Customer service is a critical component of any auto racing business’s daily operations. Similarly, promotion and outreach are essential to ensure growth and brand awareness. PRI recently spoke with some of the industry’s leading muscle car suppliers and service providers to find out just what it takes to relate to racers and ultimately expand one’s customer base.
Of all the marketing tools available, Midlothian, Texas-based Texas Muscle Car Club Challenge Director Phillip Nickles is unflinching about the one that serves everyone selling anything: “The most powerful marketing tool I ever found after 40 years in the auto repair business was word of mouth. Advertising is necessary, but if you don’t make the customers happy, their word of mouth will ruin you.”
He added that the point person for any business must not only be knowledgeable about the company’s products or services, but also be patient when answering questions, and never forget that the way customers are treated is paramount to the business’s success.
“Having a friendly, knowledgeable sales associate answer the phone will help vendors achieve a better bottom line than any other marketing tool—as long as they offer a quality product or service,” he concluded.
Ever considered trying to find a way into national, regional and local racing events to pump up awareness of your business?
ProMedia’s Steve Wolcott, which operates NMCA and NMRA out of Santa Ana, California, believes almost any sanctioning body provides a partnership opportunity for aftermarket businesses—you just need to find reasons, not excuses.
He cited Keystone’s 10-year NMRA sponsorship relationship that encourages its jobbers to come out to local racing events and raise awareness with their potential customers. “With Keystone’s help, the jobbers are taught how to grow their business without travel,” he said. “Business opportunities always need a local connection, which could include a setup on the midway, walking the pits, or just handing out business cards.”
Brett Kinsfather of Motovicity Distribution in Madison Heights, Michigan, offered simple, straightforward ways to grow any business: “Unless you are truly a mad scientist who can consistently destroy the competition, it is important to be social and likeable. Use social media to brag a little—a picture says a thousand words.” In fact, “you don’t even have to say anything, and people will start following you to keep up on your builds.
“Go to the track, learn to compliment others to begin conversations—a little will go a long way, and word-of-mouth recommendations will roll in,” he continued. “It may be a little strange at first, but you do have to make eye contact…but after a little bit of that it’ll become easy to show off some of your work, and your confidence will grow.
Kinsfather also advised to “carefully evaluate and identify if there is a reasonable return on investment from event participation/sponsorship, meaning how much work do you need to do to get something back. Try new things, but if they don’t work, walk away; learn from it.
“Most importantly,” he added, “treat it as an investment and not a spend.”
Jeremy Croiset of the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) in Napa Valley, California, believes in providing product and service companies with an easy path to build brand awareness by getting involved with contingency programs and class sponsorship. “The most successful sponsor partners utilize a relationship with a racer participating in their area of motorsports expertise, while also aligning themselves with a sanctioning body to offer contingency opportunities for competitors to take advantage of,” he explained. “We’ve found this to be a very cost-effective method of generating brand awareness and potential sales leads.”
Keith Wilson of Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center in Lubbock, Texas, suggested that engine builders, fabricators, speed or prep shops meet and develop new clients by becoming familiar to those in the area they serve. “They should write down the list of resources they have to become ‘known,’ together with a plan and timeline to implement those resources, and then do it,” he insisted.
“Your best customers are your best advertisement,” Wilson added. “Get involved, in some way, with that community of racers you serve. Most sanctioning bodies or event organizers will work to accommodate your needs and budget.”
IHRA’s Mike Dunn told us his West Palm Beach, Florida-based sanctioning body continually looks for local, regional and national partners. “There are several different levels of sponsorship available from signage, title rights, offering our racers benefits, at-track displays, to name a few, and we are developing new packages all the time,” he said.
“Summit is a very good partner, and believes we reach their customers. They have a substantial stake, and they must be getting a proper payback,” Dunn said of Summit’s multi-level, longtime diverse sponsor programs that include contingency, series and team backing.
What about the factory programs? You may not have commensurate cubic marketing dollars, but a little imitation might green-light a new revenue stream with a bit of creative adaptation.
Ed Hessel of Mopar Performance Parts in Auburn Hills, Michigan, connects with new racers through the company’s motorsports team, interacting at drag racing, road racing and car shows, where they also advertise products. “Our presence is geared toward in-person, face-to-face connection to help build relationships with enthusiasts and racers at many NHRA national events, especially Mopar-powered sportsman racers at an NMCA event, or a Mopar-themed car show,” said Hessel. “Our product planners and other staff also attend and interact with racers.”
Hessel emphasized how Mopar is open to working closer with organizations such as NMCA, which turn racing events into car shows and enthusiast gatherings.
Chevrolet Performance in Detroit, Michigan, respects the power of social media’s continual growth and its powerful means of communication and influence. “Snapchat is our newest channel and we have had great success sharing event coverage, behind-the-scenes content, and connecting with our customers on a more personal level,” said Adrienne Peters.
“There is still tremendous value in having a physical presence at events,” Peters noted. “We have different programs tailored to professional racing series and enthusiast events. We sponsor the Chevrolet Performance US Nationals featuring everything from Camaro-bodied Funny Cars to our own COPOs.
“For the enthusiast-based client, we have a great partnership working with NMCA and Steve Wolcott in the Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series,” she added.
Perhaps your company could benefit from a smaller version outreach to your customer base. Or, maybe Ford’s approach resonates more. The Dearborn, Michigan-based OEM relies heavily on its distributors to keep in touch with the customer on a regular basis, and also allows them to use their co-op advertising money for creative marketing around racing.
“This incentivizes them to do so,” revealed Jesse Kershaw. “Additionally, we have representatives at several key races for the various series, and send a mobile marketing trailer to several race events every year.
“Social media plays a critical role as well, and we especially leverage Facebook and Instagram,” he continued. “Tags like ‘Wheels Up Wednesday’ give us an opportunity every week to showcase our products in action race shots.”
Ford does not squander its presence at any NHRA, NMRA and NMCA races, which they understand presents an opportunity to promote the company’s products—even with a limited budget. Yes, even the OEMs have restricted funds, and must selectively choose the best-attended events to promote their message. Certainly that’s a scenario that most, if not all small businesses can relate to, especially in the performance domain.