Unreal C.A.R.S., Real People
By David MacDonald
If this is your first time meeting Paul Taylor Sr., the owner of C.A.R.S. (Canadian Automotive Restoration Specialists), and he looks familiar, it is a good bet that one of your guilty pleasures is reality television. Taylor is one of The Restorers on season one of the hit series Restoration Garage, which airs on the National Geographic Channel in the U.S. and on History Television in Canada. If you are now having that “Ah, right, Paul!” moment, you are probably remembering a few specifics: His wife and business partner, Nicole, and his son, Paul Jr. are his world; his shop is located in Southern Ontario – in Shelburne, Dufferin County to be exact; he takes calculated risks; he thrives on constant change and, therefore, efficiency. What is even more memorable about Paul Sr.’s story is that he started C.A.R.S. with just CDN $800.00 and has achieved incredible torque in just two short years in business.
New customers and window shopping motorheads who walked into Paul Sr.’s 12,000 square feet shop in July left with one eyebrow still raised. Yes, that was a Kitty Kat – a vintage 60cc children’s snowmobile manufactured by Arctic Cat between 1972 and 2000 – in the midst of a restoration. And yes, that was an authentic 1950s juke box in for a tune-up. No, that 1970s pinball machine is not just for anyone to play – its owner trusted its revival and safe keeping to the C.A.R.S. team. Yes, the Lead Mechanic was working on a rare Ford 1969 Cyclone while his team cared for, in no particular order, a: ?57 Bel Air Custom, a ?66 Plymouth Fury III, a ?78 Fiat 124 Sport Spider, and a 1960 T-Bird. These are just a few examples of what makes a peek into Paul Sr.’s shop so buzzworthy.
And if those rarities were not enough to spark the plugs of C.A.R.S. first-timers, what lies just beyond the restored antique penny scale is sure to start their engines. What Paul Sr. features in his 5,000 square feet showroom on any given month is enough to take away Jay Leno’s breath. In July: an actual Indy pace car; a 1959 Cadillac Series 62; a 1935 Dodge Double Plank Boat; a Garelli Moped; and a functioning coin-operated Tom & Jerry motorcycle children’s ride.”Currently we have on-the-go anywhere from four to six full restorations,” explains Paul Sr., “not to mention many more service contracts, modification orders, and, of course, constantin-and-out maintenance jobs. When you come into the shop, don’t be surprised to find the odd boat or motorcycle kicking around too – not to mention the special projects we love to take on.”
For Paul Sr., it is sometimes hard to imagine the pace at which he and his team are now cruising started from zero.
He remembers with great clarity arriving at the Fleetwood Country Cruize-in – one of North America’s premier annual outdoor car shows held in London, Ontario – in early June 2014 with his family and future in tow. He received a personal invitation to attend that year from Steve Plunkett, philanthropist and brain behind the Cruize-in, and was driving into a familiar event feeling a little green. “The ink was still wet on our business plan; we had just recently registered the company and picked up our first business cards just days before,” Paul Sr. recalls. “But Steve’s a family guy too and knew what it was we were trying to build. He really encouraged us from day one.”
George Barris also played a major role in Paul Sr.’s Cruize-in pump up. The late auto customizer of Hollywood fame – who designed and built franchise mainstays like the original Batmobile in the 1960s and Mike Knight’s ride, KITT, from 1982’s Knight Rider – made his mark on Paul Sr., figuratively and literally. “His advice was so inspirational,” Paul Sr. remembers. “At the very first Cruize-in Nicole and I attended, George took the time to listen to us outline our vision before it was a reality. He encouraged us and gave us the confidence to open C.A.R.S. At last year’s show, he did a one of a kind signature on my right forearm in Sharpie and I as a tribute I’ve had it tattooed. It’s an honour to have and a great way to remember this great man who pushed us in so many ways.”
What Paul Sr. has since built has been a labour of love. “From the onset, Nicole and I knew the only way we could operate a restoration shop and expect it to grow would be to focus on values that deliver. We looked at it like this: Our young family is going to count on this business; our employees’ families will rely on this business; and many families who own classic cars or trucks will also rely on us. We figured if we’re so family-driven, why not hold family values.”
It did not take long for the Taylor’s family-fueled business plan to bear fruit. “Before completing our first year, we found ourselves in need for a more suitable facility. We needed a place where we could expand our services and branch out to even more clients. Thankfully we weren’t in the commercial real estate hunt for long. It took only a few days to find our current location in Shelburne – a former Ford dealership, actually – and we couldn’t be happier. It’s en route to Cottage Country. Blue Mountain and Owen Sound are both about an hour from us and these destinations bring past us about one million cars every summer alone. We’ve gone from one or two drop-ins per week to at-least 10 per day at the current location.”
