SEMA Member News July 2020

By Ellen McKoy

ARMO Welcomes New Chair and Chair-Elect

ARMO Chair Ben Tucker.

Two years ago, Tray Smith assumed the role of chair of the Automotive Restoration Market Organization (ARMO) after having served two years as chair-elect. At the same time, Ben Tucker was chosen by his peers on the select committee to serve in the chair-elect slot.

Flash forward to 2020. The pendulum has gone full swing. As of July 1, Smith is stepping down and will serve as ARMO’s immediate past chair. Tucker is stepping up to council chair, and Randall Bates is taking over as chair-elect.

Both Smith and Bates are industry veterans with years of experience under their belts. Tucker, now CEO of Camaro Central, launched his aftermarket career in 2001 while working for his friend and business associate, Shawn Green, the company founder. Bates has held only two jobs during the course of his 24-year industry career: sales manager for Auto Carpet Systems, and his current position as national sales manager for Auto Custom Carpet.

SEMA Member News recently chatted with Tucker and Bates about how they view the council and their new roles as chair and chair-elect.

SEMA Member News: How did you get involved in ARMO, and what was your motivation?

Ben Tucker: Our company has been attending the SEMA Show since the late ’90s. I went for the first time in 2003 and attended the ARMO reception. The reception and the ARMO open meetings at the Show have always been great places to network with industry peers and leaders. In 2013, Dennis Roberts, then of Distinctive Industries, nominated me for [a seat on] the select committee.

ARMO Chair-Elect Randall Bates.

My motivation was ARMO’s youth-engagement program, Take a Kid to a Car Show. Getting youth involved in our industry is key. From stocking shelves at parts stores and sales and marketing to engineering the newest parts, our industry not only offers many career paths but also helps to create future enthusiasts and customers.

Randall Bates: I have been fortunate to be friends with and a business acquaintance of many of the past volunteers. We have traveled in many of the same circles at car shows where ARMO has different activities. I realized I needed to do my part and be active in the industry that has provided my family and me with so many opportunities in life.

SMN: In what ways is ARMO valuable to the restoration industry?

BT: ARMO offers several programs to help member companies. ARMO works closely with the legislative side of our industry to ensure that member companies have the resources they need. ARMO also offers a licensing guide to help navigate the ever-changing landscape. ARMO’s Hot Products Showcase is a great program to get products in front of 100,000-plus potential customers, and it’s completely free. Not only is the exposure great, but companies also get recognized at the SEMA Show and the ARMO banquet. ARMO’s youth programs—Take a Kid to a Car Show and the Counselor Outreach—are helping to build future enthusiasts, customers and employees.

RB: ARMO and the segment of the market that ARMO serves are constantly evolving, adapting to serving classic cars and more modern car and truck lines. Projects such as Take a Kid to a Car Show, ‘Digital Matters’ articles and keeping members informed of licensing issues are important to the restoration industry.

SMN: What do you see as the most significant trends in the restoration industry?

BT: The restoration industry is seeing a slight shift from bone-stock restorations to modified restoration—also know as restomods. Consumers want classic cars but also want updated technology built into their rides. Safety add-ons such as three-point seat belts, LED taillights, disc-brake conversions, power steering and suspension upgrades will continue to be desired.

Comfort upgrades are another significant trend. Upgraded stock-like bolt-in seats with bolsters and reclining capabilities, one-piece headliners with more headroom, stock-looking stereos with Bluetooth technology and keyless-entry systems are all on the rise.

RB: In my opinion, the trend in the restoration market is leading toward restomods. All you have to do is walk through the SEMA Show and see that there are few concourse-grade cars. The concourse-grade cars are great, but when you can make a car or truck look like it did in the ’60s but with today’s comforts and added horsepower, then why not?

SMN: As the newly elected council leaders, what are your main objectives and goals going forward?

BT: ARMO has some great programs. I want to ensure that these programs continue to grow and add more benefits for member companies. I am looking to add more diversity. General Motors and Ford have always been staples for ARMO companies. Adding more companies that deal in the tuner segment will be one focus along with classics like VW buses and Bugs. I’d like to see these companies join ARMO. I also want to grow and gain more exposure for the Take a Kid to a Car Show program, and I’d like to see the Counselor Outreach program grow as well.

RB: My objective with ARMO is to grow membership and make it more of a value to the companies that are members. Also to make our mission statement clear and precise, so that companies that aren’t members know exactly why they should be ARMO members.

SMN: Why is it important for other restoration companies to join ARMO?

BT: Why just listen to the conversation when you can be part of it? Any company involved in the restoration industry needs to be part of ARMO. Come to ARMO open meetings, the banquet, the Hot Products Showcase and the mixer at Carlisle. Get involved and do some networking with industry peers and leaders. Just join ARMO, and you can.

I think the ARMO mission statement sums it up: “ARMO, the Automotive Restoration Market Organization, is a council of the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Dedicated to addressing the many challenges facing this segment of the aftermarket, ARMO directs its efforts toward preserving and promoting the automotive restoration industry. ARMO’s strength and success depends on industry support. Through cooperative action, ARMO-member companies can ensure the viability of the automotive restoration industry.”

RB: It’s important for all kinds of manufacturers, builders and retailers to become members because there is strength in numbers. When it comes to state and federal regulations and the changes in the OE manufacturers’ rules, only a larger body of members will have the pooled resources to [advocate] for a sustainable industry. Also, there’s the networking and camaraderie, being part of something bigger than the individual. You can’t really put a price on that.

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