Stopping Power

Oct 22, 2010

We’re talking about brakes and how they have their own industry within the performance world. And within that niche, the technological advances seem to come by the month instead of the year.

So, with a fast-paced product, you need fast-paced information. We asked our sources about the current state of the brake market, and what the future holds for the products that help lock down all the power this industry has to offer.

Stop & Go

Our first question was about the current state of the performance brake market.

Jim Ries of Classic Performance Products (CPP) starts us off. “The classic car brake market is still strong. We’re not seeing the fast-paced growth like we have in the past, but it is still a very strong and viable marketplace. After a couple of mediocre years, 2010 has been good to us so far.”

Todd Gartshore of Baer Brake Systems says, “High-quality professional car builders seem to have a steady flow or backlog of work. However, the substantially larger number of enthusiasts building their own cars is only now starting to show signs of life. Truck and SUV sales have also improved slightly over the last six months. I believe all enthusiast-oriented products will benefit when things in Washington become more stable.”

Carmen Anastasio of Master Power Brakes adds, “It’s overwhelming as far as what’s out there. It’s a want business. The performance business has gone crazy. A big part of the business now is upgrading, and people have money for that. I think it’s going in a positive direction.”

As does Ken Hale, director of sales and marketing for Wilwood Engineering.

“The market has steadily grown over the last few years, especially in street performance,” he says. “The consumer is now much more likely to build a car that not only goes fast, but handles and stops equally as well. Additionally, I think that the top-tier aftermarket brake manufacturers have also done a good job of getting the message out that aftermarket brake systems are vastly superior to the standard brake systems offered by the OE automotive manufacturers.”

And Dean Akins, product manager for Motor State Distributing, notes: “The brake market seems to be doing well. People are driving their cars more and adding higher-horsepower motors, so now they see a need for a brake package to get them stopped.”

Market ‘Brake-Down’

Next, we asked where the customers are coming from-”racing, street or both. The answers are mixed.

“Racing, although a smaller subset of the overall market, is still strong,” notes Baer’s Gartshore. “In our case, both street and race customers are electing quality, durability and longevity of brake components over simply price alone.”

Master Power’s Anastasio says, “You have both. It’s just car people more than race people.”

CPP’s Ries adds, “For Classic Performance Products, it’s from the street side of the market. The hobbyist is our core customer. Fortunately for CPP, improving the steering, brakes and suspension is usually pretty high on the ‘restoring my classic car’ to-do list. For most of us, we still find a way to afford the things we enjoy. Driving and restoring these classics is very therapeutic and a rewarding experience, so we still have a solid customer base with the hobbyists that support our part of this industry.”

And for Wilwood, Hale says enthusiasts who take their daily drivers to the race track are among the company’s best customers.

“The street performance crowd who also track their cars is among our larger markets,” he explains. “There seems to be a strong and sustained interest in pro-touring that bodes well for future growth. It is kind of like drag racing in the 1950s and ’60s when anyone could take his or her car out to a local track and go racing. We are now seeing the same phenomenon in autocross and similar events. The average person can take his or her car to a local track and not only show how fast it accelerates, but also demonstrate how well their car handles and stops. It is a very exciting time for the car enthusiast.”

Scott Wahlstrom, marketing manager for All-Star Performance/Motor State Distributing, explains: “We see them coming from both racing and street. Racers are continually looking for that little extra on the track and the newer, lightweight braking systems are a key component today. We also see the crossover in products from the racing market to the street market, as more and more enthusiasts drive their cars in touring and timed racing events like autocrosses and speed-stop challenges. Don’t forget your SCCA and NASA customers either-those guys wear brakes out and that’s a great thing for the local performance shops.”

Hot to Stop

So, what are the hot products these days?

Anastasio says, “Muscle cars are hot. The hottest one is the Mustang. We assemble the whole kit. We use premium pads, special grease, quality parts. You have to make it simple. We find that assembled kits are the ones. We have three stages.”

Hale also sees a strong interest in complete brake kits.

“Big brake kits for all four corners are in demand more and more,” he says. “When we speak of kits, we are really talking about an entire brake system. Your consultation with the customer will determine how they intend to use the brakes, and then you can put together an appropriate brake package.”

Ries says, “Really, all years, makes and models are still hot, but the kits or complete system sales are gaining in popularity. There is a greater dollar value in buying a complete kit, and you avoid the possible compatibility issues you have with mixing brands and purchasing individual products.”

Gartshore notes, “Our recently introduced Street-Strip-4-Plus (SS4+) is selling well to drag racers as well as muscle car and street rod enthusiasts. As far as late-model markets, the 5.0 Mustang and the Camaro SS are top-sellers.”

Wahlstrom notes that the late-model muscle car market is strong, and Ryan Disterheft, sales associate for All-Star Performance/Motor State Distributing, notes that changes on the racing side are also positive.

