Small shops have to adapt and follow automotive trends in order to survive. It’s very easy for us in the aftermarket to get stuck in our ways and keep revisiting the same styles, methods and materials. Many one-time great shops have faded into the background by not embracing modern automotive trends.
My shop is primarily based around making baby boomer street rod dreams reality, but over the past 10 years, I’ve noticed that the next two generations have started stepping up and spending money to have cars built to suit their personal tastes. Many more muscle cars and modern autos have been rolling though my shop lately thanks to these younger customers.
To adapt to the demand of the next generations coming into the hot rod scene, we’ve been trying to concentrate a little more on offering products and services that fit the newer trends and younger generations’ car desires, even if they fall outside of our traditional offering.
Our first venture outside of our comfort zone has been stepping into mobile electronics. ACE Custom Upholstery is primarily an interior-based business, and any new products and services we add need to also complement the demands of our already-established customer base. Most street rods we’ve dealt with have some entry-level sound system, but the new crowd seems to want several steps above entry level when it comes to mobile electronics. We recently added a wide range of mobile electronics to our offering. This addition complements our main line of business and gives new and existing customers the option to upgrade their entry-level sound equipment to a much-higher-quality component.
The past few months have proven the mobile electronics products have an audience, and this addition has positively impacted our sales. To take full advantage of the new customers and sales our mobile electronics offering is attracting, this coming year the facility will designate square footage to a showroom, dedicated electronics install bay and some level of stock warehousing. Our show trailer will also stock some products to sell at the events and shows we attend to help offset the expense of the expansion.
In past articles, the shop tow rig served as a mule for step-by-step installs of several of the components we now install. Having the products in my own personal vehicles gives potential customers a higher comfort level with the product. My hope is that they’ll think, “If a pro has it in his personal rides, then surely it will be of a high-enough quality for me.”
To expand upon the addition of the mobile electronics components, we’re adding new materials and types of fabrication to our offerings this coming year as well. I’ve received several requests from the upcoming generations for fiberglass fabrication and installs.
Although it has been used in the past in-house, fiberglass fabrication has never been a staple in our shop, so more space, materials and demo pieces will be added throughout this upcoming year to meet the demand for fiberglass fabrication. For example, many younger customers are requesting their custom-fit subwoofer enclosures be a fiberglass fabrication, or at least have a fiberglass fascia.
To capitalize upon the demand experienced by the new product lines, we’re now offering a wider variety of installation methods. Sometimes this type of expansion is harder for a shop to add, especially when these new methods don’t follow along the personal tastes of the one pushing the venture. Remember, though, business isn’t about offering what you personally like or want for your own vehicle, it’s about offering what products and installs potential customers are willing to pay for.
One of the challenges to adding the mobile electronics component sales has been increased traffic, which has demanded that I dedicate more and more time to the venture. By year’s end, we hope to add two new employees to compensate for the time demands.
The last growing pain planned for the upcoming year is the addition of an exclusive high-end interior facility that’s separate from our existing shop. The past year’s growth and massive interest has forced me to separate the levels of interiors we offer.
The 73,000-square-foot main facility will still offer all the interior and rod shop services it always has, while the 5,000-square-foot secondary facility will cater to a growing list of higher-end clients and will be centered more around efficient interior innovations. The controlled environment will allow for a higher level of concentration and attention to detail on these special projects.
Shop owners, as the new year begins, put yourself in the position to ensure the highest likelihood of your ongoing success. One way to do this is to make sure every square foot of your facility is profitable, as we’ve tried to do with our new products and services. Continually adapt your offerings to consumer demand and expand accordingly.
Ace Eckleberry is the owner of ACE Custom Upholstery & Rod Shop in Fairfield, Illinois. In upcoming Interior Insights columns, he’ll discuss technical processes, procedures and sales techniques. For more information on Eckleberry, visit his website, www.acerodshop.com .