Monday, 09 April 2018 17:37

Big Wheels Customs Offers Collision Repair Work, More in Lafayette, IN

Written by Kathleen Merrill, The Lafayette Leader
Big Wheels Customs co-owner Orlando Lopez talks about the types of repairs his shop does. They includes custom work, such as vehicle restoration. Big Wheels Customs co-owner Orlando Lopez talks about the types of repairs his shop does. They includes custom work, such as vehicle restoration. LEADER PHOTO/KATHLEEN MERRILL


A bonus about spending time with Big Wheels Customs owner Orlando Lopez is getting good ideas about how to run a successful business and have a happy life.

The 34-year-old former Southern Californian, who has also lived in Detroit, co-owns the business with his 36-year-old brother, Jose. And although the two of them are all about family, this auto repair and customization business off Sagamore Parkway is about the customer first and foremost.

“We’re here because of the people, so we want to make sure we do the best job we can,” Lopez said. “I feel like we’re in a perfect town.”

The business does collision repair work such as auto body work, parts replacement and original and custom paint; auto repair such as brake service, tune-ups, radiator flushes and air conditioning repair; exhaust including headers; auto customization such as hydraulics, body kits, HID lighting and billet grills; suspension work such as ball joints, alignments and lift kits; tire and rim repair; and recently added window tinting. The business also sells new and used tires and new and used wheels, which was how they started in 2002.

“Wheels and tires were our main business. We’ve been doing tires since we were 7 or 8 years old. Our family has tires shops in Detroit,” Lopez said. “As we started growing, we had a passion for cars. We started painting cars, lowering cars, lifting cars. I’m saying cars, but I mean everything.”

They were first on South Street in a strip mall where they didn’t quite fit, Lopez said. Now they’re in a building that their former landlord built for them---one that they now own, he said proudly.

“Running a business is very frustrating, but at the end of the day you have to remember the good parts,” he said.

That includes when any of his four children come to the shop and pick up tools or get excited about the place.

“We started on our own cars,” he said of the business’ growth. “As our customer base grew, they started asking us for things that we had on our cars. They said, ‘Make my car look like yours.’”

Jose does auto mechanic work; Orlando does exhaust, fabrication and metal work. The self-described artist loves when a customer comes to him with an idea and he gets to bring it to life. Along the way, Orlando said he and his brother have learned the best way to run their business is through trial and error.

“Because you don’t just know how to run a business when you start out,” he said. “We owe it all to our customers---all of it. Without them, you can’t make it happen. They trust us.”

He compares today’s auto customizers to earlier pioneers.

“In the 1800s, when all there was were horses, people wanted to differentiate themselves from the next guy. They would do different decorations on their saddles, put bows in their horses’ hair,” he said. “With cars, if every single car is the same, it’s boring. Somebody got bored of seeing the same thing and started making changes. And then every man has an ego.”

Growing up in Southern California, he recalls every type of car: “The racers, the imports, the low riders, the truck scene. We love them all.”

His favorite thing about the business is also the worst, Lopez said.

“We could fail tomorrow, depending on the economy and depending on the customers. We have no backup,” he said. “We don’t have a rich uncle who could save us if we can’t make it next month. We have to treat the customer like he’s the last customer through the door and hope that he’s happy enough to come back again.”

The job is never boring, Lopez said.

“We’re here more than we’re at our home, more than we’re with our wives or our children, so we need to make sure we have a happy environment,” he said. “We’re very proud that we have 12 employees and we have [always] been able to provide for them. Their families and their children depend on their checks.”

Each day is different but somewhat the same, he said. Daily checklists are made for each employee and those things have to get done, which is one of the things he oversees. Treating everyone equally is important to him.

“Without this team, we cannot make this happen,” Lopez said. “No one is better than another person, from the guy throwing the trash away to the guy making a $20,000 sale. We need both of those guys.”

Hiring people and letting them do something they love is also important.

“When we hire people, their own personalities tell you what they like and what they don’t like,” he said. “There’s no point in telling someone to do what they don’t like.”

Whether the business succeeds is very important, Lopez said. The sacrifice his parents made to help them get started is not lost on him.

“We’re a small mom-and-pop organization. We started this with our parents’ money,” he said. “We always joke that this is our parents’ 401K. They basically took what little they had saved and said, ‘Do something. We’re gonna have faith that you will do something good.’”

He knows that small businesses often don’t make it.

“You either grow and improve or you die out,” he said. “So the question becomes, what do I offer that a customer can’t just click their phone and get to a shop or their home? The answer to that is customer service [and] quality control. It’s really difficult to compete with online.”

People will often message him saying they can get wheels and tires online for a certain price and ask him to match it. He then asks them what it will cost them to get them installed, who will repair something if it’s not right and who will stand behind the products.

“A lot of the times, they will go with me instead of online,” he said. “The difference between us and online is I will fix it if something’s wrong.”

Big Wheels Customs is at 609 Sagamore Parkway N. The business, which is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, takes walk-ins and appointments. Call 765-447-6094 or go to www.bwcauto.com.

We thank The Lafayette Leader for reprint permission.

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