Today, Richard Wood Kustoms in Austin, TX employs seven people and all of them are graduates from WyoTech. He is giving back in a big way to the school which he said "Pulled me out of high school and changed my life."
Changing classic cars into amazing creations is what Richard Wood Kustoms is all about now, but his early days were not exactly easy, Wood said. "I was 21 and only two years out of WyoTech and I decided to start a body shop with my toolbox partner from school. We took an old 7-11 convenience store and used their old freezer for our paint booth and invested everything we had into the business, which was only $5,000. It was a little scary at first, but as our reputation grew, the work started pouring in."
In 1984, Richard founded Custom Car Crafters, a 30,000 sq. ft. shop located in North Austin and a 10,000 sq. ft. shop located South. In 2015, Wood was able to sell the shop to a large MSO to pursue his passion of restoring vehicles full-time. "We were one of the largest independent body shops in Texas with 87 employees, and then one day Caliber Collision called," Wood said. "It was a substantial offer, so I got out, but also realized that I couldn't retire."
Today, Richard Wood Kustoms operates out of a 5,000 sq. ft. shop located northwest of Austin in the Lake Travis area right next to his house on a lake. His commute is short and sweet and future expansion of the shop’s current size is evident. "Business is brisk and getting better all the time," Wood exclaimed. "We have a long waiting list and [are] booked out for at least six months. We don't do any collision work anymore, so things like cycle time and insurance companies aren't a big part of our lives now. But I'm still attached to fixing cars and with my entire life dedicated to the industry, who knows, maybe one day, I'll get back into that side of it."
To get the work done on-time and of the highest quality, Wood calls upon his all-star crew to exceed everyone's expectations, he said, even though he's never surprised when they continually impress him. "One of the best decisions I ever made was hiring WyoTech grads. I already know what they know because we all took the same classes. These guys are highly disciplined and not afraid of a challenge and that's why they're highly employable. I don't have to re-train them and I surely don't need to motivate them because they already got that part covered."
Wood's attraction to working on cars got a kick start one evening when he was watching a TV show in 1977. "I was 12 and I was watching 'That's Incredible!' and there was a guy on the show that was pin striping a car blindfolded," he said. "When I saw that, I said I need to do that, but not with the blindfold. I got on my bike and rode to a shop nearby and said I needed a job and that's how I got started."
Wood feels as though he owes something to the school and credits his success in many ways to his time at WyoTech. "The people from WyoTech came to my high school and pulled me out of there, which was definitely life-changing," he said. "My family was poor, so I knew that without WyoTech, my cards were already pretty much dealt. I was going to work at either a chemical plant or in construction. Luckily, the folks at WyoTech saw that I had some talent and a passion for cars, otherwise I surely wouldn't be where I am today."
Where he is today is winning best paint awards and doing vehicles for celebrities such as Jesse James, Lance Armstrong and Paul Tuttle from Orange County Choppers. He is partnering with top industry names like Detroit Muscle, Jeff Hayes of American Speed Shop, Mecum Auctions and Rich Evans to keep wowing car collectors and fans for his work worldwide.
To give back to his alma mater, Wood is more than optimistic to stay involved with WyoTech to give back in any way he can. For SEMA 2015, Wood worked alongside a team of nine other WyoTech graduates to build a 1966 Ford Mustang at his facility. The project that was sponsored by WyoTech and the United States Military Educators Association (USMEA) included body modifications, drivetrain upgrades as well as engine, electrical, and interior work. The nine WyoTech grads included three Richard Wood Kustoms employees, Robert Buchanan (Class of 2011), Jaime Hernandez (Class of 1997) and the newest member to his team, Jason Stults (Class of 2015), who was hired after his participation in the build.
Woods also speaks regularly to high school students to share his journey while imparting sage advice. "I tell them that you don't need to go to college to have a good career. There are a lot multi-millionaires out there in this industry that never spent a day in college. Find out what you love and do it. Learn as much as you can about it and then work hard. You will succeed and the opportunities will be there, and I am an example of that."
Wood, 52, has won multiple awards for amazing vehicles, but he never gets tired of what he's doing, he said. "Getting cars ready for big shows like SEMA and the Grand National and working as a team to get it done, I still love that. People ask me about retirement, but that's not for me. I would go crazy if I retired and I'm still passionate about my work, so, God willing, I'll be doing this for many years to come."