NEW YORK --Will Castro is living proof that hard work and dedication can take you to the top. Only 20 years ago, the founder and CEO of Unique Autosports was working as a valet. Today, he's running his car customization company, his online concerns, and, of course, appearing on his popular Speed Channel television show, "Unique Whips."
It was through his job parking Cadillacs, Mercedes-Benzes, and Ferraris at a restaurant in New York City that he noticed the attention and care that people placed on their cars. Mr. Castro decided to build a side detailing business -- washing and waxing those top-of-the-line cars to make some extra money.
About a year into doing this, Mr. Castro put down his hose, tossed out his towels, and jumped into his first full-scale, start-to-finish car customization. It was a 300E Mercedes-Benz owned by recording artist Erick Sermon.
"All the other rappers at that time were rocking the 190E, like Rakim," Mr. Castro told HispanicBusiness.com. "But Erick bought a 300E, the big-body style, and we did a whole Lorenzo ground effect package: rims, tires, rag top, and stereo system out of a one-car garage."
That was the beginning of Unique Autosports, Mr. Castro's auto shop specializing in custom built sound and video systems, bodywork, custom interiors, graphics, and rims and wheels, currently located in Holbrook, New York. Unique has become the go-to place when it comes to customizing people's "rides." The staff prides themselves on not just their quality of work, but the special treatment given to each of their customers.
The business is "more than just watching my guys cut wood," said Mr. Castro, referring to the process of fabricating speaker boxes. "It's about my relationship with my customers that makes us 'Unique.'"
That philosophy, underpinned by the company's hard work, dedication, great craftsmanship, and exceptional customer service, has helped Unique Autosports expand from its humble beginnings into the premier car customization shop for the rich, hip, and famous.
Word-of-Mouth Marketing . . from the Opinion Leaders
In the early 1990s, news of Mr. Castro's talents spread by word-of-mouth and Mr. Castro started working on other celebrities' cars, like rapper, DJ, and comedian Biz Markie.
"I basically branched out of this little one car garage where I was doing detailing and got my first start doing unique jobs and customizations out of a shop in Brentwood, and we wound up doing a lot of ball players and rappers in the early 90s," said Mr. Castro.
Later, he shut down the Brentwood shop and moved to his current location in Holbrook near Nassau County by the Coliseum. That's when he reconnected with Mr. Sermon and eventually was introduced to car enthusiast and rap superstar Busta Rhymes, with whom Mr. Castro says he became "really tight."
Busta Rhymes let Mr. Castro into his circle and introduced him to other star musicians, including Wyclef Jean and Eminem, which helped launch Unique Autosports into its next phase.
"The hip-hop community really accepted me," he recalls. "They basically made Will Castro a celebrity because they were fans of what we do, what I design, what I stand for, and how I hook them up and go over the top to give it that tasteful look," he added. "That's what Unique is all about."
Unique Goes Big with the Small Stuff . . . and the Small Screen
Whether with celebrities or his less famous clients, Castro maintains that it's his customer service that gives Unique its edge.
"Our customer services speaks for itself. I really concentrate and focus on that," he declared "It's about relationships ... I think that's been the difference between Unique Autosports and these other shops--my relationships with people I am not looking for a one-hit wonder."
On the strength of that philosphy and his personality, Mr. Castro's business has earned him not only loyal customers but lasting friendships.
Another barrier was breached when Mr. Castro's work was featured on the MTV show Cribs. Customizations he had done for Busta Rhymes and Fat Joe's cars gave Mr. Castro and Unique Autosports immense exposure. It ultimately turned into a deal for his own television show "Unique Whips," which airs on the SPEED network.
The Unique Autosports name has become ubiquitous in the automotive customizing industry, and Mr. Castro has been a very busy man. Aside from the shop, he has been marketing Unique Autosports clothing through an online apparel store that can be found on uniqueautosports.com and an eBay sales account selling car parts. He has also been recording a new season of his show "Unique Whips Special Edition" under his own production company "Facio Productions," which he named after his grandfather -- a key player to his success and a great role model.
When asked about the show's dynamics, Mr. Castro declared, "We definitely didn't want to bore people with the wood cutting and stuff like that. So we got a little more behind the scenes with the celebrities and the relationships that I have built ... like showing Lebron how to drive his car ... We are getting behind the scenes a little bit more, which is more personable for my audience and fans."
The new program, "Unique Whips Special Edition" premiered November 4, 2008 at 10pm on SPEED Network.
Another significant project is the opening of a second shop, "Unique South," which will cater to the needs of clients in the Miami area.
Work Ethic Makes a Difference
When questioned about other Hispanics in the industry, Mr. Castro said, "there are a lot of others out there in New York doing nice stuff, but many of them just want to be at the top without having to work for it. It's their work ethic that's not correct. You really have to work hard for your time to come".
Mr. Castro had to bypass a number of roadblocks himself when launching the business. Mr. Castro recalls the difficulties of "Being undercapitalized and not having any schooling."
"It's best to go to school; it's been a hard road. It's always hard when you don't have the schooling, but it just means you need to work a lot harder then everyone else." He believes it's that hard work that allowed him to take his shot at the big time when the opportunity presented itself.
"Everything was timing and a blessing from God," he said. "I was in the right place at the right time and already new some of the key people, like Sermon."
It's a blessing he wants to spread. In addition to new business ventures, Mr. Castro makes it a point to involve Unique Autosports with charity car shows, events with boy scouts and cub scouts, and even has plans for a charitable foundation in the future, once the new shop is open and things calm down a little.
Of course, with his meteoric success and ever-growing involvement, he may just have to start that foundation while things are still running full throttle.
Check out the Unique Autosports pages at http://www.myspace.com/officialuniqueautosport and http://www.youtube.com/user/Uniqueautosport.
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