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Helping Hands

It’s not news to anyone in the performance aftermarket today that a less-than-rosy economic market is making business challenging. Finding the capital to stock your shelves with the hottest new products often takes a backseat to keeping the lights on.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are people out there who want to help.

Warehouse distributors are standing by independent speed shops across the nation, ready to help them get through these tough times now and building relationships that will also go a long way toward future business success.

In their own words, WDs are ready to help give your independent shop a leg-up in these tough-yet-exciting times.

 Perhaps Motovicity’s Yoni Kellman best summed-up the bottom-line benefit of working with a WD for a smaller, independent speed shop.

 “Since we stock millions of parts, we have huge buying power with our manufacturers, and we’re able to pass the savings on to our customers in the form of guaranteed lowest prices. Our buying power also allows us to offer the lowest buy-in in the industry, so we can help independent speed shops of all sizes maximize their profits.”

Inventory, Inventory, Inventory

When it comes to what WDs can do for you, at the top of the list is inventory management. It really is like the real estate mantra of location, location, location as being the only important factor out there.

Mark Craig of Diesel Performance Parts Inc. (DPPI) in Tennessee says the largest benefit an independent speed shop realizes when having a close relationship with a WD is inventory.

“The biggest thing we see today is shops are not stocking anything. They’ve spent down all their capital and are not investing in inventory,” he says. “(But) when they get a customer in the shop looking for something and they have to tell that customer it will be a five- to six-day wait, the customer loses interest or looks somewhere else.”

It’s a problem David Fuller of Atech Motorsports says his company is poised to solve.

“Atech is focused on offering independent speed shops, machine shops and engine builders the best selection, prices and service every day. We have a huge parts inventory, which includes millions of parts from over 700 top brand names, and can ship those parts out the same day when ordered before 7 p.m. Because of our great relationship with our manufacturers, we can special-order any part these manufacturers carry, so our selection of parts is unmatched,” Fuller says.

Kellman urges speed shop owners to look at a WD’s depth before making that important first phone call.

“Motovicity supports and stocks over 120 product lines, and we stock not only A-movers, but many slower-moving parts that service our customer base. We also offer market-leading drop-shipment programs, allowing some of our smaller shops to carry less inventory, and then simply access our inventory when needed,” he says.

It’s all basic business to Ryan Gebhardt of Nickels Performance.

“Let the WD be responsible for your inventory overhead. Why overstock a line to buy direct? The money you may save up-front is wasted during a slow turn of inventory.”

Craig agrees.

“Besides a long wait, smaller shops hurt themselves by not having the newest product in the shop, or even being aware of it,” he explains. “New stuff is key to creating interest in your shop. With diesel, we are seeing new improvements and equipment all the time. We aren’t like the gas side, and if a customer asks you about a product they heard about, you’d better be able to tell your customer all about it—why they will like it and that you sold three of them already.”

DPPI stays on top of new innovation by having a presence that the manufacturers respect, he adds.

“We’ve had six manufacturers in this year already doing trainings and showing new product. Once we get that info, we turn it around in weekly emails to our dealers, so we are passing along the newest to them. Diesel is still cool and we all need to cash-in on the craze.”

Scott Wahlstrom, marketing manager for Motor State Distributing, notes that his company offers an online program to help shops order and check inventory when needed.

“Motor State offers a variety of dealer support tools and programs. One of our most used tools is Price Guide Pro, our online ordering, pricing and availability program,” he says. “It allows our dealers to order, check inventory and pricing on every item we have in stock 24/7. It also allows them to check pricing on special-order and non-stock items as well—over 1 million part numbers in all. It’s a great tool for our dealers and really helps them with their product ordering and management, along with the most up-to-date pricing available.”

Passion for the Product

Call it craze, knowledge or passion, but in this industry you have to care about the products you sell, or you might as well start handing out smiley-face stickers at some big-box store.

Gephardt notes his company’s long history in motorsports is evidence of its passion for the industry.

