Bigcats enhances Clarks Grove with new business, car show

Published 5:00 pm Monday, February 26, 2024

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By Ayanna Eckblad

CLARKS GROVE — A little over a year ago Clarks Grove welcomed a new business to the community: Bigcats Customz Collision and Auto.

Situated off of Interstate 35 in Clarks Grove, Bigcats Customz is making a name for itself not just in cars, but in other custom paint jobs as well.

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Every morning the owner, Cody Olson, walks from his nearby home to his office and begins his work day. Olson has lived in the Clarks Grove area his whole life. Growing up, Olson said he had a 300-pound cat that he told his class about. From then on, his classmates and even some of his teachers began to call him “Bigcat” and the nickname stuck.

Olson attended Riverland Community College and graduated from the college’s auto body program. Following graduation, Olson worked at Motor Inn for seven years and Dave Syverson Auto Center for one year. According to Olson, he learned more while doing hands-on work than when he studied mechanics in college. The auto body program has since closed down, and Olson said that he is on the younger side of people in his profession as fewer and fewer people go into the work. Despite many of his fellow auto body workers being 45 or older, Olson does not mind and describes himself as being an old man at heart.

“All of the old-timers that you work with… teach you all their tricks,” Olson said.

Before long, Olson decided that he wanted to open his own business. The building that he would eventually buy had already changed hands a few times, starting as a snowmobile shop and then as Munsons Body Shop after that. When Olson acquired the building, the space needed to be cleaned up and employees needed to be hired. The process took more than eight months. However, when all was said and done, the work paid off.

Using his childhood nickname as inspiration, Olson opened Bigcats Customz Collision and Auto on Jan. 9, 2023.

“We made it the first year, so that’s good,” said Olson, smiling.

He also said he was surprised by all of the overwhelming support that he was given from his family, friends and the Clarks Grove community.

“Everyone’s just super friendly,” he said. “They’re very welcoming.”

In addition to Olson, Bigcats Customz has three other employees, including a full-time mechanic. They do services in tires, alignment and body work on vehicles and motorcycles.

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the guys here,” Olson said. “I kind of let the guys pick what they like to do because I don’t mind doing any of it. It’s all fun.”

Bigcats Customz gets most of its business from Clarks Grove and Albert Lea, but Olson has also had clients from Iowa. One of the reasons people drive longer distances to come to Bigcats Customz is to have their vintage cars restored. This is Olson’s favorite part of the job.

“There are some awesome people out there who want [Bigcats Customz] to work on their old cars,” he said. Olson explained that these projects are very extensive as they have to restore everything about the car from the ground up while keeping the vehicle true to what it looked like when it was originally made.

Olson said these vintage cars are often a client’s dream car that they have worked hard to get, and he feels honored that they trust him to restore it to its former glory.

In July, Olson and his employees came up with the idea to have a car show. First Baptist Church of Clarks Grove let them use their parking lot and lawn to display the cars, and the city council got them bounce houses for the event. Olson anticipated that there would be about 50 cars at the show, but when the day arrived, 137 cars showed up.

The car show was a success and all of the proceeds made were donated to the church and the Clarks Grove Fire Department. Olson is looking forward to making the car show an annual event and has scheduled the next show on July 20.

“The support that everyone has given us is huge,” Olson said.

There are also challenges that come with the job. According to Olson, he needs to be especially focused when putting together things such as airbags to maintain the safety of the car.

“We do a lot of technical and tedious stuff on some of these cars,” he said. “You really got to focus on what you’re doing.” New cars present a special challenge in that they have a lot of electrical work that needs to be taken apart and put back together very precisely.

Olson said it can also be difficult to get straight lines and make sure body work is straight on the vehicles he works with.

Even with these responsibilities, Olson still loves the work he does and says his day goes by very quickly, and before he knows it, it’s time to walk back home.

In 2024, the people at Bigcats Customz are looking forward to working on more cars. They are hoping to have their first full vehicle restorations done and are thinking about doing a special reveal party once the work is finished. Olson is also working on repairing a 10-foot fiberglass fish that a client brought to him. He welcomes the opportunity to work on different projects.

“It’s all fun, I enjoy it all,” he said.