|Most street performance enthusiasts prefer to mix the reliability and performance of modern-day parts with classic metal and design.|
To those outside of the segment, the term "street performance" might signify straight-line horsepower and laying stripe in deserted industrial sections of town. But for those that consider themselves street performance enthusiasts, the segment encompasses a total approach to modifying and tuning.
Adopting a philosophy that owes as much to autocross and grassroots club racing as it does to the dragstrip, these enthusiasts give suspension, grip, handling and braking nearly equal weight with horsepower.
“Performance isn’t just going fast,” said one enthusiast. “It’s handling. It’s control. It’s a smooth ride. Everything has to be in sync.”
In an effort to better analyze the tastes and preferences of today's auto enthusiasts, SEMA, in coordination with Ford, launched the Enthusiast Opinion Leader Research Program at the 2009 SEMA Show.
The program invited 527 enthusiasts, selected through a rigorous application process, to the second day of the Show and tasked them with using social media to broadcast their personal product and trend highlights of the Show. They also participated in SEMA's survey to better discern their buying habits.
Street-performance enthusiasts share several traits. They trust and prefer brand-name products and are willing to pay more for quality parts that won’t break on them several months later. Nearly all surveyed said they're very hands-on, and find stress relief, creative outlet and personal satisfaction from working on their cars.
They like the hybrid of classic design with modern-day function, and they’re generally a pretty impatient group. Product availability is key and often makes the difference between a sale or a walk. This group challenges retailers and WDs to stay on their inventory game.
Part quality is important to street performance enthusiasts, who would rather pay more for a part that they trust won’t break down soon after purchase. “You want to get your money’s worth, but you also want a good quality product,” explains one participant in the survey. “Otherwise you’re going to buy it two or three times.”
Quality and brand-name products are well-linked in enthusiast’s minds. The majority equate a brand name, particularly an established company with a respected history, with a superior quality product. One enthusiast offered that “if a company has been around a long time, you know they’re going to stick behind their product.”
This attitude relaxes some when the part isn’t a critical systems piece, for example. Enthusiasts are more likely to shop on price for a component such as a valve cover, but still consider a manufacturer’s history and reputation for parts such as alternators, starters and water and fuel pumps.
This attitude carries over to a somewhat hybrid approach to their projects. Most enthusiasts prefer to use modern-day parts, with today’s performance, reliability and safety built in, on their older cars and classic designs. Older, period-correct parts have their charm and appeal, but most agreed they would rather have something they could drive without worry.
“Especially a chassis on a car that is 40 years old when you replace it with a part designed to replicate a 40-year-old car, they still function the way 40-year-old parts function,” says one enthusiast.
They prefer today’s parts and accessories on older chassis. This hybrid approach is often referred to as resto-mod, and most seem to favor it. They want the classic designs of both the cars and the parts, but also modern-day reliability, safety and performance.
One thing all street performance enthusiasts share is an intense period of product research before making a purchase. Most enthusiasts gather information online, particularly in forums, which they feel offer a broad range of opinions and experiences with specific products. They also note that forums are good avenues to learn about new products that haven’t yet caught the attention of magazine editors or the larger enthusiast media network—“a lot of niche-market stuff that doesn’t get a lot of national advertising,” as one participant notes.
So it’s not surprising that this group also makes about 66% of its annual purchases online. Some participants noted, however, that they try to buy from local shops whenever possible. Most practice a curious blend of neighborhood loyalty balanced with speed of delivery and convenience. “I try to buy locally even if it’s a couple bucks more,” says one.
Availability and customer service often make the difference between an online or in-person sale, or even between competitive online merchants. A surefire way to ensure a customer never buys from you again (and likely tells everyone on the forums about his experience) is to overpromise on availability and delivery.
“When you want it, you want it now,” says one participant. Adds another: "If you don’t have it in stock, I’ll go somewhere that’s got it.”
A few participants noted that they’d been burned by online sites that charged their credit card for the purchase, only to learn that the product was back-ordered. One participant explained that he’d ordered rims from a company and learned that delivery would take three months. Six months later, he still doesn’t have the wheels.
But manufacturers and retailers who get it right, who connect with this group’s values and needs for quality and immediacy, stand to reap the rewards of loyalty and repeat purchases. After all, street performance is a multi-level approach to overall tuning, with many products on the list, all built to satisfy a primal urge.
“There’s an emotional attachment to performance,” says one enthusiast. “There’s adrenaline.”