“Nickels’ sales force consists of race industry veterans who average more than 30 years in motorsports,” he says. “Our employees are among the most loyal and dedicated employees available to jobbers across America. Hardcore performance inventory separates us from a general warehouse. We win on Saturday and Sunday and sell what we’ve learned on Monday.”

Similarly, a passion for diesel performance has led DPPI to forge relationships with the OEMs to carry stock replacement parts along with aftermarket accessories.

“Having an OEM part available today can help turn a customer,” Craig notes. “But even more important is being there with information right now instead of putting people off. Today, nearly all manufacturers are downsizing, and where you and your customers see it first is in technical support. It’s hard to get an expert on the phone today. But with our standing, the manufacturers will get a question answered, and we will pass that information on.”

Kellman says Motovicity follows suit.

“We make a concentrated effort to have a team of real enthusiasts who know and use the products that we sell,” he says. “Many of our employees have street performance or race cars, and can share their knowledge and experience with our customers. Plus our staff is constantly training and expanding their product knowledge, so they can offer more than just filling an order.”

Wahlstrom notes that the information WDs gather every day can be invaluable to independent speed shops.

“A strong relationship with a WD keeps them informed and competitive,” he explains. “Many times we’ll see trends and changes in the performance marketplace well before they start to affect the consumers or racers. We do our best to keep our dealers informed of this important information so they can prepare or adjust for it ahead of time.”

Set Your Shop Apart

So you’ve got the passion or you wouldn’t be in the industry to start with, and you’ve got a good relationship with your WD, but what more does it take to not only survive, but also thrive today?

When it comes to standing out in a down economy, DPPI’s Craig points to success stories he has seen.

“Pick a specialty, such as a vehicle brand and get to know it inside and out to the point where you can diagnose a problem over the phone and the word will get out,” he says. “We have a customer in Louisiana who, for lack of a better way to say it, was down to the end of his rope. He decided to focus solely on Dodge’s Cummins Turbo Diesel. He learned that niche and word got out to the point he has a two-week waiting list for customers wanting an appointment for work on their trucks.”

Atech’s Fuller takes a more grassroots approach to building a customer base.

“In this competitive business environment, companies that go the extra mile are the ones that succeed,” he says. “Price and product selection will attract customers, but we believe great service—technical assistance, friendly, helpful customer service and fast shipping—will close the sale and foster repeat business.”

It’s a philosophy Motovicity shares, says Kellman.

“Be active in your local market. If you are an expert on something, exploit that knowledge. Join and participate with the forums and magazines that match your skill-set,” he suggests. “Get involved with local events by offering trackside support, meet the racers, supply prizes at races, or simply bring a cooler full of beverages to show the participants that you support their passion.”

Understanding your customers will go a long way toward connecting with them, he explains.

“Become friends with your customers and you will have customers for life. Overall, the strategy hasn’t changed for hundreds of years—offer more than your competitors, and you will be successful.”

With all the competition shops face today, understanding your customers’ needs is vital, Wahlstrom says.

“You have to market your expertise. Traditional speed shops are under a tremendous amount of pressure these days from not only the Internet businesses and mail-order, but the large chain parts stores as well,” he says. “Chances are, if you own a speed shop, you have been heavily involved in the performance industry for a while. Make sure you let your customers know you understand their needs and you’re there to help them with whatever project they’re working on.”

And as technology trims sales forces, it allows you an opportunity to stand out, Nickels’ Gebhardt believes.

“Several of our customers are using the strategy of local track and rod-run marketing. Not only is each of those growing, but it also allows you to connect with customers in a back-to-basics way,” he says. “Technology is slowly eliminating personal contact and our industry is feeling the effects. Nickels is built on hardcore performance knowledge and long-lasting relationships. That concept is real and passed on to our customer base with results that are immeasurable. Make an appearance at local tracks and/or enthusiast events throughout the racing season and the return will be worth it.”