Riding Tall

Dec 1, 2009

Giddy up.

If you heard what I heard from restylers at the SEMA show in early November you’d be nodding your head big time, saying “Oh yeah” and giving fist bumps to every one of your pals.

Maybe it just happened by chance that I found myself talking to upbeat folks at events I attended, or with those who stopped by Restyling’s booth, or who were at suppliers’ booths I visited. Or, even those who stood within the new products display area I wandered through and asked how their businesses were doing. But there was an air of unmistakable positivity.

Now, I know, we all know, some businesspeople certainly aren’t fairing well. There’s no hiding that. Even the Professional Restylers Organization noted at its meeting at the show that its membership has declined; but more — more on the upside — on that later.

Again, though, that positive thing.

Take the Ohio store manager whose shop does just about everything under the sun, including sunroofs. He was ebullient as he spoke to me about dealerships selling more low-cost, low-frills cars and trucks that beg to be restyled with anything from power locks to power windows to even radios and carpeting. His restyle operation is positively benefiting from these “de-contented” vehicles. With fewer features, these low-price new vehicles attract anyone, and savvy dealers realize that they can partner with restylers to customize a vehicle to the customer’s whim — and often at a price still far lower than a “pre-loaded” vehicle. Everyone wins.

How about the equally buoyant Maryland restyler whose primary business has been tied so much to dealerships? Nowadays, diversity is key, isn’t it? For him, a light bulb went off — actually, a lot of lights went off, as in decorating motorcycles. Design a trailer and a motorcycle, show your stuff and boogey out to two-wheeler events where the culture loves to highlight its rides with LED-light engine and wheel kits. Promote that. Win again.

Then there’s the Oklahoma shop owners who don’t do trucks, don’t do foreign cars — everyone does them in those parts, they say. They specialize in restyling American muscle cars. And are they sitting especially pretty — and pretty happy — these days, with the hot, hot 2010 Camaro, the always hot Mustang and the Dodge Challenger bringing in the boys from their 20s through the graying boomers. Another win.

Consider, too, the young California dreamer who’s making it real, making it profitable and smiling and enjoying his business ride. He, his partner and team focus on sports cars, performance cars, rally setups, hot rods, dragsters, Jeeps, Hondas, even RVs — let’s just say vehicles that are fun to drive. In fact, I liked his attitude so much you’ll read about his successfully fun company next month.

And the Professional Restylers Organization, the PRO, I mentioned earlier? There’s a fired up group. They’re volunteers. Have full-time jobs like the rest of us. They’re not merely a dedicated group; they’re determined to elevate the professional standing and education of restylers with some smart, forward-thinking ideas. After all, restylers are who they work with, work for. They see and understand the realities of the economy. They are positively serious in bettering the position of restylers.

I admit that I was taken aback by the positivity from so many, having for so long — just like you all — seen, heard and read about how bad things have been not just in the world and U.S. economies, but especially the automotive-related economies. But here it was, people, restylers, with reignited smiles and attitudes, talking about business getting better, being better.

We’re not exactly ready to sing “Happy days are here again.” Yet the genuine optimism is undeniable. Those restylers I met, even those who found their businesses struck hard when parts or whole chunks of their customer bases dissolved, are still in the saddle, riding tall.

All I can say is, Giddy up, folks.