“The racing brake market is changing drastically. I think that a lot of short track/Saturday night racers are realizing there is speed in the brake system,” he says. “They have become more educated that corner speed is affected by the braking system. It not only gets the car slowed down, but it also affects how fast it accelerates. The rotating mass, as well as the total overall weight of the brake system can affect this drastically.

“Technology is growing rapidly in the brake industry as manufacturers are able to make rotors and calipers that are very lightweight yet very durable,” he continues. “Brake pads have also changed over the years. Not long ago there were only a few different pad compounds to choose from (basically dirt or asphalt). Now there is a huge selection, which allows the racer to select a pad compound for the type of car and track surface they’re racing. This creates a great opportunity for the local speed shop/performance retailer, but they need to be familiar with the compounds and brake pad design that the local racers are using. It’s also good to know what calipers and rotors the local racers are using so they can have service parts in stock.”

Need to Know

Next, we asked about the challenges shops face when selling brake products.

Says Wahlstrom: “Brake kits are not cheap and price is generally the biggest hurdle jobbers face in selling a kit. Racers have known for years that you get what you pay for, so they’re a bit more in-touch with what it costs to put a good system together. The street consumer, on the other hand, generally needs more assistance and guidance when making this type of purchase. There are kits out there for every level of street use and every type of racing, so it’s important for the jobber to know what their customer wants to achieve when looking to build or upgrade their brake system.”

Gartshore offers a checklist. “We specialize in building systems specific to customer demands and often offer multiple selections for a single vehicle. Often, the challenge is learning to find out up-front from the customer the related questions that all brake system manufacturers will need to know. With this information in hand, effective help will be available from the manufacturer.

“Here is our short list,” he continues. “Year, make, model. Is front spindle on the vehicle stock? If not, what spindle is employed? What rear end is being used? If they are upgrading the rear end, who will be performing the conversion? What type of bearing will be used? Which axle flanges? Does the customer already have wheels? If so, what sizes? Is the customer contemplating or willing to contemplate new wheels for this project? Either way, the brake system manufacturer should provide you with brake fit templates. This will ultimately determine which brake system options are practical.”

Ries adds, “Knowing your product and getting to know your customer is key. Your customer has so many great options today, with so much quality products on the market. The challenge is to help your customer find the correct system for their particular project, discussing all the options to ensure the right decision has been made and then supporting that sale with real tech support and whatever is necessary to get the project completed and safely on the road.”

Anastasio points out the sales aspect. “It’s all in the salesmanship. I used to tell people, ‘cheap is expensive.’ It’s up to the mechanic to sell. You have to find out and identify who you’re dealing with.”

Hale addresses the economy and product knowledge.

“Like most businesses today, the state of the economy is probably their biggest challenge,” he says. “Secondly, there are a lot of brake kits and brake systems on the market that are cobbled together haphazardly or in a generic sense. Shop owners need to do their homework and make sure they know exactly what the customer needs, then purchase the components from a reputable manufacturer who has a history of producing a quality product backed by excellent customer support and service.”

Moving Forward

Lastly, we asked about the future for the performance brakes market.

Ries says, “I wish I had a crystal ball to answer this. For CPP, we have decided to focus our engineering team’s efforts on two goals: developing new manufacturing processes that refine our proven existing product line, and designing products for makes and models that are beginning to enter the market. Our main goal has always been, and continues to be, to provide value.”

Gartshore gives us the big picture, “The future is strong for both the performance brake consumer and the manufacturers who can offer proven solutions specific to the wide variety of enthusiast needs.”

Anastasio offers a reason for optimism. “Again, this is a ‘want’ business. There is a big difference between need and want. People are really up for this stuff. Everybody wants something different. I think there’s a market for it.”

Wahlstrom also is optimistic.

“The future looks good,” he says. “Racers will look to upgrade to lighter components for improved track performance. Street enthusiasts who also experience track days and autocross will look to improve their brake performance as their skill levels increase. If jobbers develop customers within these markets, performance brake pads and rotors will become staple items for their shelves.”

Hale, too, says the future looks bright, and adds that carbon/ceramic products may become more prevalent in the next few years.

“We here at Wilwood are very positive about the future performance brake market,” he explains. “We have a large portion of our engineering and R&D staff dedicated to bringing out new and improved products. Over the next year we expect to add 40 or 50 new kits, plus several new additions to our product line.

“I think you will also see more interest in carbon/ceramic brake systems if prices start to come down, as they inevitably must do as supply increases,” he adds. “However, for the time being, iron rotors are still your best buy when all things are considered.”

So, if you are looking for a program to add profits to your bottom line, start shopping around in performance and racing circles and don’t forget to check your brakes.