, a strong track record, and plenty of work lined up, Cruzer’s Customs seems well positioned to continue growing and thriving in the years ahead.

Photos by John Jackson

Dave Doucette is a long-time Goodguys member with a career in newspaper, magazine and website journalism. He was one of the founding editors of USA TODAY, editor of two daily newspapers and co-owner of a magazine publishing and trade show company. He owns and operates Real Auto Media. His first car was a 1947 Ford; he has owned Camaros, Firebirds, El Caminos and a 1956 Chevy that was entered in shows from California to Florida before being sold last year. He was one of the original Goodguys Rodders Reps and served as president of two classic Chevy clubs. Doucette grew up in South Florida, avidly following the racing exploits of local hero Ollie Olsen and, of course, Don Garlits. He remembers riding his bicycle to Briggs Cunningham’s West Palm Beach factory to peak through the fence at his Sebring and LeMans racers.