Better Business: Building Your Sales By Building Your Brand

Apr 16, 2013

“Hot rodding is about more than just owning a vehicle; it’s a lifestyle,” says Kevin Tully co-owner of Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle in Addison, Illinois ). He, along with co-owner Chad Hill built their shop from the bottom up back in 2004 based on this premise.

The shop exclusively builds traditional hot rods or customs from 1964 or earlier along with racecars and dragsters from any era. Not long ago, Raybestos chose the shop to build a promotional 1964 GTO. But Tully feels that along with good work, the shop needs to be part of hot rod culture to be successful. When you walk in the door, Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle’s show room is basically divided in two. On your right is a parts and service counter where you can talk to the staff about the mechanical side of hot rods. On your left is what I’ll call the “Culture Center”. It features hot rod “swag”-like apparel, magazines, DVDs and CDs. Here you can immerse yourself in the culture.

This unique perspective, in part, sets Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle apart. It also may be what’s kept the shop in business during these tough economic times while several other nearby shops have been forced to close their doors.


Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle’s primarily source of revenue is the professional services their shop offers. But they also sell over-the-counter and mail order parts.

You might think selling parts would cannibalize your service and installation business. It doesn’t. The Do-It-Yourselfer isn’t like a Do-It-For-Me customer. The DIY guy either has the mechanical skills, tools, and ambition to do the job himself, or he lacks the finances to pay. In either case, a parts customer puts a little extra money in your pocket instead of giving that cash to the faceless ecommerce site or the parts store around the corner.

“Most people who [mail] order from us will telephone, which I like. I think it’s more personal than an Internet order,” says Tully.  “We still really strive towards the customer service angle where we’re interacting with the person over the telephone.”

For example, one customer called to order a header flange. The customer didn’t know what size motor he had. So, Tully walked the customer through where to find the VIN number and had him text an iPhone photo so Tully could be sure the customer got the right part.

Tell More, Sell More

You don’t need cut-rate parts prices to be competitive. Often customers choose you for your expert advice, which they can’t get from a parts chain or Internet store. To close the sale you just need to be sure they understand what they’re getting for what they’re paying.

Don’t be stingy with advice. The more helpful you are, the more likely customers are to return and refer friends. And a side benefit of selling parts is that when a Do-It-Yourselfer faces a job they can’t tackle – or needs help fixing a job they messed up – you’ll be the shop they go to.

Selling parts can be an easy add-on to your existing business. You probably already have a small inventory. To get started, just bring some items to your front counter and display them.

But don’t invest too much in inventory until you get a feel for what your customers want. You can also expand your offering with special order catalogs. When your customer picks up a part, spend a few moments talking about the part, give him a few installation pointers and remind him you do installs if they change their mind.

Dressing Men, Women & Children

Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle also sells T-shirts – a lot of them. Their showroom has a wall of T-shirts on display. They’ve actually developed their own line, so everything is original. Tully inspired many designs, and Hill, a professional graphic designer, creates all the original artwork.

“Everyone likes to have a hot rod T-shirt,” says Tully. The showroom features both men’s and women’s shirts. Obviously the men’s shirts sell better. The shop sells about 80% men’s shirts and 20% women’s shirts.

“The hot rod world is kind of male-dominated,” Tully says. “But the women’s shirts do sell well, because we always get a woman’s input on the design before we commit to it. I think that’s important. You know, we’re guys, you can’t just make something and hope that a girl likes it.”

Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle avoids overly “girly” shirt designs. “We like the designs to be more for the woman that has a hot rod or custom, rather than just something for the wife of someone that owns a hot rod,” says Tully. “We like to encourage the women of hot rodding.”

There are also several kids shirts online and on the racks at Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle. Even if they can’t drive yet, you can still drive home the hot rod message. Guess you can never start them too young!

Wear It Proudly

“There’s a lot of shops that have one design with the shop logo on it,” says Tully. “If you want T-shirts as a retail center in your business, you need more. Even if you’re just doing one new design a year, you should have fresh designs.”

Most of Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle’s T-shirts feature an interesting graphic and a clever phrase -” and the shop’s name is always somewhere. That makes these T-shirts not just a profit center, but great marketing, too. Who doesn’t want a customer to be a walking billboard for their shop?

“We have a policy where if you do over $300 worth of business with us, we’ll give you a free T-shirt,” Tully says. “You don’t get a shop-logo-only shirt, you can pick whatever one you want. And then if someone gets a car built with us, we give them a really nice jacket.”

“All the stuff we do is high-quality,” says Tully He says he wants shirts that will last, so they use durable T-shirts and quality screenprinting. “I personally have [Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle] shirts that are nine years old that I still wear all the time.”

The Hot Rod Media Outlet

Even in this day and age of the Internet, there is still a big market for print magazines, says Tully. Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle offers dozens of in print, out of print and foreign magazine titles in store and online including The Hot Rodder’s Journal, Hop Up, Dice, Kustoms Illustrated, Hot Rod Illustrated, Garage Magazine, Rolls & Pleats, Rod & Kulture, and Hot Rod Deluxe. These publications serve to feed customers with dreams and give them ideas for their own vehicles.

“At first we were carrying magazines that were hard to get,” says Tully. “Now we’re carrying magazines because, short of a subscription, it’s getting tough to find somewhere that sells magazines. I think people like to go in and handle a magazine before they buy it.”

The shop also has a selection of hot rod tunes CDs and a library of hot rod DVDs along with a stash of original Hot Rod Chassis & Cycle posters.

Whatever you do, you need a genuine approach.

“The hot rod guys have a keen sense of trolls,” Tully. “Being a car guy and being a hot rodder are two different things. I’m a car guy, but I’m also a hot rodder. If you’re just poser and you’re just trolling for business, it’s different than being a hot rod shop and having the respect of the hot rod community. If you’re not one of them, they know it.”