SEMA staff hosted a Focus Panel at the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, in May to learn about consumer behavior. With the NHRA Springnationals and the D1GP both holding events during the same weekend, the venue attracted enthusiasts from the drag racing and drifting crowds and provided an opportunity for consumers and industry professionals to discuss important topics circulating through our industry. From opinions on product development to consumer-manufacturer communication, the event was a valuable learning tool for people on both sides of the isle. Below is a sample of selected topics that were discussed during the focus panel.
What was your first engine modification?
Not surprisingly, the most common modification enthusiasts chose to modify first was the air intake system. More than 75% of the panel claimed to have done so. They held the view that changing the air intake was the best bang-for-the-buck choice and easily increased performance with little effort.
In what category will you spend the majority of your money in the next 12 months?
Given that participants from the panel were pulled from racing environments, their responses were customary for performance enthusiasts. Engine performance parts were the clearly the favorite since 75% of enthusiasts stated to target this area for improvement in the coming year. Drag racers and drifters alike value power, but the discussion also noted that suspension parts are critical for those people involved with drifting.
How much money have your spent in the past 12 months modifying your car?
Panelists indicated that their financial situations do dictate how deeply involved they can become in their hobby. Nevertheless, they spend a considerable amount of their money on car parts and services. Roughly 26% of the group said they spent between $1,000 and $2,500 in the past year. The more advanced people, 38% of the group, claimed to have dropped $5,000 to $10,000 last year. Finally, the group comprised of the most dedicated racers, they ran up bills well above $10,000 for the year. These estimates might be higher than the typical consumer when you factor in their level of participation, but the reality is that the segment is still full of passionate and committed people.
Price vs. Quality? How much is "good enough?"
Panelists were asked where they drew the line regarding part costs and quality. The purpose was to determine how important price was in their buying decisions and to learn if quality is the primary factor, regardless of costs. Half of the panel stated that when they shop for new parts they only buy the best. This significant perspective illustrates that consumers have grown tired of substandard or faulty parts and are willing to pursue the best products on the market. The caveat is that they then use the Internet to track down lower prices on the parts they have decided to buy. Only 13% claimed to look for the lowest price possible without considering quality. The subsequent discussion highlighted that most people were more interested in getting the right part the first time rather than replacing a lesser-quality part down the road.
Having a presence online
The most important bit of information revealed during the discussions was that companies must interact with consumers directly. Through websites, forums and social communities, your company must be willing to spend time where consumers spend a considerable amount of their time: online. To be competitive in this market each company must build and maintain an online presence. Advertisements, web banners and other forms of traditional marketing have lost some of their bite. Also, explicit advertising or product preaching within forums can turn the mood sour quickly. Instead, consumers would rather have direct dialog with someone representing a company for help, problem solving or other suggestions.
Another motivation to get online is for reputation monitoring. Consumers have replaced clubs and word-of-mouth information with online forums. A brand's image can be made or broken by the opinions of anonymous forum members, and companies need to be vigilant over the information that is tagged to their brand. If misinformation or concerns become public, you need to be active to support and represent yourself in a positive light. In a way, this is a new brand of customer service that you should adopt.
The Focus Panel's are supported by SEMA's Sport Compact Council (SCC) and are open to SEMA members as a valuable informational tool. They are held periodically throughout the year at various venues around the nation. For more information or to become involved please contact Paul Moritz at firstname.lastname@example.org.