By Steve Campbell
Trends for 2015
A Look to the Future With SEMA Council Leaders
SEMA News annually turns to the leaders of the association’s councils and networks for the January issue to seek their views about how the industry is shaping up for the coming year. The chairs of each group provide responses based on what their organizations and companies are seeing within their marketplaces. Their responses provide helpful insights for businesses in every segment of the marketplace.
Automotive Restoration Market Organization (ARMO)
Chair: Dennis Roberts, Distinctive Industries
The restomod movement remains vibrant, and the pure restoration side of the market has been stable for some time. People who can afford it continue to add modern amenities to classics, and we’re seeing an increase in era-correct cars. An example of that is a ’71 Chevelle that is built to look the same as it might have been when it was first modified. We are also always amazed at how many gassers we see. The owners of those vehicles usually don’t buy a lot of restoration parts other than the essentials, but we are seeing growth in those markets.
The Internet is a force to be reckoned with for research, and businesses are getting smarter about how they structure their product information through tools such as the SEMA Data Co-op. The expertise gained from that data definitely helps sell our products.
In 2005 and 2006, credit cards, home-equity loans and a strong housing market financed a lot of car projects. Credit restrictions are pretty tight now, but freeing them up might spark some growth in our industry. The housing market and jobs will probably propel us into the next level of growth.
That said, the graying of our industry is our biggest challenge. The restoration side of the business requires a customer who has expendable income. Finding members of the next generation who have an interest in these cars is one of the biggest challenges we face, and it is also one of the focuses of many of our councils within SEMA. We are also trying to bring some segments of the import market into the ARMO fold.
Emerging Trends and Technology Network (ETTN)
Chair: Brian Reese, COMP Performance Group
The bar keeps rising on both the expectations of products and the battle to earn new customers. The automotive aftermarket parts business lags the more mainstream consumer markets in terms of product expectations and customer engagement. The leaders in our industry are quickly learning from other industries and are applying the lessons and sciences to their markets.
There are huge shifts in how and where we connect with customers. Mobile is probably the strongest growth opportunity, with consumers turning to mobile devices more and more frequently for Internet searches and buying convenience. More traditional methods should not be forgotten, as they still serve older customers who often show strong buying habits independent of credit and market swings.
If mortgage rates continue to rise into 2015, expect housing purchases to slow. That may increase disposable cash and help our industry. However, interest rates are likely to rise, which will theoretically slow the economy some.
Jumping out first with new products for new models is a challenge. New-vehicle technology has jumped and will slow the aftermarket’s ability to offer properly engineered products, but opportunities lie with those new-model vehicles. The difficulty to make products for them is also a huge opportunity in exclusivity or being first to market for those that are crafty enough to overcome the challenges.
Many aftermarket companies are still very slow to embrace new technology or changes, and that is a concern from an ETTN perspective. The market becomes less forgiving every day to those who fall behind. Plenty of companies are leveraging changing market trends, changing customer interests and changing business technologies to get ahead of their competitors. That is how newcomer companies are taking market share from old, stronghold companies that are snoozing.
Hot Rod Industry Alliance (HRIA)
Chair: Rick Love, Vintage Air Inc.
Pro Touring and musclecars continue to be the largest growth areas, but we’ve also seen classic trucks growing at a faster rate because of their affordability—everything from ’47 right up through the late ’60s and even ’70s trucks. A ’55 Chevy pickup is definitely a cheaper entry vehicle than a ’55 Chevy passenger car. We are even seeing some resurgence in older hot rods, which had been flat for a while.
This economy confounds a lot of us. It’s almost an anomaly on our end that people have not stopped spending money on their hobbies. Of concern for everybody, however, is that the cost of staples continues to rise—milk, meat, food in general. There’s a limited amount of money available, and people will buy what they need before what they merely want.
But the biggest challenge has to do with uncertainty. We don’t know what corporate taxes are going to do or what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is going to do in some areas.
Social media continues to be a growing part of everyone’s marketing efforts, but even though there is a group of people who want to do everything online, there is still the group that wants to walk away with a catalog. There is still a strong demand for traditional print marketing.
The companies that are doing well are the ones that continue to produce new products, which are what drive any company’s growth. The truck market is a huge opportunity just because there are still a lot of vehicles that are very affordable. We are encouraged to see the musclecar market staying strong and even more encouraged to see some of the traditional, pre-’48 hot rods coming back.
Light Truck Accessory Alliance (LTAA)
Chair: Melanie White, Hellwig Products Co. Inc.
