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October Issue Feature: Installer of the Year - Matt Schaeffer

Better Than Yesterday

To break out of a stalling career mindset six years ago, Matt Schaeffer made the conscious choice to challenge himself every day. Today, he stands atop the 12-volt industry as Installer of the Year.  

Words by Ted Goslin
Photos by Tim Causa

Not everyone knows what they want to be when they grow up. Some wander the world in search of a dream job with no particular focus, hoping that some mystical force will guide them into their ideal life. But it doesn’t work that way. Some people never find their calling and wind up taking whatever career path is most convenient. And then there’s Matt Schaeffer.

At the age of 11, Schaeffer received his first four-wheeler and fell in love. Cars became a passion off the bat for the future installer, who learned quickly what his favorite hobby and future career would become.
“I became obsessed with building it, customizing it, making it my own. I even got into making panels and customizing my four-wheeler,” Schaeffer said. “Then when I was in high school I got an Eclipse GSX. Using the mentality I had with my four-wheeler, I customized the GSX with panels, fabricating and installing.”

It was during this time period in the early 2000s that master fabricators like Dave “Fishman” Rivera, Steve Brown and Chris Yato were making the rounds in various magazines, showing off their work to a new generation of 12-volt enthusiasts. The build articles featured things like how to build fiberglass panels, Schaeffer recalled. “I would reverse engineer my parts from those articles to figure out what I wanted to build,” Schaeffer said. “For me, I fell in love with building, making things my own. I built my Eclipse to be a show car on the East Coast. It won Best in Show at the Funk Master Flex show in Daytona. It showed the artistic place where my passion lies and I knew that’s where I wanted to take my career.”

After high school, Schaeffer sought out a school to learn his craft. But instead of heading straight for 12-volt, he started with the basics at the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Orlando, Fla., where he received an education in automotive repair. “I learned transmissions, suspension, all the things I wasn’t versed in. As I’m installing something in a car, I’d want to be more versatile and be able to diagnose problems in a car,” Schaeffer said. “I had a lot of fun there and use a lot of what I learned now with wheels, tires, lift kits and performance upgrades. It’s something I hold dear to my heart that’s a nice change of pace from doing custom installs and head units. In my opinion, Universal Technical Institute would be the college for our industry.”

Upon graduating in 2006, Schaeffer attended the Installer Institute, which lasted about two weeks. He then went to a week-long training with his idol, Dave “Fishman” Rivera, called “Fish Camp.” The camp opened his eyes to what is possible with fabrication.
“That was the first time I realized how easy it could be. Fish made it look so easy and effortless,” Schaeffer recalled. “Seeing him layer different pieces together, this piece into that piece, I never realized how easy it could be. I just looked at it and thought, ‘so that is how they do it.’”

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