Over-the-Counter Performance

May 23, 2011

The thing to know about Tennessee Speed Sport, a retail performance parts and accessories shop in Goodlettsville, Tenn., is that it’s willing to go far for its customers-literally.

“This is a very family-owned business,” says Dave Echols, head of purchasing at the company. “It all began back in the early 1960s. By 1965, the owner had an installation store and then saw a need for having a speed shop in the Nashville area.

“In 1967,” says Echols, “they moved that location across the street from the service center to its own location and it took off from there. It was the place to go for speed equipment and performance parts. At the time, people from the company were out on the road, out promoting product and working the car shows to draw awareness to the availability of products locally.”

Located about 10 miles north of Nashville, Tennessee Speed Sport enjoyed three decades in that original locale. Then people began migrating to the suburbs and the company saw that a similar move would ensure a close proximity to the company’s customer base.

“That original facility stayed in that location until 1997,” says Echols, “and then we moved to the Goodlettsville location. It’s right across the street from a major mall and so, in making this move, we moved the company closer to our customers. In 1967, people went downtown, but in 1997 they were in the suburbs. This move has made the company much easier to find and given us much more visibility.”

Retail Angle

That visibility allows Tennessee Speed Sport to sell performance parts and accessories in its retail store environment to local racers, enthusiasts and just about anyone who wants to improve a car.

And getting customers is an effort made along many avenues. “We do it all,” says Echols, when asked about the company’s advertising and marketing efforts.

“We have an advertising budget,” he says, “including billboards. We’re one block off Interstate 65 south and north and it directs drivers straight to us.

“But we also do radio advertising,” he adds. “And we do some TV advertising with special sales and events. In addition, our salespeople go to as many of the local car shows and weekend events as is possible. We produce a 450-page catalog that’s full of performance and truck accessories and we hand that and our fliers out at shows. We also make sure we’re part of the auto culture in the area.”

Yet Echols is quick to note that the company looks to stay cutting-edge and current in its marketing efforts.

“We’re always looking for new things, new ways to reach our audiences,” he says. “We do some email advertising, and we also work with a company that puts ads in restaurant restrooms, and that’s been very successful.”

Another element helping Tennessee Speed Sport maintain its success is its ability to adapt to the market, while maintaining its classic and dependable inventory.

“I’ve worked with Tennessee Speed Sport since 1979,” says Echols, “so I can say with confidence that we sell a lot of the same products now as then, but the speed shop has changed a lot in the last 30 years due to the Internet. We keep a retail presence because there’s still a need for it.

“However, it’s important to note that with speed equipment and performance accessories, those are still the core things we sell. New products that are electronic or air filters or intake kits, of course, have made their splash and we do sell today more suspension and brake parts and more carburetors and camshafts. But there’s a lot of product that moved in the ’60s that still moves today.”

Bouncing Back

All that product gets moved via two Tennessee Speed Sport (tennesseespeedsport.com) retail facilities and thanks to a respectable sales force that keeps the company’s presence front and center-of-mind with car enthusiasts throughout the Volunteer State and the surrounding regions.

“Our retail store is 2,500 square feet,” says Echols. “And we also have a store in Chattanooga, Tenn., that’s 1,500 square feet.

“We’re very lucky,” he adds, “in that we have an eight-person sales force dedicated to the Tennessee Speed Sport business.”

However, as with many companies in this industry, the recent economic struggles were felt by the organization.

“There was a definite downturn in 2007,” says Echols, “and while we’re perhaps not back up to where we were then, we have grown every year since. We’ve managed to pull back up because we’ve worked very hard to make that happen. The thing is, we weren’t just going to throw in the towel. We saw the downturn as a time to get to work.

“One of the ways we saw to get back up to speed within the market was via the Internet,” he says. “It’s really a growing segment in this business. We were late coming into that and part of the reason was because of our wholesale presence. We knew that we needed to be careful how we went to market. We worked our pricing so we could be competitive in retail and still serve our wholesale customer base.”

So far, so good, he says.

“It’s true that there are some in this business who have been at the Internet part longer than we have,” he adds. “But we are certainly up to speed today. We’re able to buy at the prices our competitors can because of our wholesale presence. We have to keep an eye on the market.”

And that market includes a clientele of every shape and size, though Echols notes that the Tennessee Speed Sport customer is often as classic as the company’s inventory line.

“We do get some very young people, even teenagers,” says Echols, “and it is a wide range of different sorts of people. We also work hard to cater to the female segment of our buying population.

“But most of our clients fall into the male, 25- to 65-year-old age range,” he says, and then laughs. “It’s funny, but the higher-end of that age range used to sound so far away. Now, the closer I get to that age, it doesn’t sound so distant!”

Rising Reputation

Man or woman, young or old, Tennessee Speed Sport fans often show up because they’ve heard good things about the company.

“One great element about this company is that, after being here for so many years, people know us,” says Echols. “We are the place to go to in our market. With as many new products that come out, everyone knows that we work hard to stay on top, and that we buy from all of the manufacturers. But we also do a big special-order business, since we can’t stock everything.”

Moreover, the family-owned reputation is its own value.

“Now the second generation of owners is in charge,” says Echols, “and the third generation is working here. And I believe this place will be around for a while, because we’ve got strong leadership.

“We’re in this because we love it,” he adds. “We’re all car guys. But this business also keeps a lot of family working and that’s a big part of what we do, too.”

The Tennessee Speed Sport future remains pretty bright.

“Right now, our main place for expansion is going to be online,” says Echols. “The Internet allows us to reach out to more people than just the local people. That’s where we see growth happening and it’s very exciting.”