SEMA News—June 2014
By Chad Simon
Tom’s 4x4 Superstore’s Blueprint to Continued Growth Starts With Customer Service
Tom Pickett has been a Jeep enthusiast for most of his life. He bought one at the end of 2009 but quickly realized that there was nowhere to buy parts for it in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So, in February 2010, he decided to walk away from a lucrative career in automotive manufacturing and build the foundation for Tom’s 4x4 Superstore—a Jeep and off-road parts supplier and installer that officially opened in June of that year.
“We were in the heart of the big recession in 2010, and a lot of people thought I was crazy,” Pickett admitted. “One of the secrets we had starting out was being able to finance ourselves instead of relying on the banks or a loan. We opened with one fulltime employee, and now we have 16. The business has grown a lot faster than I anticipated, and I haven’t looked back.”
Filling a Void
Pickett started the business in a small building, and he had already outgrown it within a few months. Property became available next door, so he bought and sat on it for another year before constructing a brand-new, 18,000-sq.-ft. facility with sufficient room to stock inventory and install products.
Pickett initially planned to add another store last year; however, many of the local off-road parks were shutting down, so he decided to purchase a 500-acre tract of land and build a new venue called Adventure Off-Road Park and Nature Center and open it to the public. The off-road park has approximately 1,000 acres of riding surface with more than 60 off-road trails that offer a wide variety of difficulty levels, a shower house, RV hookups, a huge community pavilion and campgrounds. Arranged much like a ski slope, trails are marked with black, blue and green markers. Thanks to the store’s success, the park hosted its own off-road series this year sponsored by several companies, with about $32,000 up for grabs so far.
“We’ve had more than 10,000 visitors to the park, and I only opened it March 2013,” Pickett said. “This set me back on opening another store last year, but we plan on opening one this year.”
The Key to Success
Pickett has nearly doubled his sales every year since opening the store. According to him, providing outstanding customer service is the key to finding success in this business. All of his employees are hardcore enthusiasts who know Jeeps inside and out and what parts will and won’t work for each application.
“Toyotas are popular off-road vehicles now,” Pickett said. “People come in and seek advice; they know what they want to do, but they don’t know how to get there. We hear too many horror stories about customer relations. Keep your customer involved.”
In addition to monthly off-road drives, Tom hosts a customer appreciation day every year that features special offers, product giveaways and food.
“Always involve that customer because every Jeep or truck owner has different tastes in what they want in their vehicle, and when you get them together, they’re all looking at each other’s vehicles and generating ideas,” Pickett advised.
Think Outside the Box
Marketing yourself to the community you serve via advertising is one of the best ways to get your name out there and attract potential customers, according to Pickett. Pickett doesn’t wait for customers to come to him; he goes after them through heavy advertising tailored to the customer base he is targeting, whether it’s Jeep enthusiasts, earth-moving companies that are required to take their trucks off-road, utility companies or dealerships.
“When we first started, we tried TV, radio and billboards,” Pickett said. “We found that radio worked best for us. One of the things I heard from others when I asked how they advertise is, ‘We don’t advertise because we don’t have enough business.’ It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. That’s why you don’t have enough business.”
In addition to aggressive advertising, one factor that Pickett believes sets his company apart from the competition is that he carries more than $200,000 worth of inventory on hand, so when a customer comes in, he can capture the sale on the spot.
“People buy from people; it’s the same way when we choose to work with vendors that supply us,” he said. “We tend to be very loyal to our suppliers. Once you start doing the type of numbers that we’re doing, there’s no shortage of people knocking on your door.”
The largest challenge Pickett has faced since opening is getting qualified people to work for him. “If you listen to the news, nobody’s got a job, but we can’t hire enough good people,” he said. “If I could double the staff I have now with the same knowledge, I’d open another store tomorrow. It’s also a challenge to get the relationship started with our vendors, so that they know we’re real and 100% committed to growth. Our growth has been astronomical, but we keep digging; we’re never satisfied with where we are.”
Always looking forward, Pickett sets clear goals for where the company is going to be this year, and halfway through, he’ll have 2015 mapped out. He is getting ready to expand the store’s warehouse by nearly 2,000 sq. ft., and the company’s website—which generates 50% of all sales—was revamped on January 1 to feature banner ads and more social-media interaction. Pickett knows that he can’t maintain overall growth with just one location and believes that he will have anywhere between six and seven in five years.
“Our second location will come this year, and we’ll add two more in 2015,” he said. “Keep it steadily growing. We’re going to look at different areas where there are holes in the market, where there’s a need. We travel around to different shows throughout the year. We’re always listening to customers and what they want in that area.”
Adventure Off Road Park 2014 Event Schedule