In the performance industry, there’s do-it-yourself, and then there’s do everything yourself.
Such is the case with Brian Murphy. Many know him from his work with industry supplier BBK Performance. But he and his brother, Ken, are also successful owners of two Brothers Performance shops, located in Deland, Fla., and Temecula, Calif.
Launched by the Murphys in 1988 in Southern California, Brothers Performance actually began as BBK back in the day, when Brian formed the company to cater to the new EFI Mustang market.
Even though they started as a retail operation, Ken began designing unique new items such as high-flow throttle bodies, cold-air intakes and under-drive pulleys at a time when most enthusiasts had no idea what they were or what they did.
By 1991, Brian and Ken realized their true passion was designing and building performance fuel-injection products, so they spun-off the retail and mail-order side into Brothers Performance, which has been run day-to-day by good friends Tim Gilpin, Barry Morrison and Rick Galley.
Because BBK has a MAP program and Brian realized that both companies must stand on their own, Brian and Ken ensure that BBK sells its products to all of today’s retailers and that Brothers buys and advertises many lines, whether they compete head-to-head with BBK or not.
As Brian Murphy noted, “My job at BBK is to give my distributors the best products possible and with a fair profit line, which our MAP program achieves. It’s also critical that I give the best marketing materials and support, whether it is CSV files or product images. As an owner of a performance retail company, it becomes clear to me that my BBK distributors are really partners in the business process and I know firsthand the problems they face with price erosion and constant governmental guideline changes.”
On the retail side, Brothers Performance specializes in late-model EFI performance vehicles, including Mustangs, Corvettes and trucks, keeping a mostly domestic client base but with a modest-sized import presence as well.
“Brothers is mostly domestic,” says Murphy. “About 95 percent of our business is domestic-based, but we’re also getting a little into the European and Asian markets.”
The common theme is electronic fuel injection.
“We’ve expanded a lot over the last 18 years,” says Murphy, “particularly with the EFI performance retail part of the business. The EFI has eclipsed carburetor performance. No one wants carbureted engines. The old street rods, the muscle cars, everyone wants to modify fuel injection. It’s the way of the business today.”
The success the Murphys have enjoyed led to the grand opening of a substantial new Florida facility in 2009.
“Six months ago we opened a 64,000-square-foot facility near Daytona Beach that includes an 8,000-square-foot showroom” says Murphy. “We’ve always had a strong customer base on the East Coast. Florida, like California, is a 12-month state, weather-wise, so a lot of enthusiasts are doing a lot of stuff to their cars year-round. Being in Florida also gives us the ability to be able to ship much faster to the 48 states.”
Interestingly, the Murphys didn’t launch their careers in either California or Florida.
“My brother and I were little gear-heads who moved from upstate New York to California when we were kids,” says Murphy. “I was 18 and started an out-of-the-house operation, doing mail-order before any of that was happening. At that time, no one was doing that. Back in 1988, performance shops didn’t know what throttle bodies were, or who could modify their computer-controlled car.”
Today plenty know, partly because the Murphy brothers understand how to market to their audience, and they appreciate what the Internet has done for the industry.
“We do a lot of mail-order, a lot of retail, and a lot of our business is due to the Internet,” says Murphy. “Internet forums are a big part of the business. We can track trends.”
The company’s products are available nationwide on its website, www.brothersperformance.com.
“Today you have to be extremely cost-efficient and competitive because of the Internet,” Murphy adds. “Consumers can shop anywhere, anytime, worldwide. The Internet gives the consumer the tools needed to research products and then they can search for the best price, the fastest shipping and free shipping. Today’s speed shops are mostly Internet-based companies. The true brick-and-mortar companies are becoming fewer and fewer.”
Understanding the boom the Web presents to his business, Murphy is also quick to point out that combining both-catalog and Web sales and the brick-and-mortar shops-helped successfully grow Brothers Performance.
“We try to offer both,” says Murphy. “We do a large Internet business, but we try to offer a neat experience on both coasts.
