Perhaps one of the most difficult markets for many shop owners to profitably serve is that of young automotive performance enthusiasts. John Pruitt, owner of John’s Rod Shop in Abbeville, South Carolina, points out that “The Honda Civic that that teenager’s driving out there is comparable to our generation’s ‘55 Chevy. Unfortunately, usually those guys don’t have the money.”
“A lot of those guys want to buy every part over the Internet, and we can’t compete with the Internet pricing,” he observes. “These young guys are real savvy and they do a lot of the work themselves or they have a buddy do it because they don’t have the money to pay a professional shop.”
But that’s not to say they should be ignored. As Pruitt says, “That market has got to be acknowledged, massaged, and worked with in order for this industry to grow and survive.”
Andy Voytilla, owner of Dream Machines in Lake Oswego, Oregon, says that customer communication is essential. “When a customer comes to me to build a car, the big trick is to get into their mind and see their vision, because a lot of people can’t communicate well enough to tell you exactly what they want.” It helps when the customer has some hands-on experience with cars, so Voytilla encourages them to take part in the project in some way: “I always encourage my customers to come by the shop on a regular basis. Quite often I even get them to chase parts for me because when they get involved it is easier to get their ideas into it and make it like they wanted it.”
Neither Pruitt or Voytilla do any media advertising because they feel their reputation in their market niches is strong enough to pull in plenty of work. That’s not to say they do absolutely no marketing, however, because their constant attendance at car shows, cruise-ins, rallies, races, and other events serves to put their work in front of plenty of people. The drawback to that strategy, of course, is that it doesn’t reach many new-to-the-market customers.
In a way, though, that’s not particularly important to the shop owner who is more interested in serving a particular group of enthusiasts than in growth for growth’s sake. If the market niche is big enough, it can support a shop quite well for many years.
Dave Donelson, author of The Dynamic Manager's Guides a series of how-to books for business owners and managers.