After immigrating to Vancouver Island with his wife and daughters five years ago, Australian auto body technician Paul Uren had a difficult time finding a job in the industry.
So he created his own.
“Moving here, I was pretty wound up, all gung-ho,” Uren, 40, says in his distinctive Australian accent. “But things were pretty tough in 2011, actually, especially in the collision industry. Guys were getting laid off everywhere, and I couldn’t get a job.
“So we decided to have a shot at doing this.”
“This” is Oceanside Kustoms, which Uren opened with his wife Veronica, in Parksville in March, 2014. He started the business to fill a need in custom, classic and hot rod restoration. And it hasn’t taken long to develop a loyal following.
“It’s gone from, ‘How are we gonna pay the bills?’ to ‘How are we gonna get this work done?’” says Uren.
“We’ve progressed pretty quickly for our business plan, as it was,” Veronica, 36, adds. “We’re far ahead.”
Still in just its third year of business, Oceanside Kustoms recently added 1,500 sq. feet of work space, took on a third employee and is booking appointments well into a fourth year.
Through it all, the Urens have become the toast of the region’s hot-rod-club scene, drawn classic car customers from across B.C. and beyond, and rubbed shoulders with one of the icons of the industry.
It’s all pretty heady stuff for a guy who doesn’t even own his own hot rod.
Career collision course
In his teens, Uren hired on with McDonald’s in Australia and quickly moved into management with the international fast-foot chain.
“I was old enough to open a McDonald’s store, but not old enough to have my driver’s license over there,” he quips. But he recognized that was not what he wanted to do with his life, and went on to enrol in a mechanical engineering program at university.
And that was worse.
“I knew the second week, ‘This is not for me,’” Uren recalls. “I’m not a school guy.”
It was after getting into an accident with his first car that he finally found his calling. Uren says he took the vehicle to a body shop for repair, and upon picking it up asked if the shop needed an apprentice.
“They said, ‘Uh, yeah,’” Uren says. “I said, ‘What do you need?’ And they said, ‘We could do with a painter.’ So I said, ‘I’ll see you Monday.’
“And that’s how I got into it. I got into the industry by accident. Literally.”
Paul met Veronica, a young Canadian woman visiting Australia from Vancouver Island in 2001, and the two traveled to the Island to wed in 2002. Upon his return Down Under, Paul purchased B.R. Kustoms, and turned it into a body shop specializing in the restoration of classic and hot rod cars, particularly Mopar muscle cars like the 1960s and ‘70s-era Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger.
“After we got married and went back to Australia, I decided this was the market I wanted to get into,” Paul says. “And we did. Before I knew it, I’d done 12-15 Challengers and ‘Cudas back in Ozzie.”
When the couple decided to sell the shop and move to Canada to raise their young girls — now ages eight and 10 — Paul envisioned more of the same. But it did not happen overnight.
He eventually found work at Leon Aines Body Shop in Qualicum Beach, and later was offered a sales position with a local auto parts store — an ill-fated move that lasted just a month.
“It was pretty evident to me after moving here that I needed to be my own boss,” Paul says. “Things are done a little differently here to what I’m used to, and I’m not going to change that. So I started this place.”
A bumper crop of friends
The opening of Parksville’s new hot rod shop was aided by work Uren had done for customers who had previously had a “bad experience” elsewhere, he says. One of them happened to be an organizer for the V.I. Cruisers hot rod club, who spread the word among his members.
Those members had friends among the membership of the Seaside Cruizers and Ocean Idlers clubs, and when Uren opened the doors to his new business, he found roughly 40 to 50 local classic car enthusiasts waiting to greet him.
“You can’t just open a shop and say, ‘Here I am,’” Paul explains. “There’s some trust involved. Only I knew what I was capable of, and I was the new kid, from the other side of the world.
“But when you help out someone who’s had a bad experience, it makes you look twice as good as what you really are. Because you’ve done the right thing.”
For the first year, Paul did all of the work himself, with assistance from Veronica. In the first couple of months, he says, the shop drew more job-hunters than customers, and two in particular stood out.
But Jeff Oberacher and Mike Simpson, who now work at Oceanside Kustoms along with newcomer Jason Ridout, had to bide their time.
“A lot of guys came to see me for a job, but I knew those two guys were credible,” Paul says. “But I told them I need to make sure it’s gonna go in the right direction first. You don’t want to offer them a job and then say, ‘I don’t have enough work for you’ and then lose them. Because then you don’t get them back.
“We got lucky with the right guys.”
And, of course, Veronica remains on staff to manage the front and oversee ongoing work.“I keep the boys in line,” she says with a smile. “She’s the boss,” Paul admits. “We just do the work.”
All roads lead to Oceanside Kustoms
They have done the work well enough to book cars into next August, and current customers hail from Victoria to
Courtenay and Port Alberni, as well as White Rock, Kamloops and even Alberta, Paul says. This, despite the fact that the shop’s only advertising is word of mouth and a Facebook page, “Oceanside kustoms.”
Through the social media site, customers stay abreast of the progress of work on their vehicles, work that can run 10 to 12 weeks for a full renovation. It is a model Paul developed at his shop in Australia, where he occasionally had customers stuck on offshore oil rigs and unable to visit in person.
“When I opened the shop I heard a lot of horror stories from guys who basically felt like they were getting held for ransom when they had work done before,” he says. “You hand over your car, hand over a bunch of money, and you’re sort of not in control of what’s going on.
“Whereas, we keep it open. I encourage people to come and see what’s going on with their car. I want them to be involved, and share their ideas.”
What Uren and his crew do is not cheap. The shop’s clientele consists primarily of customers who have sufficient disposable income to maintain their hobby, collection or obsession.
“These guys have the car they wanted when they were 20, 21-years-old, and always dreamed of,” Veronica says. “But they were doing the family thing and maybe taking care of a business, and now they’re at the age where they’re retiring or have been saving so they can have their dream baby.”
And, at Oceanside Kustoms, they can have it just the way they want it, from a full restoration to a basic body and paint job, to individual parts fabrication.
Each Father’s Day weekend, in conjunction with the annual Show ‘n Shine in downtown Qualicum Beach, the shop hosts an open house and barbecue, with funds going to a local charity.
For a time, Paul had a 1951 Mercury Cougar he would take to local car shows with his fabricating equipment, to perform demonstrations of the kind of work done at the shop. But after putting only five weeks of work into the vintage car in five years, he recently sold it.
“I don’t have time,” he said with a laugh. “All my time goes into working on these cars.”
Oceanside Kustoms is located at Unit 6-464 Island Highway East in Parksville. Reach them at