What our members are asking for most is data. Data is what helps them sell parts, and they believe that it’s an important part of the future. Our members also report that business is up. With a lot of the new-model trucks being introduced, sales numbers are rising significantly, and we as a group are feeling the increase.
Watching what the media is doing within our industry is a tell for what is to come, and more media are going through electronic channels. People want immediate information, and electronic media allows that. There will still be a desire for traditional channels, but we are seeing an obvious shift right now.
New technology and new regulations continue to be one of the biggest challenges to the truck market. Specialty-equipment manufacturers are forced to prove that their parts don’t interfere with mandatory new technologies, such as electronic stability control, but it’s exciting to see discussions about how we can work together to overcome the challenges of new technology and new regulations.
Land-use issues are another big challenge to our businesses. We’ve been lucky to have some great support on our select committee to make sure that this issue stays a priority, and we’ve had the support of the SEMA government affairs office and the Off-Road Business Association. Johnson Valley was a great success and a great testament to what our group can do when we band together.
Our group believes the biggest opportunities lie in communication and cooperation. LTAA wants to make sure that our members understand all of the council’s benefits as well as those of being a SEMA member, such as the SEMA Garage, Technology Transfer, SEMA Data Co-op, our relationship with Clemson University, and the list goes on.
Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council (MPMC)
Chair: Richard Barsamian, Advanced Clutch Technology
The ever-changing media, be it print, electric or social, is a consistent trend indicator. I think we are all trying to wrap our heads around what works and what doesn’t and how to measure the ROI).
Social Media as we know it is changing, and that affects how we get our company’s advertising message to consumers and see ROI. For example, Facebook has changed dramatically. We see a core demographic of 18-35-year-olds moving away from Facebook and going to Instagram.
There are also changes in distribution, which continues to diversify and split sales channels into different groups. E-commerce also continues to grow and multiply at an accelerated rate. Having good data and product images is key to increasing sales dramatically. We have seen an increase in sales over last year, and we believe that trend will continue. Even if you have a data company, consider the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC). You need to be prepared to meet customers’ needs in the marketplace. Having multiple data options will increase opportunities with new and existing customers.
We also continue to see issues with intellectual property. I encourage everyone to look at a new SEMA resource that has just been released. “Trademarks, Patents and Copyrights” [available at www.SEMA.org/intellectual-property-rights-guide] is a great white paper that delves into the questions that many SEMA manufacturers and MPMC members have regarding intellectual property rights.
Manufacturers Representative Network (MRN)
Chair: Les Rudd, Bob Cook Sales
There is an increasing demand to manage data. Manufacturer’s reps have been the storehouse of knowledge on product, but many manufacturers are now looking to us to assist in getting the SDC’s information to them. There is a massive amount of information now available at so many levels. The key opportunity for MRN members is becoming even more of an expert.
One thing that hasn’t changed much is that a lot of our jobber, dealer and installer customers are still mom-and-pop small businesses. They just don’t have the time to process and evaluate all the information that’s available. We need to continue to be the experts and provide advice, technical support and business-management support for them.
Along the same lines is the continual need to be involved in social media. Our manufacturer clients and customers now have direct access to not only individual consumers, but also installers, counter people, small business people, salesman at the WD level and all the way up the distribution chain. It’s great to have all that information at your fingertips, but it’s almost like trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant. I believe that manufacturers will utilize social media to market directly to consumers, while manufacturer’s reps will become the social-media avenue to jobbers, installers and niche businesses.
We have to be able to react and adapt quickly. The changes of the past 15 years were dramatically quick, but those we’ll see in the next 12 months to five years will be even quicker. Every MRN member needs to stay on the front side of that wave.
Professional Restylers Organization (PRO)
Chair: Jeff Fink, Advantage Truck Accessories Inc.
PRO members are focused on and continuing their education about vehicle technology. Marketing is another area that requires continuous education. PRO members have been very proactive in adding electronic/social-media marketing to engage customers. The ability to see immediate reactions to marketing and initiate “conversations” is very appealing.
There haven’t been major economy changes, but there is an uncertainty that seems to have limited the amount of investment in R&D from manufacturers and makes small businesses nervous about hiring additional staff. The biggest challenge over the next 12 months will be to remain focused on company goals. There will likely be significant international and domestic situations that are beyond the control of small businesses but may impact them by altering where and when the consumer spends money.
