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Chris Holstrom’s Story on Building Hot Rods For a Living

Just Sayin: Hey, let’s start building cars for a living

Chris Holstrom Sep 28, 2017
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Picture the classic dinner party or BBQ where you are meeting new people. For us guys the conversation usually comes around to, “What do you do for a living?” When I explain that I own a hot rod shop they look at me like I’ve completely hacked the system of trudging through life hating your job and looking forward to the next weekend as soon as Monday hits. The automatic reply is “You must be living your dream. How did you do it?”

It’s really simple, actually. There are a few key components to the success CHC (Chris Holstrom Concepts) has enjoyed over the years. It is a lot like exercise and diet; I can tell you all about it, but the main component is the drive and willingness not to give up on your passion.

Our journey began in 2007. My wife and I had a tough year. The kind you just want to forget. After dealing with fertility issues and a job that didn’t work out, I was at an all-time low. We were sitting in a church service and she looks to me and says, “You need to build cars for a living and share your passion with the world.” I know, I know, she is the coolest wife ever! It seemed like a good idea, but all I had was a ripped-apart 1968 Camaro and nobody had ever heard of me. Who’s going to pay me to build a car? Did I mention I was unemployed with grown-up responsibilities?

I got a job to pay the bills and began building that old Camaro at night and on weekends as a showcase for my abilities. I didn’t know that the economy was about to tank, but it didn’t really matter. There are always obstacles in the way to keep things from moving forward. My goal was to figure it out and not stress about things beyond my control.

The best resources you have are the people around you. There is no such thing as a self-made man. My long-time friend, wheel proprietor, and car designer, Jason Rushforth, was instrumental in tirelessly brainstorming ideas, including the CHC logo, which was penned on a restaurant napkin. He made the introductions that ultimately led to getting that Camaro placed at SEMA in 2008.

The momentum was building. It was time to find that first paying customer. The car was sold and I began to promote myself as a car builder. A few small jobs were landed and before I knew it we were headed back to SEMA with another build.

How did I know it was time to quit my job and build full-time? A good indicator is when the nighttime gig makes close to the same money as your daily grind. It was explained to me like this. Picture a boat pulling up to the dock. You don’t jump into the water and swim for shore when you know that you will arrive at the dock eventually. With the pressures of financial obligations, it is suicide to jump ship and hope it will all work out. The lesson here is simple—timing and patience is everything. That time for me was April 1, 2011. I went to my shop in the morning—a humble little space—unlocked the door and launched into a business that now is housed in two buildings totaling over 13,000 square feet with 12 amazing employees, and growing.

There are so many stories to share about our journey along the way. After a few short years, we built a cool little black Nova with an LS9. We displayed it at the 2013 SEMA Show much to the delight of the Sony PlayStation crew. They invited us to be VIPs at a swanky night club for a shot at the coveted Gran Turismo title. The winner gets bragging rights and their car is placed in the video game. We sat there as names were read, an envelope was opened, and we won! It is one of those moments in life where things start to happen in slow motion. You try to take it all in but you never fully realize the moment. I sit here years later amazed at that accomplishment for such a young shop.

Today I get to live my dream because of humble beginnings and a group of customers, employees, and friends that were bold enough to go on this crazy journey with me.

Just Sayin.’


About the Author: Chris Holstrom is the owner of Chris Holstrom Concepts, a hot rod shop in Puyallup, Washington, that specializes in repairing and building high-quality muscle cars and hot rods.

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