Aftermarket Industry Makes Cars and Trucks Bolder

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — With thousands of cars featuring intricate jobs, hand-built engines and hundreds of hours of work put into them, the annual SEMA Auto Show is the pinnacle of the aftermarket parts industry.

Held in Las Vegas, the closed-to-the-public event – it’s open only to members of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, the global aftermarket parts trade group – draws more than 140,000 enthusiasts and 60,000 vendors every year to examine the newest, best and most creative aspects of the industry, from customizing old Volkswagen Buses to building racecars.

According to the association, aftermarket customization is a $36-billion industry. Drivers of every age and skill range, from professional drivers who’ve been doing it for decades to high-school students who want to make small changes to their first car, are part of that market.

“They are all enthusiasts,” says Summit Racing Equipment’s advertising manager, Nan Gelhard. “The person who adds a set of wheels or some other bolt-on part is just as passionate about their car as the person who completely rebuilds an engine or updates a complete suspension system.”

One principle guides the entire industry: People want to make their vehicle unique.

“People don’t want the same car their neighbor has and they don’t always have the same needs,” says Scott Mason, owner of Valley Truck Outfitters in Poland. “If a guy pays $60,000 for a truck, he wants it to be unique to his needs and likings. We have the ability to do that.”

Valley Truck’s offerings include stereo systems, remote starters, body customization, winches and performance parts. The store also does work on cars, Mason notes, but trucks are more common in the shop by far.

Among the most common items Mason sells are bed liners, running boards and truck caps. The average ticket price at the store averages around $1,100, he says.

“We have customers who come in for a set of rain guards for $60 and there are customers who come in for jobs that push $6,500,” he says.

Summit Racing Equipment sees just as much variety in its customer base. Established in 1968, the Tallmadge-based company stocks millions of parts from 1,200 manufacturers. It is a mainstay in the aftermarket world, offering products at every level of involvement, from those building racecars to drivers who just want to make small tweaks.

“We see people willing to spend a little on a vehicle and some that will spend thousands on one,” Gelhard says. “The hobby has so many niches, you can’t just carry one kind of product and expect to meet your customer’s needs.”

Because projects can range into the thousands of dollars, Mason says having some sort of plan is crucial for customers. Employees at Valley Truck talk customers through the decision-making process, serving as both an educator and salesman.

“We don’t want them to piecemeal it and realize after they’ve put a bunch of things on that they should’ve gone another way,” he says. “Protection and practicality are always the first elements of conversation and then we look to make it their own.”

Throughout the industry, most work is done on new vehicles within about three months of purchase, Mason relates, but some work is done on used vehicles.

“We also have customers who’ve bought used vehicles and maybe don’t like what’s on it or want to replace or change certain things,” Mason continues. “A small percentage of the time, factory-installed items wear out and we need to replace them.”

For Summit, one of the biggest trends in recent years is restoring cars, Gelhard comments. Of the $36 billion spent on aftermarket parts, by the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s estimation, $1.4 billion is spent on restoration parts and another $1.3 billion for parts installion and sales of restored cars.

“Restoring and upgrading classic muscle cars is the hot thing in the industry right now,” she says. “The Jeep market is a big market as well. Fiat Chrysler sells every Jeep Wrangler they make and owners lover to customize them.”

Pictured: Scott Mason, owner of Valley Truck Outfitters in Poland.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.