By Mike Imlay
Kaizen Tuning Partners With Suppliers for Success
Located in Boxborough, Massachusetts, Kaizen Tuning may appear nondescript outside, but there’s a lot going on inside. The retailer-installer specializes in high-end performance sports cars, working hand in hand with suppliers to deliver upscale customers expertly developed and tested products.
Seven years ago, Scott McIver took a big gamble right in the middle of the recession: He opened Kaizen Tuning, specializing in high-end retail aftermarket sales, fabrication and dyno tuning in Boxborough, Massachusetts.
“It was brutal, but we really saw a need,” he recalled. “I took delivery of one of the first Nissan GTRs on the East Coast. I’ve been to Japan many times and have seen how that car is treated over there. You don’t even need an appointment at a Nissan dealership for service. Here in the United States, [the dealership] didn’t really know how to handle a $100,000 supercar. They were treating it like a Sentra or a Maxima. That wasn’t going to work for me, so I started servicing it out of my home garage. After we were probably a month in, I had about five of them in my driveway. My wife told me it was about time to find someplace to do the business full time.”
McIver has seen his gamble pay off. Today, Kaizen Tuning has grown to a 10,000-sq.-ft. enterprise employing 10 highly skilled people, with sales topping $1 million annually. The retailer is well known throughout the New England area for its expertise in high-performance sports cars, starting with the Nissan GTR and Mitsubishi EVO and including Porsche, Subaru and Audi platforms, among
So what exactly led to Kaizen Tuning’s rapid success? It might partly be the philosophy expressed by the shop name.
“Kaizen means constant improvement,” McIver said. “It’s a Japanese term that’s used in all the automotive manufacturing fields to do small changes, measure the results and, at the end of the day, have better results than one big change.”
Then again, having an upscale clientele of vehicle owners composed of doctors, lawyers and other professionals, many of whom actually relish the performance of their cars on a track, certainly hasn’t hurt either.
The tuner shop has six lift-equipped bays, including a four-poster with alignment and balancing systems. Kaizen Tuning also has a dyno and full fabrication capabilities.
Plus, of course, Kaizen Tuning is built on the personal passion that often drives success in the specialty-equipment aftermarket. McIver has been captivated by the Japanese automotive ethic—and especially the Nissan GTR—ever since he first visited the country at age 14. In 1998, at age 25, he was walking around Tokyo and first saw the GTR in a dealer showroom. He was instantly hooked.
“It was an amazing, beautiful blue car,” he said. “The most aggressive car I’ve ever seen in my life.” And when the vehicle became available in the United States, he jumped at the chance to own one and personally dive up to his elbows into its mechanics.
“We really concentrated on the GTR to start and were one of the first companies in the Northeast to do so,” he said. “However, the business just wasn’t sustainable concentrating on one vehicle. We moved out to the Mitsubishi EVO and Subaru platforms and got a great result with both of those cars. We bought one of each and took them apart and put them back together and started testing aftermarket parts on them to see who we wanted to use for product lines. We studied what worked and what didn’t, so when we talked to a customer, we could talk intelligently about recommendations and upgrade packages.
“I probably had 210 miles on my own GTR before I brought it to our local road course at Lime Rock Park and started to really push it. As time went on, we had one of the first Cobb access ports installed on that car and worked hand in hand with Cobb to develop the product. We’ve worked with sway bars. We’ve worked with tire combinations. We’ve worked with intakes and all sorts of stuff to see what works and what doesn’t on that car.”
And therein, said McIver, lies the real secret behind Kaizen Tuning’s incredible growth: Beyond the passion, high-end customer service, concentration on a specific niche and constant improvement, it’s the strong relationships he has forged with his suppliers from the very beginning that have made Kaizen Tuning what it is.
“One of the things that makes us stand out over our competitors is how we work very closely with our manufacturers and distributors,” McIver said. “A lot of people use distributors and manufacturers as just a warehouse and someone they can beat up when they need parts cheap. We work hard with them to test and come out with the next thing, identify a market and really attack it. We’ve been very successful with that. Some of the companies we’ve worked closely with include HKS, Motovicity, Turn 14 and a Japanese company called Tomei, which is small but addresses some really specific needs. We get prototype parts, test them, provide feedback and then we get a great product in the end. That makes it hard to compete with us. We have an inherent knowledge of particular products that is unbeatable.”
In fact, McIver takes pride in working alongside with his manufacturers to further their research and development.
“We love doing that because it gets us involved with the grassroots of a product, and that helps us sell,” he said. “When we talk to a customer, we can speak on a level that is much more in-depth and technical, because we have had our hands in the guts of the product. We see what works and what doesn’t work firsthand. Believe me, we’ve had plenty of failures, products that just didn’t work out well.”
In addition to digging elbow deep into performance mechanics at the shop, the Kaizen Tuning team is frequently found at the local track—as are many of their business-professional customers.
Still, failures are part of moving forward.
“Everything we do is track tested,” McIver said. “We’re on a first-name basis with our manufacturers, all the way down to the base engineers. They have been super appreciative of the feedback. In an engineering group, they sometimes bounce ideas off the wall and don’t get that outside injection of ideas. We think outside the box here, because not only are we a sales organization but we’re also all enthusiasts here. We bring the customer’s ideas to the engineers and they respond to them really well.”
In turn, said McIver, customers react positively to the knowledgeable, hands-on salespeople and technicians that such R&D yields. And, with a full showroom, six bays featuring lifts (including a four-poster with alignment and balancing systems), along with welding and full fabrication, the shop is kept plenty busy. Kaizen Tuning even produces its own in-house line of specialty parts under the Sakura Performance Engineering label.
“We’ve grown very quickly in a short time, and it’s mostly due to our business philosophy,” McIver concluded.
“I recommend that retailers get involved with their manufacturers and distributors on a more intimate basis. It can really help your business and lead to profit. When we work hand in hand with our partners, Kaizen Tuning achieves unparalleled success. It’s been a great ride.”