Wheel in Some Customers

Dec 3, 2009

The wheels on the Escalade go round and round…and they could go right out your shop’s door.

If wheels aren’t already hanging on the walls of your showroom to entice customers, have you considered adding them? Whether they are into bling or burly, your customers are the type who’d love to pick out a new set of rims for their ride.

Manufacturers of aftermarket wheels say that custom wheels are one of the first upgrades a car owner looks at after getting a new vehicle. If he or she hasn’t added them yet, it is probably on a wish list somewhere; if his or her car, truck or SUV already has aftermarket rims, a new look might not be too far down the road.

“Since wheels are one of the first items that people change on their vehicle, having them available brings in customers to the shop and may lead to increased sales of other items,” says Chris Anderson, ATX series brand manager for American Racing, Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

When selling wheels, however, there are plenty of options to consider, as well as concerns to take into consideration.

Personality Plus

Wheels are among the most eye-catching features of any vehicle. Whether they’re brilliantly shined or gunmetal gray, the right set of rims will accentuate everything on the road, from cars to pickups to SUVs.

“You may want to start getting into wheels if you’re not already offering them,” says Cindy Irizarry, sales manager at California Pony Cars, Ontario, Calif. “They do a lot as far as making the car look even more retro.”

That’s why they make such great sense for restyling shops. Extra personality, a statement, attention-these are the things your customers want.

“Frankly, if [shops] were to look at their customers, I’d guess that up to 90 percent of their customer base are people who are going to buy wheels in the course of fixing up their vehicle, whether they bought them before or after they go to a restyler,” says Ron Escue, vice president of sales and marketing for Enkei Wheels. “The customer who goes to a restyler is a typical custom wheel purchaser. It would make sense, since the restyler would [already] have the vehicle in the shop, if he included wheels in his offerings.”

With thousands of styles available in every price range, there’s not just one wheel they’ll love-there are likely several.

“Wheels are like jewelry,” says Anderson. “Customers like to come in and check out the new styles. Once you have them looking, it is up to you to start selling. One technique that works really well is picking three of your top-selling wheels and showing them how they look on similar vehicles, [because] sometimes when you give them too many choices, they can’t decide.”

Should You or Shouldn’t You?

While the visual bang for the buck can’t be beat, there are some things to know before adding a wall full of 20-inch bling to your showroom.

“It is a challenge and an investment to sell wheels in a retail shop,” says Cheryl Habing of Mid America Motorworks, Effingham, Ill. “Customers expect the shop to stock the style and application of wheels they want. One solution is to have one example of the wheel styles you carry in your showroom and a knowledgeable sales staff that understands wheel measurement and what wheels fit which cars.”

Needless to say, selling them means installing them-and that’s the challenge.

“In today’s market, shops must have the latest equipment such as a digital balancing machine [and the training to go with it] that works without touching or damaging expensive chrome wheels,” says Habing.

“Low-profile tires and more complicated rim clamp machines with more moving parts make training essential from the manufacturer,” she says. “When machines are purchased, the manufacturer usually provides training. Then, as new employees are added, training is done internally by the experienced mechanics.”

“All wheels have different backspacing, offset and other criteria that determine if they will fit each car model,” adds Kenny Yager, new product merchandiser and technician for Mid America Motorworks. “This information is available from the manufacturers. Tire size, suspension, size of brakes [especially if installing big brakes], and lowering of the car must all be taken into account when supplying or purchasing wheels. The last thing you want to do is sell a set of wheels that doesn’t fit the vehicle’s brakes.”

You’ll need to mount tires on the rims that you sell-and tires are something most customers buy when they buy new wheels. That’s why the bulk of wheels sold go through tire dealerships.

“Most of the time, tire dealers have made themselves the source for wheels,” says Escue. “Two-thirds of wheels sold go through tire dealers, so buddy-up with a local tire dealer.”

If you don’t already have the equipment, a tire-mounting setup can be expensive. If wheels aren’t going to be a major product offering for your shop, it’s an investment that wheel manufacturers say to hold off on-at least for the moment.

“It depends on how frequent a restyler is going to be involved in selling custom wheels and tires,” says Escue. “Good equipment to correctly handle expensive wheels is pretty expensive; the payback is going to take a long time, unless the restyler becomes a shop doing five or six sets of wheels a day. And they might end up that way, but it never starts that way. It really depends on the individual situation.”

Searching for a local tire shop that has the necessary equipment and expertise and is willing to enter a partnership may be your best bet to get tires and wheels mounted and balanced.

“Due to the cost of the equipment and training needed, partnering with a local wheel and tire shop is a good idea,” says Habing. “Restyling shops would also benefit from any restyling work the wheel and tire shop could throw their way.”

If wheels become a staple of your shop’s products, however, the equipment will pay for itself-in  time as well as dollars.

“In the long term it will be better for [shops] to mount their own tires,” suggests Anderson. “Otherwise, they will be giving away a lot of margin to the local tire shop. Like any investment, they will need to compare the fixed-cost investment of the machine versus the variable cost of getting the wheels and tires mounted at a shop and potentially losing customers to a more aggressive competitor.”

Would You Like Wheels with That?

Once you’ve decided to add wheels to your product offerings, they won’t do you much good just hanging on the wall-you want to roll those babies right out the door on your customers’ rides.

Some manufacturers suggest choosing display models that suit your shop’s personality-wheels that customers can imagine on their vehicle.

Choosing eye-catching designs may be another way to spark the idea for the customer to upgrade their rims.

“It depends on the personality of the shop,” says Escue. “There are shops that do really extreme 4×4 modifications and big lift kits. If that’s your customer base, show wheels that fit that market. I wouldn’t be showing small car wheels. Have your display meet your market. It doesn’t have to be the wheel he sells to a customer, but having three or four wheels on display makes the statement, ‘I sell wheels.’ The customer thinks ‘Gosh, I didn’t know you sell wheels,’ and he might decide to do that while getting running boards put on.”

Most wheel manufacturers, including Mid America Motorworks and American Racing, also offer sales tools from full-color catalogs to interactive Web sites that allow customers to see an image of their vehicle and try different wheel styles.

“On our interactive Web site is a feature that allows all business-to-business and retail customers to click on their year and exterior color of Corvette and choose a wheel style,” says Mid America’s Habing. “The customer can then see how each style of wheel offered looks on their Corvette before they buy, and the sizes and applications for each wheel are clearly indicated.”

Interacting with customers on their own level is important, too, say manufacturers. Ask questions about their lifestyle, likes and dislikes, and you’ll be able to show them the right wheels that will capture their imagination.

“It is really important to identify what type of customer you are dealing with,” says Anderson. “Is this consumer looking to improve the performance of their vehicle, wider wheels to fit wider tires? Are they going to be using this vehicle off-road or towing heavy loads? Then they may need a certain load rating for both the tire and wheel.”