By Chad Simon
Southern Off-Road Specialists Provides Superior Customer Experience
Southern Off-Road Specialists is closing in on $1 million in monthly sales by supplying enthusiasts with lift kits, tires, wheels, tonneau covers, aftermarket bumpers, lighting and other popular truck accessories.
A longtime passion for off-roading helped motivate the Richmond family to launch Southern Off-Road Specialists (SORS) in 2000. Having an enthusiast mindset with the ability to relate to customers and foresee trends is the formula that has enabled owners Don Richmond and his son Adam—who started working at the shop when he was just 15—to succeed in this competitive market.
SORS got its humble start in a two-bay gas station, grossing $50,000 to $60,000 in monthly sales. Today, the four-wheel-drive shop is housed in a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility in Alpharetta, Georgia, and employs 18 people. The family-owned company is closing in on $1 million in monthly sales by supplying enthusiasts with lift kits, tires, wheels, tonneau covers, aftermarket bumpers, lighting and other popular truck accessories. In 2012, SORS added an entire arms-and-ammo showroom inside of the truck shop. Adam Richmond instantly saw the benefits of the natural crossover, as 80% of the company’s gun business came from existing truck and accessory clients.
SEMA News recently caught up with the younger Richmond to find out how the family has managed to propel the company forward despite competition from larger, corporate-owned companies.
SEMA News: What is the single most important factor in your success? Who are your customers, and why do they come to you?
Adam Richmond: In a market where almost everything we sell is discretionary, the customer experience is truly one of the most important factors contributing to our success. Most customers have a general idea of what they’re looking for but welcome the expertise of our sales team. At the end of the day, we always want our customers to leave happy. We understand that we’re in a word-of-mouth business, and making them happy is of utmost importance to us. People make mistakes, and the true success of a business is how it overcomes those mistakes and responds to them.
Our clients are mostly males between the ages of 16 and 45. They come to us because we are established in the community, we have a solid reputation and we’re in a great location.
SN: What is your customer-service philosophy, and what do you do specifically to meet that philosophy? How do you train your staff to best serve the company?
AR: We strive to provide a superior customer experience, starting with the interaction with our sales team, followed by top-quality installation service and continuing with friendly after-sales support. We found that hiring off-road enthusiasts is key because it’s easier to train them on the products and services we offer, and the personal interest transfers strongly when working with customers on their special projects.
SN: What differentiates you from the competition?
AR: We are an operationally involved, family-owned company, and our clients like knowing that the owners are directly involved in the day-to-day operations. Problem resolution is typically streamlined much faster and more efficiently compared to our corporately owned competitors.
SN: What has been your company’s most rewarding success?
AR: We have created very close relationships with the leaders in our industry. We test prototype products, have direct contact with their design teams and can help influence products that we know our customers will love. This keeps us on the leading edge and helps propel us into the future.
SN: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
SORS continues the customer experience beyond the actual sale by providing installation service and support.
AR: The industry is constantly changing over time. It’s a challenge to keep up with current trends and foresee what will be popular. Being an enthusiast helps us to understand what’s going on in the industry.
Before the recession, back in 2007 and 2008, a large majority of our customer base was small-business owners. We catered to a clientele who purchased a new truck every year. Literally, it felt like overnight that business went away. If we had not been watching what was happening in the market and been able to anticipate that customer base disappearing, we would have been in real trouble.
We actually started targeting dealerships prior to that. We were able to supplement the individual small-business owner customer base that was our cornerstone for several years and transition it to dealer-focused for the next couple years. Throughout the recession, our company continued to grow.
About 40% of our business was diesel performance when stricter diesel emissions-controls were put in place, and that went real soft overnight as well. Seeing that happening, we were able to transition almost 40% of our business to nothing but Jeep products. We’re constantly finding what’s new and what else we can be doing, which has helped us.
Southern Off-Road Specialists
• Owners: Don and Adam Richmond.
• 18 employees
• Operates out of a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility in Alpharetta, Georgia.
• Sales and installation of off-road truck parts and accessories.
• Grosses nearly $1 million per month in sales.
• The family-owned business hires knowledgeable employees, offers exceptional customer service and is experiencing growth in custom builds and restoration.
• Biggest challenge is evolving with the market and foreseeing trends.
AR: We do very little marketing outside of sponsoring local high-school football and softball teams. We get return customers based on the quality of our work and our ability to give great advice about what else can be done to customers’ vehicles the next time they come in. It’s been a recipe for success. We don’t advertise, but we are active on social media. We also give out T-shirts and windshield banners.
We have a lot of young customers who we get to see off to college. We’ll lift their trucks and they’ll come back for a bumper, a winch or some side steps, and the next time we see them, it’s to switch out the mud-terrains for all-terrains. We’ve been around long enough that we’re starting to see these guys come home from college and start their careers.
SN: Do you have plans for future growth? Where do you see the company headed?
AR: We’ve just expanded our showroom for the third time. We’re moving into more custom builds. We’ve started doing restoration again after six years, so we see growth in that regard. The dealer side of our business has grown every single year since 2007. Ten years from now, if everything continues to go the way it’s going, we should double in size.
SN: What advice would you offer retailers to hone their businesses?
AR: What’s helped us the most is the fact that we’re enthusiasts. Read the magazines and watch the trends. You can understand what’s going to happen in the market and do something about it before you’re left in the dust. Go to the SEMA Show every year and look at the new products that are coming out. It’s such an advantage in this business; if you’re not doing it, I think you’re going to have a hard time.