Vintage Fabrication Has Found Long-Term Success With a Combination of Passion, Persistence, and Quality Craftsmanship
When you’re out of work recovering from back surgery, and an unexpected phone call from a friend opens the door to 30 years of doing what you always wanted to do, you have to consider that a success.
That’s the story of how Bobby Schumacher began the journey of building Vintage Fabrication into a well-known shop that steadily produces top-quality hot rods, customs, and street machines. Scores of awards as well as well-deserved exposure in enthusiast magazines confirm the strong reputation of this Independence, Missouri-based shop.
Bobby says he got the car bug in high school. He pestered his guidance counselor and the auto body shop teacher until they allowed him into the class. “I was hired into a body shop my senior year and I learned more in six months than I did in two years [of high school],” he says.
Bobby had done some work for the friend who called with the proposition that launched Vintage Fabrication. He told Bobby that he had a building, that he’d get the equipment, and he’d want a percentage of what Bobby earned in the shop.
“I’d work from eight in the morning and he’d get home (from a job at Ford) at five,” Bobby says. “He’d cook dinner and then we’d work from six to ten together. Every Saturday and Sundays, too. We did it that way for most of 10 years.”
If they weren’t working in the shop, Bobby says they were at car shows. Why? To show potential customers what they could do.
“The first couple of cars were ours,” Bobby says. “I had a frame for my ’32 Ford. We’d load it [on a trailer], take it to a cruise night, and hand out business cards. You just hustled with the coolest thing you could put on a trailer. Take it somewhere and show people your work.”
As the business grew, Bobby began a shop tradition that continues today – an annual open house. He says it’s a great way to show off current builds and recognize your customers and the local community.
“We figured out if you fixed food and beer, people would come,” Bobby says. “We still do our open house to show our appreciation.” The October event regularly attracts 300-400 people.
The first few years of business saw a focus on ’30s and ’40s hot rods and street rods, maybe an occasional ’50s car, Bobby says. Now business revolves heavily around high-end muscle car builds.
A steady stream of repeat customers attests to the quality of the shop’s work. Painting and chrome plating are the only things the shop outsources. Bobby has experienced mechanical, fabrication, upholstery, and wiring specialists on the team. Customers know that Bobby and his staff know their needs and preferences.
Bobby estimates that about 95-percent of the shop’s work is on turnkey builds. Turnkey work is booked a year out, he says, and many customers have additional builds planned when current projects are completed.
The shop steers away from non-turnkey work, primarily because of the lack of people to do that work. “You have so many people that you’ve done work for in the past that you want to help with maintenance stuff,” Bobby says. “But if you can’t find people to do the maintenance work, you’re really stopping on something that’s been paying you for a year on turnkey stuff.”
Keeping a Strong Team
Vintage Fabrication is like many other busy shops across the country. It faces the constant challenge off finding and keeping good people to meet the growing needs of customers.
“You have to be willing to interview anybody,” Bobby says. “It’s so hard to find somebody. We’re always looking.” A recent experience, Bobby says, shows how you have to be flexible – and creative – to build a good team.
“I had this kid come in for an interview in an ’84 Chevy van with Cragars. He did an engine swap. He has quite a bit of experience, but not working in a shop,” Bobby says. “He called me two or three times a week for a month after the first interview. He said: ‘I’ll do anything, anything.’”
By the time you read this the persistent young man will have started working for Bobby. “With someone who’s that motivated, I’ve got to give him a shot,” Bobby says.
Customers have learned to trust the Vintage Fabrication team to build outstanding vehicles. Bobby says his customers seldom walk in the door with an exact idea of what they want.
“We get kind of a free hand on most cars because they’ve seen what we do,” he says. “I usually give multiple options.” He does, though, give customers advice on finding vehicles for projects. “Buy the best thing you can start with. It saves money in the long run.”
Paint color is one critical customer choice where Bobby does volunteer advice. “Customers come up with all these wild colors,” he says. “Wild paint jobs are almost out of style when you finish them. Do something that will stay in style. I’ve watched it for years and those trends come and go.”
A Four-Day Week Works
Vintage Fabrication differs from many of its fellow builders in one way – scheduling. Rather than the traditional five-day work schedule, the crew works four 10-hour days and the shop closes on Fridays.
When they first started the business, when their children were younger, if they went to a car show they had to shut down the shop on Friday. “We went to car shows almost every weekend for years,” Bobby says. The employees like the four-day schedule, Bobby says. And they’re available to work overtime as needed on Fridays. “I think they come back refreshed from a good weekend,” he says. “I just think it’s more efficient.”
After three decades of building show-stopping cars, Bobby still enjoys seeing the finished product. The reveal is the best part, he says.
“When we get close to the end, we don’t send too many pictures,” Bobby says. “I try to keep the customer away so we can present the final product together.”