In the Sunshine State, that includes a grand experience for walk-in customers.
“In Florida, for example, we do it on a grand scale,” he says. “We’ve got a destination facility, not just a speed shop. We do a lot of business with car clubs and we get those the clubs involved. They do Dyno Days, for example, where they can hang out in the showroom and enjoy other enthusiasts and get some food. We try to bring it back a little to the grassroots experience.
“But,” Murphy adds, “the catalog and Internet is where a large percentage of our business is today.”
It takes a pretty large-sized staff to keep it all running smoothly, particularly when you’re talking about businesses anchored on opposite ends of the country.
“Brothers has about 28 employees,” says Murphy. “They’re broken out into graphics and Internet people, then we have a sales force, and customer service. We’re now adding more people, since we opened the Florida facility in August. About 16 of our people are in California, and the rest in Florida.”
The company takes pride in offering complete customer service in-house.
“All of our sales and marketing takes place on the West Coast,” Murphy explains. “And Florida is our larger distribution plant, because 70 percent of our business is east of the Mississippi. Florida will continue to have a lot of our salespeople and a lot of our warehouse space.”
That’s all good news for a customer base that Murphy notes is getting smarter and savvier.
“Our customers want knowledge,” he says. “They want price-matching, free shipping, and they want top-of-the-line service. You have to be really good and take care of the customer. Whether the customer is right or not, if a customer views something as a problem-like a manufacturer may only offer a one-year warranty and a problem comes up at 14 months-that customer is not happy and we can’t offer a refund through the manufacturer.
“We have to take care of that customer,” he continues. “In today’s world, that customer will go online and they’ll be posting threads and complaints. The Internet has enabled customers and created a platform for buying products.”
See and Be Seen
Whether it’s online or in the store, Brothers Performance competes by staying up on the latest trends in products and business.
“For instance, the customer is now also expecting video,” says Murphy. “And so we’re providing more and more video content. We do video on all our car shows. That’s a new thing that’s come up in the last five years. Consumers want that constant entertainment with the technology. People need to be stimulated constantly. No one wants to just read on the Internet.”
It’s about forward thinking, staying ahead of the game, and understanding trends, as the Murphy brothers anticipate what their business will look like in the future.
“We’re adding a lot,” says Murphy. “We’re doing a lot more for the various new vehicles, but we’re also staying on top of the GT500 Mustang, as an example, which is coming in March 2010. It’s a big thing for Ford fanatics, with 412 hp. Between that and the Camaro and the Challenger, we’re staying ahead of the game.”
A successful shop, he explains, must embrace the entire performance aftermarket, old and new.
“I foresee the older demographic buying those (muscle cars) and, conversely, it’s the young consumers who are now buying more and more European and Asian vehicles, primarily because they’re getting those secondhand cars from their parents,” Murphy says. “If you go to a high school parking lot you don’t see Camaros and Corvettes. You see Mitsubishis and Hyundais and BMWs. That’s what the younger people are aspiring into, those brands.”
As always, image and passion are at the heart of today’s performance industry.
“Brands play a lot now, much like the clothing. Girls don’t wear Levis any more. It doesn’t matter if she makes $10,000 a year, she’ll pay $200 for the latest jeans,” Murphy says. “The young car enthusiasts are the same way, and in the growing urban areas, those kids are driving used Audis and BMWs, and that wasn’t the case 20 years ago.”
But a nimble shop-even one with locations on both coasts-can adapt.
“We’re preparing for that,” says Murphy. “There are fewer years between cycles of vehicles, so there is a lot of new stuff happening constantly. You have hundreds of models and brands now, while 20 years ago there were only dozens. We have to know the trends, stay ahead of the trends.
“You can be cool one day,” he explains, “and not cool the next. Today it’s all about knowing and being way ahead of those trends.”
And with an eye on the California and Florida markets, it’s a good bet Brothers Performance will continue to do just that.