PLEASANTVILLE — James Lin can track his entrepreneurial start to age 18, when a 2 a.m. television commercial touted a be-your-own-boss seminar in King of Prussia.
He was working three jobs at the time in Atlantic City — casino room service, valet and waiter — and had been working on friends’ cars in a garage with his buddy.
“Boom. It clicked a nerve,” said Lin, now a 40-year-old husband and father of two daughters.
From this show, he decided to buy an $8,000 piece of equipment that put gold plating on car emblems, a popular customization at the time.
He began offering the service to local car dealerships: For his first customers, he did three cars and made $580.
Lin now is the owner of Car Toyz, a 19-employee business based on Noahs Road in Pleasantville, just off the Black Horse Pike.
The shop does all manner of car customizations — such as audio equipment, special Lamborghini-style wing doors, remote starts and customized interiors.
And then it does more — fabricating its own leather seats, designing and creating exterior wraps for cars, changing engines, fixing transmissions, and even installing state-ordered breath-test units in cars.
“Anything that’s customized, we can do. If it’s not made, we can build it from fiberglass,” he said.
The business works with local dealerships and has a 24-hour towing service.
Lin, who grew up in the Chelsea Heights section of Atlantic City, never graduated from high school or went to college, something he said he would do differently if he could.
But his drive in business — he works 70-hour weeks and carries two cell phones to talk to customers and dispatch tow truck drivers — has been with him for a long time.
“I guess it’s motivation,” he said. “Everything I have is mine. It’s not borrowed. There’s no partner. And I have to answer to myself. At the end of the day, I have to feed my family and put 19 employees on the payroll.”
Lin said customer service is particularly important in his line of work, as is customer convenience.
His flatbed trucks can pick up vehicles and drop them off. He also bought two new Hyundai Sonatas for loaner cars when customers leave their vehicles at the shop.
The slow economy’s affect on his business has been limited, Lin said.
“We did see a drop, but the overall drop was not like we had to cut down on guys, or let anyone go. That’s when you have to revise and offer more. We didn’t always have a full-time mechanic. We do full details, and we also do detail for Sport Hyundai across the street,” he said.
Market research firm IBISWorld said that although the car-customization industry suffered as a whole from the recession, it is gaining more traction as customers increase discretionary spending.
Meanwhile, car customization remains a popular craving for car lovers of all ages.
“People see it on TV, see it in magazines. The more you see, the more you want,” Lin said. “You used to think customers were 17, 18. In reality, customers are also in their 40s and 50s.”
His customers are local, and also those from out of state who pass the shop on their way to Atlantic City.
The cost of work can range from as low at $20 to as much as $100,000.
“I sold a $30,000 job on a text. Basing it on because I have a flatbed, I can pick it up, and showing them a picture of it being done before. And they said, ‘When can I have it done?’ It all comes down to understanding customer service.”
Sometimes this comes down to working long hours, and working late, to get jobs done on time. Lin praised his employees for their work ethic to get jobs done.
“When the jobs come in here, every one is a priority,” he said. “It gets done, it doesn’t matter how booked we are, if we’re working on three or four projects.”
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