The news of the closings of the Super Shops chain of performance outlets in the 1990s sent shockwaves through the industry. Many people were surprised the once-huge chain-which at its peak had reached 165 stores-suddenly shut its doors without much warning.
In fact, in many of the cities where the stores were once located, the subsequent loss of the Super Shops location meant there was no longer a traditional speed shop in the area.
One former customer of the famous chain was San Diego’s Gilbert Morales, a car lover himself who had remembered the local stores since he was a kid.
“Ever since I could remember, 13 or 14 years old, I was always a big fan of Super Shops,” he says. “When I started working on cars, I would go there to buy tires, carburetors-everything I needed for the project I was working on.”
Like thousands of car enthusiasts, Morales felt a void after losing a close-by speed shop. But he didn’t forget, and about a decade after Super Shops closed-up shop for good, he went about researching the business name and various trademarks.
After a little digging, he decided to pursue reincorporating the “Super Shops Racing Inc.” and “Super Shops Automotive Performance Centers” names. It took some time and legal wrangling, but Morales was finally successful in fully obtaining the use of the names and immediately opened a small shop in El Cajon, Calif., as the first “rejuvenated” Super Shops store.
Suddenly Morales was the owner of a name that was intimately familiar to him and guys like him who loved high-performance vehicles and working on them.
It’s not been easy, but things are working out and since opening up that first store, Morales has come up with a franchise plan for the company.
Included was the opening of a store in San Bernardino, just a few short miles from Harry Eberlin’s first store that started the original Super Shops. The company is also working with a franchisee in Palmer, Alaska, and fielding lots of inquiries from around the country.
“People still like to see the product in their hands,” says Morales when asked of the benefits of having a brick-and-mortar store that caters to car fanatics. “The store experience-I can’t even think of how many times I’ve heard customers talk about coming into a speed shop like the old Super Shops stores. Customers come in and when they touch a nice, smooth, polished part, and they know they are going to be installing it on their car, it’s like automotive art. Mail order just doesn’t offer that. We want our customers to see it and feel it, so there are no surprises. (Our goal is) for the customer to leave happy and have a good experience.”
One of the things that the “new” Super Shops is offering is a layaway program very similar to the original chain.
“A lot of guys can’t always afford to buy high-ticket items,” Morales says, “so we offer a layaway plan. Rather than a customer having to lay down something like $500 at one crack, they come in and leave you a couple hundred dollars at a time, every two weeks, to pay it off and then the part is sitting there waiting for them. It makes an unaffordable item an affordable item, over time.”
A planned advantage of a Super Shops Racing Inc. franchise, as per the business plan, is being a part of the company’s purchasing network with special pricing arrangements made with suppliers, a program put together by Morales to help increase profits.
New Revenue Sources
Besides stocking and selling parts for street machines, drag cars, muscle cars, street rods, nostalgia cars and related vehicles, one area that the “new” Super Shops also incorporate in its store layouts is a nitrous oxide filling station. This service is for racers and street guys, a place to safely refill their NOS bottles.
The company also offers mounting and balancing of tires-both for new sets sold at the stores or to aid customers if they need this service for their existing tires and wheels.
These days a speed shop has to be open-minded to all revenue sources. One thing Morales has experimented with is offering selected products on Craigslist. If time permits, local swap meets and flea markets are attended as well.
“Do anything and everything to get the name, the shop and your products out in (front of) the eyes of the buying public,” he says of these creative ways to augment the normal speed shop business.
During a recent visit to the El Cajon Super Shops store, there was a steady flow of customers, some picking up parts while others were simply coming by the shop to check things out and get a few prices.
A few of the people who stopped in had projects at home and were making plans on what products to purchase in the weeks to come, plus another was there just to get his NOS bottle refilled. The general attitude of the people that were in the store during our time spent was that of enjoyment and relaxation.
Morales has also heard from numerous former Super Shops employees, of which a great many have fond memories of working there. Some former managers have even inquired about a startup business of their own-possibly a new Super Shops outlet.
Super Shops Racing Inc. is currently accepting applications for Super Shops Automotive Performance Centers franchise, dealer and counter licensing agreements. To learn more contact (619) 562-4339.