By Ilona French
No matter how much dirt and dust you kick up at the track, after the race, it’s a digital world. At least that’s the verdict when it comes to parts sales.
This may come as a surprise to fabricators who think that because they build cars “in-house,” they don’t need to promote their businesses “online.”
More and more, racers visit the web in search of parts. According to PRI’s Racing Business Survey Results, the No. 1 most significant business challenge for racing entrepreneurs in 2012 was “competition from the Internet.” Even if racers stop in at your shop and hire you to build their car, they still jump on their keyboards to research websites and tech forums that not only teach them how to go fast, but also where to obtain those advantageous parts.
Some enthusiasts find the parts they’re sure will help them win and browse your website to see if you carry them, use them in your builds, or can offer technical advice. For busy racers who juggle day jobs, family and their love for the sport, the ability to shop anytime is a huge advantage.
To meet evolving shopping habits, Shinnston, West Virginia-based Rocket Chassis is in the process of increasing its exposure online. “That’s the trend today,” said Steve Baker. “They don’t want to call somebody and order a part. They want to be able to pick up their iPhone and punch in what they want and get it sent to them, so that’s the direction we’re going right now.” The goal is to streamline parts sales, which will make it simple for racers to order parts through Rocket—rather than a parts superstore.
According to PRI’s survey, 67 percent of motorsports companies have websites; of those, only 36 percent use the site to take customer orders. That means the majority of companies with websites might be missing sales opportunities. Whether customers are DIYers, rely on your services exclusively, or are somewhere in between, it’s important to have a strong presence on the web. For example, producing nearly 250 chassis a year, Rocket caters to dirt late model racers at every level, from tight to unlimited budgets.
“We try to take care of all of them as best we can,” said Baker. “Some guys just want to come in here and buy a chassis and then put it together themselves; and some of them want to back their trailer up to the door and take one straight to the race track from here. We can do that either way and anything in between.”
Providing customers with detailed information, both on and off the track, has set Rocket apart from many of its competitors, according to Baker. “Everybody has pieces and parts, but that information is very important to make those pieces and parts work,” he said Baker. Customers “want the information and, fortunately, if they buy from us, they get that information along with it.”
Putting Customers First
Without customers, there is no business. And in the vintage racing scene, as in most racing circles, when mature racers retire, the next generation has to take their place. “We’re always looking for new customers,” said Louie Shefchik from Puyallup, Washington-based J&L Fabricating. “We’ve had a number of customers that have retired. They’re in their 70s…and it’s just a little too much. They don’t want to do that anymore and they don’t feel like they can be as competitive as they were…. The youngest group of customers that we’ll see is probably mid 40s. But the majority of our customers are probably in their early 50s.”
Shefchik credits his reputation in the vintage world to his success; but traveling is also a huge factor. “We usually do about 20 events a year, and it’s everything from East Coast to West Coast, Montreal to the UK; we’ve been in Le Mans and Monaco,” he said. “Probably 75 percent of our customer growth has been from within the vintage world. We’ve picked up probably three to four customers in the last couple of years that were not involved in vintage racing but decided they wanted to become involved.”
J&L has a distinguishing presence at race events, where the company typically sets up three identical, eye-catching semis. There customers can easily identify the company brand, which is prominently displayed on the rigs and awnings. At events, the team is there for racers with trackside support. “One of the things that I learned a long time ago is that the customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer and needs to be treated as that,” said Shefchik. “We work very, very hard at making them feel comfortable at their events, making them feel safe in their cars and keeping a family feeling around there. They all go for the camaraderie of each other.”
J&L, like other successful racing businesses, puts racers first. After all, this sport is very important to customers. “It may not be professional racing, but they’ve gotten to a point in their lives that this is their hobby, this is their release after a tough week or whatever, and we make it as trouble free to them as can be,” he said. “They see that and they respect the amount of effort that we put into it.”
Shefchik admitted that many people look at vintage racing as a rich man’s sport—but money doesn’t factor in to his commitment to customer service. “Whether it’s a $10,000 car or a $1 million car, we treat it with the same respect and with the same sense of urgency,” he said.
Customers expect a lot for their money, and that expectation includes constant contact. For Reading, Pennsylvania-based RTS Chassis, that means talking regularly to customers on the phone and at the track. “We’ve got a parts truck that goes three nights a week to the races,” said Terry Schaeffer. “I’m usually on it, or our employees are keeping in touch with them.”
The team at RTS, which caters to micro sprints, sprint cars and midgets, attends local tracks on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. “We walk around the pits, ask anybody if they need help or, like at Lanco (Lanco’s Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway), I’m usually down at the track watching all the races. If it looks like anybody is having trouble, I go over to them and help them out as best I can. Or they’ll walk around the pits and find me. Just being there, I think, is a big deal.”
Schaeffer believes that in recent years, racers don’t have as many spare parts in their trailers as they used to. “We have a parts truck that is fully stocked, which might be part of the reason. We’ve got pretty much everything in that trailer, except maybe a frame, to put parts on race cars when we’re at the race track. Customers know where we’re at, at specific tracks. They don’t have to carry extra parts because they know we have it and they can just come to the parts truck and get it.”
From the shop side of customer support, if RTS doesn’t have the necessary parts in-house, the team does whatever it takes to get customers’ parts out for the weekend, via UPS or drop shipped directly from suppliers.
Lastly, Schaeffer believes that honesty is the best way to convert shoppers into buyers. “That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “Be honest with them and tell them what I’d be doing if I was in their place.”