For many speed shops, doing more in-house means a stronger bottom line. That can include creating the perfect part yourself when nothing else seems to work.
The technology that allows shops to build their own performance parts seems to constantly change. We talked to an assortment of manufacturers of do-it-yourself shop products to find out not only what’s new, but how performance retailers and builders can take advantage of opportunities when custom creations are the answer.
And to keep things firmly entrenched in reality, we also asked about the pitfalls as well as success stories of DIY.
Here’s your in-shop custom fabrication update for 2009.
The Benefits of Building Your Own
We asked for the benefits of custom fabrication products and how they can help a shop or store.
Donavan Griffith from Vibrant Performance starts with the basics. “Having the ability to provide custom parts to your customer base can open the doors to many new opportunities in the performance aftermarket. Unique parts that offer better fitment and push the limits on performance gains can distinguish your company from your competitors. A custom parts offering can enable you to become more profitable by being able to service more vehicle types and reducing price-matching situations.”
Steve Ribelin from Redhorse Performance talks specifically about creating custom hoses. “When fabricating hoses, you are able to configure them exactly how you want them, with the proper length of hose, and the angle of the fittings exactly as needed. With our fittings you get the choice of colors (red/blue or black) to suit your application. Our hose ends are highly polished before anodizing, which gives them a truly custom appearance.”
Mike Eaton of Eaton Spring took Scotchman’s versatile machinery and turned it into a business creating hard-to-find parts. Eaton says, “There are several benefits of making our own parts, among them is being able to create what the customer needs. Many of the springs we make are no longer offered by the OEMs or even other suppliers. Additionally, we are able to make springs for custom applications. In fact, about 85 percent of what we make are variations of stock springs.”
John Parman of Specialty Products Design talks repeat business and high quality. “The more exotic or custom the parts you fabricate are, the more you set your business apart from the competition. At SPD, 75 percent of our business comes from repeat customers and referrals. We attribute this to the quality of the parts, customer service and the ‘wow’ factor. When a customer receives a part and they aren’t sure if they should put it on their car or in a glass case in their showroom, that customer is going to talk about it.”
Andrew Lloyd of SamcoSport says his company’s hose products “offer two lines of attack” for the performance shop to assist them with their in-house tuning and development. As for benefits, he says, “Samco offers over 450 vehicle-specific hose kits that allow the shop to install a perfect replacement set of hoses, quickly and simply.”
Jon Newberg from Baileigh Industrial offers what may be the biggest bonus of doing it yourself. “The largest benefit is the ability to control the quality of the finished part.You have control over everything and are able to make design changes in a much faster manner than outsourcing. A good equipment manufacturer will look for ways to make this transition as seamless and cost-effective for the shop owner as possible.”
We also asked about the drawbacks of in-house work.
Parman from Specialty Products Design (SPD) tells us, “The more complex a part is, the harder it is to take the customer’s concept and turn it into a reality. These parts are not the type of thing you sell through your e-store. The term ‘qualifying the customer’ definitely applies here-making sure you ask the right questions to ensure the product the customer receives fits and performs as expected.”
Eaton adds, “Even though we have over 24,000 OEM spring specs, there are times we do not have the spec for a customer’s spring. Over the years, we have devised forms that the customer can fill out that in most cases will provide us with the information we need to make springs for them. Another drawback is getting onto the same page as the customer. No matter how words are said, they are subject to misinterpretation. It is not meant to be mean or stubborn, but we insist that the customer talks our language. We have even gone as far as creating Web pages to give guidance as to what we need and, more importantly, why we need the information in a certain fashion.”
Ribelin from Redhorse Performance says when you build your own hoses, the tricky parts are “getting the lengths perfect, making sure there is no part of the hose rubbing on something that might cause a leak, and making sure that all of the angled fittings will clear nearby obstructions.”
Griffith from Vibrant Performance gets into good bookkeeping and return on investment. “The major obstacle is marketing your company’s service capabilities and keeping accurate cost sheets for all projects. We have seen many fabricators spend a disproportionate amount of time on products and/or builds that aren’t profitable.”
Newberg of Baileigh also speaks of costs. “One of the major obstacles is the initial capital equipment cost. From there, you move on to the additional cost of labor to produce the parts.Purchasing the right equipment for the job helps reduce some of these costs, as opposed to just trying to ‘get by’ with an existing machine.”
Selling Custom Work
OK, so you’re willing to purchase the necessary machinery and invest the time to create your own performance parts. So, how do you price and sell it to your customers?
Ribelin says, “Get an exact description with measurements of what the customer wants. Have him specify all lengths and angles, along with his required fitting sizes. Get it in writing, with a detailed diagram if possible. (For example), the positioning of the hose ends relative to each other must be specified.”
Newberg of Baileigh warns, “Custom work is always tricky.Everyone knows that the majority of people are only willing to pay so much, especially in the current economy. Shops need to know their local market well and look for a niche to exploit.While many owners may need to purchase new equipment and would like to recoup their investment right away, it is more realistic to try and spread out the cost over a longer period of time. If you are selling a quality product at a good price, the demand will be there.”
Parman from SPD recommends being flexible on pricing. “Customers always want to know what it will cost, but don’t sell yourself short. If the part is custom, there is no way of knowing the actual cost until the job is finished. You can use a minimum/maximum bid process. With a few recent customers, I have referred them to our photo gallery and let them know how many labor hours were billed on specific jobs. This is very effective (and gives) the customer a look at the caliber of your work before you hit them with the reality of the cost.”
