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Fast Lane, Is Your Off-Season Busier Than Ever?
If you read this column regularly, you know I constantly stress the importance of getting out to the race track and working with the racers if you hope to be successful catering to the high performance trade. It becomes just as important during the off-season as well.
By Jim Walbolt
While there may be a few tracks that race year-round, mostly in the south or west, the majority of race tracks in North America have now completed their seasons. They're getting ready for their award banquets where they honor the season champions and thank their sponsors. They will use the off-season to review the season and look at ways to improve for next year. They will also be looking at rules and possible changes for the new season.
Now's your time to be active: if you were involved at the track during the season, then you should also be involved during the off-season.
If you sponsored a division, or were a major point fund sponsor at the track during the season, are you carrying on at the awards banquet by either presenting point fund checks, or sponsoring the trophies and awards? By having your name on a trophy or plaque, a competitor will be reminded of your involvement every time they look at that award.
Hopefully, many of the competitors have already brought their engines or other work to you to get ready for next season; by being at the banquet, you can remind the other racers that you are available to get them ready, too.
If you aren't involved in the track as a point fund or award sponsor, have you thought about handing out a little incentive at the banquet in the form of gift certificates towards shop services or parts? Offering such incentives is an ideal way to get more work into your shop; it's also a great way to get new customers into the shop.
Perhaps you were involved in a contingency program that rewarded competitors; the awards banquet is the perfect venue at which to toot your own horn and make sure everyone is aware of your involvement.
And while we're on the subject of contingency programs, if you're not involved in such a program - or the track or organization you are involved with doesn't offer a program - the off-season is the time to bring the idea up or to work with the promoter to create one. A properly designed and administered contingency program will MAKE you money, not cost you money. It's a win-win program for everyone; promoter, racer and performance shop.
In many cases it just takes getting someone in your shop the first time for them to become a loyal customer, sold on you and your services.
A contingency program or gift certificate is the perfect way to accomplish this. Also keep in mind that a contingency award doesn't need to be cash; it can be a credit toward the service or part. To a racer who needs your service or parts, a credit is the same as cash.
And, while the majority of awards and prizes go to the top finishers in a division, why not structure your incentive program so those competitors who don't run up front normally receive some additional prize. After all, they put just as much effort into their racing as the champion does, and they may even appreciate the help more.
Just think about how that might make you and your shop perceived by all the other competitors, and think how that would make you look if next season, those competitors finished at the top with your help! Suddenly you would be swamped with racers looking to your shop to do the same for them.
Whether you're working with a track or sanctioning organization, getting involved during the off-season activities can only be good for your shop. In addition to the fun of the awards banquets, getting involved in the nitty-gritty of the rules-making will also be a big plus for your shop.
Promoters are always looking for ways to make racing more affordable in order to increase car counts at their track or in their association. They look to an expert to help guide them in their discussions and decisions and by becoming that expert they rely on, the racers will also tend to look to you as the expert, and that can only be good for your business.
Perhaps a track is looking at developing a "crate" engine program to reduce costs in certain divisions. They don't necessarily need to use a crate engine from one of the big three when you are sitting right there and can develop a crate engine for them out of your shop. Then, you not only sell the engine, but all the rebuilds will come to your shop too.
Growing your high performance business is a year-round commitment and we've given you a few ideas here. Get involved with your local track or racing association and watch your business grow.
Another important off-season commitment is getting out to the shows such as SEMA and the PRI Show. These shows are not only educational with informative seminars but, more importantly, they give you the opportunity to talk to the manufacturers and see the latest innovations and products available for high performance applications. It is extremely important to keep up with the latest changes.
You wouldn't build an engine for a customer that uses five-year old technology would you? The way to keep your customers competitive is to give them the latest technology; you can bet your competitors will. It is amazing how fast some technology changes; what were last years latest tricks may not (read, probably won't) get the job done and keeping your customer competitive is the key to success in the performance industry.
In addition to attending as many of the shows as possible, the off-season is a chance to catch up on your reading. Engine Builder magazine will continue to keep you updated on the latest trends in the performance industry, but you should also check out the magazine rack at your local grocery or book store.
You will be amazed at the newest enthusiast titles that seem to come out monthly featuring a new or revamped motorsport and the possibilities seem endless. Magazines such as Circle Track, Stock Car Racing, High Performance Pontiac, and Sport Compact Car are full of technical articles from street performance upgrades to full-out racing tech. These articles will not only keep you informed as to the latest trends, they may give you ideas that you can apply to your business. Maybe they'll help you find a new niche that will continue your success in the performance market.
While the more successful shops find the off-season to be as busy as ever, you also need to find time to promote your business, thank your customers, cultivate new customers, and educate yourself on the latest trends in the performance industry. Hopefully some of these ideas will help.