Meeting trends and setting trends
Overland Park, Kan.—Faced with competition from online retailers, KC Trends Motorsports prospers in offering unique products and services, Owner Chad Dearth said.
“As the economy changes and as the internet continues to flourish, the showroom, in my opinion, is always going to be important in our business, because the customer wants to touch, feel, and see the merchandise. That’s obviously our advantage.”
Even when a customer sees a product in a showroom and tries to find the product cheaper online, he will still need someone to install it, said Dearth, who seeks out products that he knows can be profitable and competitively priced, not from a manufacturer or distributor that allows an online seller to deeply undercut its traditional outlets.
Known as a destination for custom wheels since Dearth started the business soon after graduating high school in 1992, KC Trends also offers window tint installation and clear paint protection, mobile electronics and lighting, lift and leveling kits, and custom bumpers.
KC Trends moved from Shawnee in late 2007 to a newly built 14,000-square-foot facility in Overland Park, and purchased it a few years ago. Its expansive showroom features multiple flat-screen TVs showing commercials for its products on a loop that also allow a salesman to show a customer how their vehicle would look, say, lifted with oversize tires and custom wheels. (That digital “configurator” is also available at the company’s website.)
With 700 to 1,000 custom wheels in stock, most on display in multiple colorful or bright finishes and sizes, customers have plenty of choices. Dearth keeps tabs on what the trends are in the market to offer the latest and greatest “wow” factor, with the difference often being as subtle as a minor variance in wheel width to get the tire and wheel fitting where it looks best, sometimes with wider rubber, and with the fitment tailored to a specific make and model.
“The big companies are doing two or three front widths in a wheel and four or five widths in a rear wheel,” he said. “Let’s say you have a Mustang with a 10-1/2-inch wheel, but company “B” says, ‘We can do an 11-1/2-inch wheel on a Mustang,’ which is way more concave. All of a sudden, they’re leading the market.”
High-end cars remain popular recipients of the shop’s attention, although pickups have been a popular platform for several years, Dearth said, with the locally produced F-150 a favorite, with several a day receiving lift or leveling kits.
After subletting two or three alignments a day, Dearth calculated he could pay for a new alignment machine within six months, so at last year’s SEMA Show, he bought a new Hunter HawkEye Elite alignment machine and lift to add to his existing Hunter Road Force Elite wheel balancer, from Myers Bros., and Coats tire machine. Dearth sends his technicians to Hunter Engineering alignment classes at Longview Community College and they’ve completed the first of three offered, with the second level offered Dec. 7-8.
“We’ve only had it six months, so I’m not trying to advertise, ‘Let’s align your Ferrari or Lamborghini,’” he said. “But next year, we want to be synonymous with, ‘Anyone with a high-end car, KC Trends is where you go to get it aligned.’”
Dearth helps shops profit from Michelin performance tire sales
Until five years ago, when the shop began buying them directly from Toyo, tires were never a large profit center for the shop, Dearth said. Invited by Michelin to attend its multi-day driving event in February to launch its new Pilot Sport 4S tire, Dearth described to Michelin executives how its distribution model prevented him from being able to sell many performance tires at a competitive, profitable price.
Receptive to his concerns, Michelin immediately formed an Independent Dealer Advisory Council (IDAC) for dealers of its performance tires, similar to what it already offered to its dealers of agricultural and passenger tires, with Dearth as one of its five founding members.
In the first meeting of the ultra-high performance IDAC, each member brought concerns to Michelin executives, including pricing, inventory availability, and requested custom fitments. Dearth was successful in getting online retailers such as Tire Rack to raise its Michelin pricing, he said, adhering to a minimum advertised price.
Combined with the performance of the new tire with fitments ranging from Camaros and Mustangs to Ferraris and Lamborghinis, Dearth looks for KC Trends “within one year to be synonymous with ultra-high performance tires in Kansas City,” with dual-branded billboards and sponsored events geared toward performance tires and wheels, not just those intended for cosmetics.
“I’m extremely proud that we are making strides to make tire shops — not just us, but all small mom-and-pop tire shops — be able to sell performance tires and make a decent profit,” he said.