Several years ago I brought my then 4-year old son to the annual Lane Automotive/Motor State car show. This show and cruise has been held every Memorial Day weekend for the last 22 years.
My son, Owen, spotted a bright-blue 1970 Mustang fastback from a mile away and it was easy to see why with all the bright red and orange Hot Wheels logos on the car. It looked exactly like the Matchbox/Hot Wheels cars he spent his days racing, parking, crashing and collecting.
I asked around, looking for the owner, simply to ask the usual questions, when a tall man with a big smile came up and said, “Does the little fella want to go for ride?”
“No thanks,” I said, “I can’t imagine we can fit a car seat in there?” We both laughed as the tall man put down the armful of binders he was carrying, “Well, c’mon little guy, let’s check out the car anyway.”
The two of them spent at least 20 minutes checking out the race seats, the cage, the engine and the killer paint job before my son spotted the cotton candy vendor, at least a mile away. Even today, my son can vividly recall the cool Hot Wheels car and “the nice man that let him look inside.”
That tall man was Scott Wahlstrom, marketing manager for Motor State, and he dropped everything he was doing on the first day of the show, including the long line of sales reps following him around like hungry dogs, just to show my son this cool car. And as I’ve come to learn over the years in dealing with Motor State, his actions typify those of every Motor State employee.
Or, as one performance retailer put it the other day, “There’s a reason they’ve won SEMA’s WD of the Year award something like four times!”
LJ: Scott, thanks for taking some time out of your busy, and I do mean BUSY, schedule to catch up with me for the magazine. Tell me, what have you been up to these days, or better yet, what’s a typical day like for you?
Scott: (laughing) Yeah, these last few days have been meeting after meeting after meeting. But so many different parts of our business fall under the marketing umbrella that I tend to be involved with numerous projects within the company.
I don’t think there is such a thing as a “typical day”…(laugh) but most days include work on catalogs, flyers, websites, ad campaigns, vendor and customer calls and getting things in order for the upcoming trade shows.
LJ: That’s your role at Motor State, marketing manager, right?
Scott: Yes, effectively I manage the look and the message of Motor State.
LJ: So, I mentioned the story of my son and you checking out your Mustang, and again, thank you-that meant the world to him. You dropped everything just to show him the car.
Scott: You bet. But any one of us would’ve done the same thing.
LJ: Yeah, that seems to be the mantra around there and I’d have to agree; it’s almost a corporate policy?
Scott: Exactly. Look at it this way-lots of people can do what we do, so our goal is to do it better. There’s nothing more important to the Lane family than taking care of our customers and vendors. We aim to treat everyone with respect.
LJ: Tell me about the Mustang.
Scott: Well, just about everyone around here is a hands-on car guy, racer, enthusiast, etc. In fact, a very high percentage of our employees are involved in racing, street performance, off-roading-you name it. We live, sleep, eat and breathe performance, thus, we’re all very knowledgeable about what we sell. You know the saying, “behind the wheel on the weekends and behind the phone on the weekdays.”
The best way to know what is going on within the various markets is to be involved, so that’s exactly what we do. I wanted to build a car that made a statement and also showcased the products we sell.
LJ: Ah, and so the Mustang comes trick-or-treating?
Scott: Yes. The Mustang concept came about years ago when Hot Wheels were hot and we had done several of the Lane Collectables Limited Edition versions for companies like Edelbrock and so on.
I proposed building a real car to match a collector car and wanted to run it on the Hot Rod Power Tour. We were up against a pretty tight timeline to get the car completed and unfortunately it snowballed into a major project.
The build process took several detours (which every car builder knows can spell disaster) and what was going to take 11 months ended up taking me eight years to complete. Although I missed my initial Power Tour run back in the late ’90s, I have since run it on a couple legs and have had a real blast with it. Looking back, I’m not sure a car that gets about 3-miles-per-gallon would have been a smart choice, anyway!
LJ: It’s such a great looking car.
Scott: Thanks, I had a lot of help from my friends to get the car where it is today. Brent Robbins built the chassis and Al Wyant and Chris Burgo helped me with all the assembly and interior.
Brian “All-Or-Nothin'” Robbins (a long time Motor State employee) and Ken Messing of Messing Cylinder Heads are responsible for the killer 514 Ford big-block. Ken built the long block and Brian handled the supercharger and fuel system.
The car has a 14:71 supercharger with twin 950 carbs. It’s under-driven for the street but it’s still crazy fast. We were building the car to have that vintage funny car look and I think it worked.
LJ: Switching gears, what are you seeing out there in your customer base-any signs of recovery? Any steps you’re taking at Motor State?
Scott: Well, of course the economy has taken quite a hit and like most other WDs, we’ve seen accounts close up shop, but we’re also seeing many accounts adapting and growing, so that’s been encouraging.
We are a nation of resilience, and we’ll keep plugging away. We need to work hard and keep going. The Lanes have been doing this for 45 years; it’s our way of life. It’s so nice to get up every day and do what we love and that makes a tremendous difference when you face times like these. Racing and performance is not just a job for us, it’s our passion and what we want to do, and it’s the same for most of our accounts.
As far as what we’re doing at Motor State, we’re paying attention to improving our efficiency, we’re taking care of our customers and we’re helping our customers adapt.
LJ: What kinds of programs do you have in place to help customers adapt and, furthermore, grow their business?
Scott: We do a lot of different things like a customizable bi-monthly sales flyer that allows the retailer to take advantage of our art department. All they have to do is drop their company name and phone number into the template to create an in-store sales flyer. We even populate the pricing to save them time and help keep them competitive, capture the sale and make a profit.
We also have our Price Guide Pro online ordering, pricing and inventory lookup software that gives our jobber customers access to live inventory, availability, pricing, vendor information, everything they need, 24/7. We not only want to see our speed shops survive, we want them to thrive.
LJ: OK, this is typically my last question and it’s a pretty good segue, so, Scott, say you’re one of these performance retailers. What would you do differently to grow your business, to in fact, thrive?
Scott: The big battle is still the Internet. I think retailers must use the Internet to their advantage-they must have a legitimate presence and be visible.
At the very least, just consider the search function when a consumer searches for a product. You need to be sure your shop comes up in the listings.
Most consumers still prefer to touch and see the parts before they buy them and, furthermore, talk to a real and knowledgeable person. The bottom line is you’ve got to be out there, online and out in your community, at the races, at the events, building relationships. Sponsor a cruise-in at your shop, do an open-house, get active and use technology to market your business and events.
We all have to work a little harder these days.
LJ: Great advice. We’ll see you out and about?
Scott: Oh yes, we’ll be walking and exhibiting at all of the national shows.