By Chad Simon
The Dale’s Super Store Formula
Having the Right People, Process and Product
In the early days, Derek Dobson, owner and managing partner of Dale’s Super Store in Bradenton, Florida, would travel to swap meets along the East Coast, set up a display and sell product directly to consumers.
Before opening a brick-and-mortar retail location in 2014, Derek Dobson, owner and managing partner of Dale’s Super Store, traveled to swap meets up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest to sell aftermarket performance truck parts and accessories. Now operating out of a 2,200-sq.-ft. facility in Bradenton, Florida, Dobson has four fulltime employees, including himself, and one part-time employee, and he is in the process of expanding into a new 7,000-sq.-ft. building in Bradenton.
SEMA News caught up with Dobson to learn more about the business philosophy that has led to his success.
SEMA News: Why did you decide to target this particular market?
Derek Dobson: I’ve always liked trucks; it’s part of being an enthusiast. A lot of my friends were into imports, some were into Jeeps, but I always liked 1500 and 2500 Chevys. In the early ’00s, I started playing around with turbodiesels for fun. It turned out that when I would bring on a part from my truck, I would bring on a brand to start selling.
SN: Who are your customers and what draws them to you?
The company manufactures its own LED-conversion headlight product line called Outlaw Lights.
DD: Our customers typically range from truck owners who are looking for basic floor mats or visors to the guy who’s broken down on the side of the road and needs advice. When someone calls, we pick up the phone and try to take care of them the best we can. Our primary customer is the guy who’s ready to put wheels, tires and lift kits on his truck, usually off warranty.
SN: How did you start your business?
DD: I initially started the business in 2010, but it didn’t begin with a brick-and-mortar location. In those days, we went to swap meets and classic-car shows, including some of the Carlisle shows and the off-road and 4x4 events. We would go up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest, attend a three- or four-day swap meet, set up a display and talk to people face to face. It started with billet grilles out of a boxed truck. Now we have a 40-ft. trailer with an enclosed canopy system. We sell everything from LED taillights, projector headlights and performance exhaust systems to train horns, LED kits, HID kits and cold-air kits. We went from having one product to sell to a customer to having 100 products to sell to that same customer.
SN: How were you able to expand your product line?
DD: It started by people asking me, “Do you have this?” So I would find and source whatever product my customers needed. Sourcing various parts helped me to cultivate relationships with different brands. Additionally, when one of my diesel trucks would break down, I had to figure out how to fix it, and that brought on a whole different direction from just accessories to diesel performance parts. Sometimes when things break, it’s a good thing.
SN: How has your business grown since opening the retail location, and what percentage of your business comes from online sales?
Dale’s Super Store keeps about 30% of its product in stock.
DD: Since opening the actual store, we’ve experienced extreme growth by being able to find hot segments, expand our online presence and, more importantly, forge relationships with brands to do exclusive sales on Amazon versus them selling direct to Amazon so that we’re able to protect the brand. Eighty percent of our business is online. We’ve been very aggressive in our online growth.
SN: How do you market your company?
DD: We utilize everything from print to online advertising. We try to cultivate a community through social media, but we also market ourselves by attending the actual events. When you go to the events, whether it’s a Carlisle, a Family Event or a Friday-night event at your local track, you build a community. Over time, it’s fun to see people with their Dale’s stickers and hats. It’s also fun to build that relationship between the buyer and seller, especially when they see that we’re out there with them.
SN: What single-most-important factor can you attribute your success to?
Dale’s Super Store offers more than 100 different product lines, including LED taillights, projector headlines, performance exhaust systems, train horns, LED kits, HID kits and cold-air kits.
DD: Timing in our ability to take care of customers. We’ve been lucky with timing in the industry and trends and the suppliers we deal with. It’s all about being patient, not being impulsive, and looking at the long-term view versus the short-term view.
SN: What do you believe differentiates you from competitors?
DD: I’ll pick up the phone on a Sunday or after hours. We treat people the right way, and people respond to that. They have positive things to say when they talk to their friends, and we end up getting more business because of that.
SN: What is your customer-service philosophy, and what do you do specifically to meet that philosophy?
DD: It’s important to me that the customer is treated fairly and that we as a company are treated fairly. We don’t let customer issues linger to become larger issues. We have a system in place of managing customer-support issues; if it’s a tech issue or gets to the point of a return or an exchange, we make the process very smooth and streamlined. We’re not perfect, but we try to be. We try to exceed the customer’s expectations when they deal with us.
SN: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
DD: It’s trying to find the trends and the best way to sell products to the consumer and understanding the different platforms to do that. It’s also having the right people working for you—enthusiasts who will turn a wrench on their own cars and provide excellent customer service. I have a punch list of issues we need to address one at a time. The biggest hurdle is that things are constantly changing—there’s always competition entering the marketplace, there are new vehicles being produced by the manufacturers, and the taste of the consumer is constantly changing. Trying to understand that and put together a plan where you can be successful is a difficult thing, but we’ve been lucky to be able to continue to meet those demands.
SN: What has been your most rewarding success?
Dale’s Super Store
DD: The year 2015 presented a bunch of challenges with employees, both new and old. It was a year of growth and a year of change in my life. To complete 2015 and be as successful as we were, that was really rewarding. It was also rewarding that our peers recognized us among the top sellers in our category. There was a lot of struggle in 2015, but getting through that and being successful at the same time helped me to take a much longer view of things.
SN: How do you train your staff to best serve the business?
DD: When we work together, we work as a team. There’s not a job that’s too big or too small for any one of us. Part of it is the culture. We have the right type of employees. They all have positive attitudes and the belief that we’re in this together and working together to accomplish much bigger things. We don’t have a huge company, but we have a very close company.
SN: What strategies do you implement to support repeat customers?
DD: We’ve been very lucky to garner return business. It starts with the first interaction and continues with the follow up, whether it’s answering questions or responding to e-mails, but it’s about staying in contact. We try to attract a social-media following and communicate with our customer base twice per month by e-mail announcements and let them know what events we’re going to attend.
SN: What percentage of product do you keep in stock?
DD: We stock about 30% of the items we sell. We’ve been private labeling items over the past year. We’ve been growing that inventory inside of the business. Otherwise, we partner with excellent distributors.
SN: Do you take advantage of SEMA-provided services, such as the SEMA Data Co-op, and how have they benefitted your business?
DD: We have used SEMA Data Co-op. Data management is a hurdle for any business. We’re constantly working on the processes on our platforms, and in that way it helps us. We also attend Truck and Off-Road Alliance events.
SN: Where do you see your business headed, and what are your goals for the future?
DD: We are looking at the expansion into our new location. We are looking at growing into more performance-based projects and opening up new market segments. We talk about growing our brands, and there are a whole bunch of different avenues if we look into lifestyle-based products or complementary products to just the truck community. We are heavily involved in growing our Jeep offerings and continuing to grow our diesel performance products. We have our own Outlaw Lights product line, which are LED conversion headlights. We launched that brand almost two years ago, but we’re starting to put more effort into it, and we’ve seen a lot of growth in the past six months. We’re also going to be doing more performance installations as part of the next phase of our growth.
SN: What advice would you offer to retailers who are looking to hone their business practices?
DD: I’m a big fan of “The Profit” [TV program], Marcus Lemonis. He talks about people, process and product. It’s that simple. It starts with hiring the right people, treating them right, instilling simplified processes for how you handle your daily operation and having tangible goals that you need to meet. Offer the right product that works for your consumer base, and understand your customers. Understand the nature of the market you’re in and work within it.