From his shop on May St. Darren Preston of Preston Customs Autobody and Paint puts more than two decades of experience to work, performing automotive repair and paint work for all manner of vehicles. From vintage cars to motorcycles, big rigs, RVs, machinery and daily drivers, Preston Customs can provide repair and custom paint jobs to just about anything that drives.

Naturally artistic, Preston attended Emily Carr University of Art and Design for a time before realizing that his passion was geared more towards the automotive industry. At that time, he enrolled at BCIT, graduating at the top of his class as a Red Seal Journeyman Auto Body and Paint Technician in 2003.

Upon graduating, Preston was awarded the Automotive Collisions Repair Technician Award Medal, for receiving the highest marks ever obtained in the program at that time.

In 2015, Preston moved from Penticton to Merritt to take a job, as well as join the Merritt Fire Rescue Department (MFRD) with his soon-to-be wife, Meagan, whom he married in 2017.

“A member at the fire hall worked for Nadina Logging, and they needed some immediate work done on a vehicle that had been damaged and was required to be back in service immediately,” explained Preston.

“So, I went down to see if I could help. That turned into more work with Nadina, which turned into more people asking for me to come and privately repair their machinery, fleet vehicles and rigs at their places of business.”

It was at this point that Preston decided to sell the house he still had in Penticton, and use the funds to rent a shop from Frank Etchart, owner of Nadina Logging, so that he would have a place to work on projects when he wasn’t at his regular job.

“I had a custom paint booth built and brought in my own waterborne paint line to mix my own custom paint,” said Preston.

“In a very short period of time, a few months, I was so busy I had to choose between my day job and working for myself. But by then I was so busy that making the leap was easy.”

Preston had always dreamed of having his own custom shop, and with the business start-up support and services of Community Futures Nicola Valley, he was finally able to make the dream a reality.

“My goal has always been to provide exceptional body and paint work anywhere I’ve worked, and I’ve worked for some of the largest ICBC franchise shops for most of my career,” explained Preston.

“But my passion was always customizing vehicles and motorcycles to make them a work of art and have a unique flair. I’m a people person and really enjoy building personal relationships with my clients so they feel like they are a part of the process, not just dropping their vehicle off for someone to work on.”

As a Red Seal certified Body and Paint technician, Preston also wants to ensure his clients understand what makes a good, safe job as opposed to an acceptable or quick job.

“I also strive to educate the client on their options for repair and paint, and why repairs and paint should be done a certain way to ensure long term satisfaction and prevent reoccurrence of body rust and paint issues, including using the least amount of body fillers necessary.”

His wife agrees that he is a perfectionist, “annoyingly so”, and is also frequently on hand to help out at the shop.

“Meagan has a mechanical background and also helps run the shop, and supports me by taking care of the financials, prepping vehicles for body and paint, mixing custom paint, and working in the shop when it is really busy,” said Preston.

Although many businesses have suffered during the pandemic, Preston Customs has seen a surge in business, with clients flooding him with projects, sometimes resulting in waitlists of a month or more.

To give back to the community that has supported him, he has done pro-bono work for low-income individuals, or those struggling, in order to make their vehicles safe. He also donates food, clothing and toys to the Nicola Valley Food Bank both personally and through his work with MFRD. He has volunteered as a coach for Merritt Minor Hockey and Merritt Youth Soccer since arriving in Merritt, and hopes to do more for Merritt as his business continues to grow.

“My clients by the end of a job typically all become friends, and often come back to visit and see what I’m up to next,” said Preston.

“There is no greater love for my job than when I get to deliver a vehicle to someone that exceeds and fulfills their vehicle dream. I live for the reveal and the expression, and sometimes tears, it brings when my client gets to see the finished product!”