Griffith from Vibrant agrees. “Selling custom work becomes easy when it makes horsepower. Proven horsepower gains generally leads to sales.However, it’s critical that fabricators keep an accurate log of work hours into a project and bill for time accordingly.In our experience, we have seen too many businesses giving away fabrication time spent on a project. Only once all the real costs are accounted for can a business make smart decisions on the custom work they take in.”
Eaton says, “The selling part is easy-spread the word by way of super-good service and quality, by having an Internet presence, etc. Pricing is the tricky part. If you are doing what everyone else is, then you go with the flow. However, if you are offering a product or service that no one else is, price it accordingly.”
SamcoSport’s Lloyd notes his company offers vehicle-specific hose kits and universal race parts that provide improved looks and performance. “By fitting the best product, you also help demonstrate to your customers that your work is all about quality products and service.”
Some Success Stories
To illustrate and motivate, we asked for specific product/machine success stories with positive results.
Newberg gives us two. “We currently have a customer selling performance exhaust systems for a wide variety of vehicles.Due to his innovative designs and high-quality product, he landed a contract with an OEM automaker to produce exhausts to sell under their performance parts program.To enable his company to take this next step, he called and purchased a MB-350 mandrel bender from us. It has been in use for almost two years now with no problems and excellent results.
“Also, Mars Racing of Menominee, Wis., is using a variety of Baileigh equipment to manufacture dirt late-model parts and chassis for the general racing public. Included in this is an all-new M-B Custom chassis that has amassed over $450,000 in first-place money.”
Ribelin tells us, “Performance fittings and hoses are universally designed to be used on many different types of applications. Specific products are difficult to quantify due to the wide range of applications on which they are used. Displaying Redhorse fittings and hose in the store enables potential customers to see the clear difference in quality and appearance.”
Eaton explains his own situation. “The ends of certain springs require special shaping, tapering, rounding and some cupping. Prior to obtaining the Scotchman press we used three and sometimes four different machines. In most cases, one machine had to go through two setup processes to complete the leaf ends. Because the Scotchman is able to be set up with three different finishing tools, it replaced three of the old machines.We are now able to finish the end, either round them or square-cut them and form the cup on the leaf end without reheating the leaf end. The time-savings alone paid for the press.”
Parman notes, “Custom fabrication is our business at SPD. We do the work in-house and manufacture the parts for our customers for their projects. I can tell you that the opportunities are out there for skilled fabricators. We get calls every day from customers looking for someone in their area to build something custom for their car.”
Griffith illustrates the big picture of DIY work. “There are many opportunities in the world of custom products. Our customers have experienced excellent sales opportunities by keeping an inventory of aluminum tubing, silicone and clamps on the shelves. These products allow for custom-build opportunities with air intake systems. Should a consumer walk in asking for an intake for an unpopular vehicle, the shop could easily fabricate a system using Vibrant’s products.In the end, the shop didn’t turn down a sale and made good margins on the build, and the consumer got the product they were looking for. Everyone wins.”
So, the next time you check your stock and discover what you need isn’t on the shelf, it might make sense to simply build it yourself.
Build Your Own… Scale Model!
By Nathaniel Lee
Car customization in no longer exclusively reserved for people who have a driver’s license.
Thanks to RIDEMAKERZ, kids and parents alike can now take part in customizing their dream cars in an activity organizers hope will bring families together and spur interest in the next generation of performance enthusiasts.
Customizers can choose between 1:14 and 1:20 scale models of their favorite rides including muscle cars like the new Ford Mustang GT and Dodge Challenger SRT-8, Dodge Viper and Corvette C6, as well as tuner cars like the Scion Xb and MINI-Cooper S. RIDEMAKERZ offers more than 649 million possible combinations of authentic body styles, paint schemes, tires, wheels, lights, sounds, accessories and decals to make each car one-of-a-kind.
The experience begins at either RIDEMAKERZ.com or one of 12 RIDEMAKERZ shops nationwide, where visitors get to build their car rather than just buy it. Then, with their new cars, builders can travel through three virtual regions in an online game.
The vehicles, called RIDEZ, can be designed for either “show” or “go” as different parts add different performance attributes in the game. In addition to the gaming aspect of the website, there is also a “RIDERZ ED” section that teaches about the history of automobiles, the design and manufacturing process, custom car culture and alternative fuels.
It also incorporates videos, so kids can see how cars are designed and then receive customizing tips from Chip Foose, a RIDEMAKERZ advisor.
According to organizers, the RIDEMAKERZ experience was designed specifically for boys ages 6-14, who have been largely overlooked by the popular virtual worlds for kids.
“Our real-life RIDEMAKERZ experience connects boys and dads, and now we’re bringing that same bonding opportunity into our virtual experience,” says Larry Andreini, RIDEMAKERZ founder and CEO.
The experience also allows parents and children to celebrate the role their vehicles play in real life.
“For example, boys get achievement points and trophies when they complete real-world activities like learning about dad’s first car, going to a car show or checking and inputting the tire pressure from the family car. These kinds of hybrid experiences allow boys to play and learn while giving dads a fun, new way to interact and relate with their children,” said Lee Nadler, chief marketing and interactive officer.
It is also good news for the future of the performance parts aftermarket, as it introduces real tuning parts to kids at a young age.
“It gives kids the tools to be creative and levels the playing field, so no matter what age you are you can be a true car customizer,” says Sumitomo.
RIDEMAKERZ operates 12 SHOPZ across the country including locations in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Fredericksburg, Va.; Indianapolis; Baltimore; Hagerstown, Md.; Schaumburg, Ill.; Detroit; Branson, Mo.; Appleton, Wis.; Friendswood, Texas; and Glendale, Ariz.