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PEOPLE & PARTS MAGAZINE
San Diego—Throughout his 40-year career in the body shop industry, Rocky Frost has overseen a small start-up shop, a large established business with lots of employees and insurance direct repair work, and a shop focused as much on custom and restoration work as collision repair. All of those businesses have been Custom Auto Body, which Frost and his wife, Carolyn, have owned and operated since the 1970s.
At the outset, their shop was “one of only two or three body shops in Kearny Mesa, if you can believe that,” Frost said. “Within three or four years, there were quite a few more, and within 10 or 15 years, I would say there were 50 body shops in this area.” By that time, the Frosts’ business had grown significantly, thanks to great relationships with insurance companies and area dealerships, he said. “My thing had always been custom painting and restoration, but we kind of lost sight of that because of insurance work,” Frost said. “We did that (insurance work) for 30-some years, and had as many as 19 employees. It was great.” The scale of the business gave Frost the freedom to closely follow his son’s success in baseball, including missing very few of his games while in high school or while on scholarship at the University of Southern California. But about the time his son was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, Frost said, economy started its nosedive. “We cut way back,” he said. “In fact, we got all the way down to just six employees. We were still hanging in there, but I also wasn’t real happy about the direction of the direct repair programs. So I made a pretty risky decision and got rid of them all. We started going back to our roots in custom painting and restorations. People kept telling me I was crazy. They said you can’t do that kind of work along with collision repair. And they felt it wasn’t the right time to make that change.
Frost is happy to declare the naysayers were wrong. While the past seven or eight years have not been entirely easy, the business has sustained itself and now has nine employees. The work is split about equally between late-model collision repair work and custom or restoration work. “On any given day, we can have cars from the early 1920s along with a brand new 2014 Shelby GT 500 in here,” Frost said. “So we don’t really specialize in anything except doing quality work. It works out well, but you have to have the right people. We did go through quite a change, because technicians who primarily work on collision repair don’t normally want to work on restorations. So we kept one technician and hired three others because we needed people to work on restorations. The most important thing is hiring people with the right attitude and a willingness to grow and learn. And we’ve been so blessed to have some of the best technicians and employees.” Located on two-thirds of an acre, the shop consists of an L-shaped, single-stall-depth building. Awnings and canopies extend the production area into the large lot outside the building. “The nice breezes in San Diego keep us cool in the summer,” Frost said. “And we have some guys who prefer to work outside. They like it not only for the nice air, but also for the light. It works out well.” Frost said the shop has sprayed Spies Hecker paint for about 15 years, including through a “very easy” conversion to Spies’ waterborne paint line. “The paint has changed, but that hasn’t affected the restoration work. In fact, I think it has enhanced it,” Frost said. “Spies Hecker has always been great to us. We used Automotive Painting Products all the way up until they closed their doors. Some of their employees went over to Annex Paint, and we followed them there as well. The service from Annex has been great, and they’ve always been very supportive.”
Frost said he tries to post on the shop’s Facebook page two or three times a week. Updating the shop’s website is a more cumbersome task, he said, so Facebook offers a great opportunity for frequent updates and lots of photos. “That’s a way I can show off the particular projects that we’re working on,” he said. Frost said he personally has more responsibilities at the shop now than he did when he had more employees. He also spends many of his weekends at car shows to help attract custom and restoration work. In April, one of the shop’s projects was recognized among the best of more than 850 Mustangs at the Fabulous Fords Forever show at Knott’s Berry Farm. “I do have a lot more duties, so I always wish there was more time in the day,” he said. “But when you do quality work and have happy customers, you can sleep really well at night.” -