Like many of you, I’ve been in the parts business all my working life, beginning with jobs behind the local parts counter through high school and college. That’s where I not only started my education on the fundamentals of aftermarket distribution, but became a performance enthusiast as well.
In my last stint as a counterman, this enthusiasm quickly identified me as the store’s “performance guy.” When a customer walked in mentioning anything to do with performance, all fingers pointed my direction. “Let him handle those guys,” the veteran countermen would say. “They take too long and I don’t understand what the heck they’re talking about anyway.” Well, being in a college town, the store began to develop a reputation for being performance friendly. It only took a short time for specialty parts WDs to come calling, and the owner of the store eventually agreed to let me put in some inventory. By the time I left, the store was doing a substantial amount of specialty parts business, and our replacement parts business had grown right along with it.
Through this experience, combined with the last 23 years of my career selling, marketing and distributing parts and accessories that nobody really “needs,” I have come to know some truths about what the specialty parts business brings to the marketplace. The bottom line is that there has never been a better time for the mainstream distributors to grab a piece of this expanding market.
Per the latest Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) statistics, the specialty parts business represented upwards of $32 billion in retail sales in 2005. And the market has shown sustained growth over the last 15 years that has outpaced the overall aftermarket substantially. Now I know some of you are thinking “yeah, and it’s all sold through specialty shops, mail order and the Internet.” Well…not all. Automotive retailers rank second only to specialty shops as a favorite source and account for over 20 percent of the sales at retail. That’s a big chunk of business, and it’s growing every day.
SEMA’s 2005 Trends and Forecasts Report says that “the specialty parts aftermarket is one of the fastest growing industries, dominating other consumer goods industries in terms of sales, and is driven year over year by an influx of new consumers (drivers and enthusiasts), new vehicles and new products.” Just take a look at what’s rolling out of Detroit these days. Retro-muscle Mustangs, 500 hp Corvettes. Even my new Nissan Frontier pickup has 265 horsepower, and I’ve already added an air intake kit worth an additional 12 hp.
Today’s performance and accessory market is loaded with well-designed, top quality parts and accessories that enhance the performance and appearance of everything from classics to brand new daily drivers. Some of the hottest sellers today are cat-back exhaust systems, power tuners and air intake kits — all easily installed by the DIY customer or at the local shop. And don’t overlook high volume add-ons like side tubes, hood shields and tonneau covers. These too are DIY favorites and offer easy over the counter sales and nice profits.
Getting a piece of the action is easy if you’re willing to spend a little time and effort promoting the availability of these parts in your store. A number of specialty parts WDs offer turnkey programs with marketing materials, POP displays and inventory packages to suit any retail environment. A performance and accessory image can be conveyed in your store for as little as a couple hundred bucks, creating a substantial special order business. And remember, the customers you attract with your new specialty parts image typically drive and maintain several vehicles, which means more sales of brake shoes, water pumps, starters and other hard parts.
If anything, the specialty parts business requires less technical expertise today than it did five or 10 years ago. Cataloging is better due to the emerging availability of electronic data for parts lookups, and product features are better explained and easier to understand than ever before. In a nutshell, what used to be an unsophisticated, quirky segment has evolved into a mainstream, multi-billion dollar market that includes everyone from racers to soccer moms. The products are hot, distribution is ready and waiting, and excitement is high as Americans continue their love affair with the automobile. Why not sell them something they want, but don’t need, for a change?