PRO-member restylers are very good at finding the opportunities that exist with their current customers. Additionally, there seems to be a trend of PRO restylers expanding their retail presence. Many have been focused on wholesale/dealer business but are finding exciting opportunities by providing products directly to consumers.
SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN)
Chair: Rose Kawasaki, Exports International LLC
We have seen a continued upswing in the use of social media to launch new products and for distributing press releases in real time in addition to normal newswire releases. When you think about it, it is a simple way to get your information out to other “branches,” including consumers, at a very low cost.
Many manufacturers drive distributors, dealers and consumers to their websites to deliver information, and media companies have expanded their publications to add online subscription options. With all this information available at one’s fingertips, consumers are empowered, able to do their own comparative product research and able to make knowledgeable decisions.
Environmental regulations, particularly in the green states, are putting pressure on the automakers that will trickle down to specialty-equipment manufacturers. Stringent CARB certification requirements continue to pose a challenge for automotive aftermarket manufacturers. SEMA has identified those concerns and has equipped the SEMA Garage to assist members in navigating the requirements.
We believe that there is still growth in the global marketplace. We are fortunate that the rest of the world looks to us as trendsetters when it comes to vehicle customization. SEMA has been proactive in exploring new marketplaces, such as Russia, the United Arab Emirates and China, and is working with their governments to expand these areas for our industry. SEMA also hosts trade delegations to those countries, where its members have an opportunity to meet one on one with qualified buyers in those countries.
We have also noticed that female students are increasingly part of the SEMA Education Institute’s intern program. They are interested in automotive research and development, being part of a race crew and in engineering. Women in the engineering fields are becoming more prevalent in our membership. We encourage women who have not yet joined the SBN to sign up today for their free membership to have access to programs specifically for them.
Wheel & Tire Council (WTC)
Chair: Joe Schaefer, Konig American
Flow-forming technology has really been an interesting manufacturing trend that some manufacturers have placed significant focus on in the wheel side of the industry. Manufacturing flow-formed designs at an affordable level is a tremendous benefit to the end user due to increases in strength and weight reduction.
There continues to be a positive atmosphere regarding the economic condition of the wheel and tire industry, with companies experiencing steady increases. The strong companies have not only remained but they have come out of the tunnel stronger than before because they reduced unnecessary overhead, were forced to become more efficient and have developed a more definitive loyalty to their key customers.
From what we can see, there has been a renewed push in doing more face-to-face and business-to-business marketing. Spending time with your customers is not just important but completely essential. Your customers are your greatest asset, and that makes your time with them invaluable.
Companies will have a few challenges ahead of them in the next 12 months. Emerging technology and regulations being passed for aftermarket equipment are always a top concern. But companies still need to be smart about how they operate. As with any industry when its outlook is positive, the wheel and tire industry has seen more competition in the way of much smaller importers of wheels under their own brands. While many companies are producing quality products and developing legitimate businesses, there are plenty of smaller companies out there selling product below industry standards.
The most significant opportunities for many companies reside in their own back yards. Focusing on your current customers and constantly trying to do a better job for them really can result in an increase in business.
Young Executives Network (YEN)
Chair: Dan Kahn, Kahn Media Inc.
Our members are reporting that business is up in nearly every segment. The launch of several new vehicles has fueled strong sales in the off-road and restyling markets, and our members in the events and racing industries have also seen record turnouts.
For decades, our industry operated on a predictable model: Enthusiasts wanted to buy performance and customization parts, and the companies that came up with the better/faster/cheaper mousetrap got more business. Now cars are harder to modify, and the total number of new enthusiasts coming into the hobby is shrinking. Companies have to be leaner, more nimble and more willing to embrace change in order to thrive in the coming year and decade.
With the dramatic reduction in the number of print magazines and the massive increase in aftermarket awareness of the power of social media and direct-to-consumer marketing, many companies are retooling their marketing programs to take a multi-pronged approach, improving content on their own channels through improved product data, then disseminating that content through multiple social-media outlets, websites, video channels and more.
Brand Journalism is the single biggest opportunity we see. Brands that are able to streamline their product data (including features/benefits, photos, installation videos and year/make/model info) with marketing content will have a huge advantage. Companies that package all of that information and deliver it directly to the consumer’s tablet, phone or computer will have a much easier time closing a sale. New initiatives, such as the SDC and the SEMA Garage, are making that process easier and less expensive. We still need to keep making great products in the aftermarket, but the companies that do the best job of telling their story will be the first to the finish line.