“Growth often comes with unexpected changes,” Taylor reflects. “And it’s not always a smooth transition for everyone. We get people in management and on the floor who find it difficult keeping up with the pace and these are talented craftsmen. So we’ve had to do a lot of moving people around to get to the zone we’re in now. Our new Shop Manager, Jack D’Innocenzo, actually trained me for my first position managing another restoration shop. He’s been in the game a long time. Under experienced management, we’re running like a well-tuned engine.”
Having friends in high places like Plunkett and D’Innocenzo is not a boon lost on Paul Sr. “It has definitely had its benefits along the way,” he explains.Mr. Rob McLeese is another of Paul Sr.’s Sherpas. McLeese is the CEO and co-founder of the Cobble Beach Golf Club Resort Community in Kemble, Ontario on the picturesque Georgian Bay who alongside his father, Mr. Willis McLeese, envisioned and realized the Concours d’Elegance at Cobble Beach. This annual competition displays antique and classic cars of both international and continental fame in a myriad of ways, including a procession along Cobble Beach Drive that cannot be missed. This year’s Concours takes place September 17 and 18.
In just two years, he has made connections with promotional channels and suppliers that most businesses can only dream of.
“In February 2015, we signed a contract with Bell Media through Virgin Radio for their on-air Best Summer Job Ever contest. A selected winner was to drive a restored 1976 Volkswagen Westfalia to and from automotive events all while creating audio and video logs of event activities and their experiences. We not only restored that VW and kept the classic appearance, we did a restomod; we modified it with modern features like Wi-Fi. Virgin Radio used the Canadian International Auto Show as the launch platform and it was a huge hit. It was all staged in an outdoors-themed display with Mounties handing out promotional materials for both the contest and C.A.R.S. We thought we couldn’t have asked for more, but the hype caught the attention of Wheels.ca and CP24 Toronto News. We also ended up being contracted for our first full restoration and making our first out-the-door at a major event.”
Promoting C.A.R.S. in a multimedia light has Paul Sr. burning the candle on both ends. After all, for every “Ah, right, Paul!” moment he and his team generate the brand grows. “Keeping up with everyone and everything is beyond a full-time position,” he explains.”Although Jack manages the shop for me, I’m constantly in touch with my clients and supporting my team with a hands-on approach. I’m always planning for the next car show, making runs to local suppliers and hardware stores so that we keep things running efficiently. It’s the name of the game. When you have a showroom like ours, visitors are often regulars and want to see constant change. I’m always looking for leads on exciting new displays, classic cars, memorabilia and collectables, art and media, and so much more.”
Carspecialists.com falls under the “so much more” category. It is no wonder the web address is bookmarked by motorsports enthusiasts around the world. Just a quick visit to the page instantly brings you into the shop through their #ShopShotsMedia Tweets. On July 6, for instance, there is an artful near-silhouette of Lead Mechanic MarkGabert dismantling a 1960 Jaguar MK II. On July 4, the experience and skill of C.A.R.S.’ two Airbrush Artists were profiled along with a tribute to their American customers. “Our website is crucial to our expansion,” Paul Sr. outlines.”Not only does it offer our clients information at their fingertips, it allows them get involved. We’ve tied-in our social media feeds so that the website maintains a fresh feel. This attracts new customers as they see feedback from current clients and results from current projects.”
The aesthetic side of the business is not even where Paul Sr. gets the greatest pleasure. He loves resting his approach and pricing on the family-found foundation he and his wife built. “Our current rate per hour is $90, which is extremely competitive for our industry. More importantly, our average daily billing per employee is 6.5 hours. We recognize that if we charge our customer for every second of the work day – even if it’s taking a quick bathroom break – that we cut into our own budgets, making it harder to meet demands,” he insists.
Paul Sr.’s American clients are well aware that his competitive edge knows no borders.
“The current U.S. exchange rate seems to be hurting a lot of businesses, but we’re finding the opposite is true. Our strategy is simple: First, we identify and source the parts our customers need and have them order them directly. This eliminates the shipping cost to the shop, which the consumer typically absorbs and includes costly mark-ups. This means that everyone involved is a little less bruised from shopping cross-border. For our American Clientele, it’s a win-win. They benefit from the exchange rate, saving nearly 25% of labour costs – and besides, most U.S. customers usually send their pre-purchased parts along with their vehicles.”
If it seems like Paul Sr. and his team anticipate your needs, you are right. They think like you. They want your car, your truck, your motorcycle, your boat – or your vintage juke box – bringing you that feeling of exhilaration and freedom it did on day one. They get it.
“I’m not in it for the money; I’m in this because it’s my passion. What makes it even better is that my employees become like family, so morale is easy to maintain – they always want to do better and better. Customers also become like friends and family because they know our service is reliable and fair.When you send people away happy, they send another 10 our way. Good words travel fast. I’ve always held that we H.I.T. our competition with: Honesty, Integrity and Transparency.”