Race Fittings Solutions Succeeds by Specializing
A knowledgeable staff is the key to building customer loyalty and generating repeat customers.
Now in its sixth year, Race Fittings Solutions is an award-winning speed shop catering to drag racing and street-rod enthusiasts. Headquartered in Hialeah, Florida, the four-employee retail operation offers a case study in how smaller brick-and-mortar retailers can succeed. SEMA News recently caught up with James O’Neal, owner of Race Fitting Solutions, to find out how he does business and what has enabled him to compete successfully against online retailers.
SEMA News: Can you describe your position in the marketplace?
James O’Neal: We specialize in the drag-racing market. There’s a void to fill in South Florida. There are a few parts stores around, but they don’t have the knowledge or product to help customers in that market. We sell drag-racing and street-rod parts.
SN: How is business?
JO: We’ve had good year-after-year growth—more than 24%. We aren’t big on internet sales; we are a brick-and-mortar, walk-in retail business.
SN: What are the biggest obstacles when it comes to operating your business?
JO: The biggest challenge has been being able to remain competitive against internet retailers. It’s not so much an issue of price; it’s simplicity for the customer. You can just jump on the internet and buy a part on Amazon or eBay, and they can have it to your door in a day or two. It becomes hard to compete, service-wise, because we have to have the customer come into the store, order parts, and they have to come back when the parts are delivered, when they can just sit at home and order it off of a website and it comes to their door. However, it becomes easier as every year goes by because we add more parts in stock that people need, and they can get it right away or walk in and pick it up.
SN: Besides building your inventory over time, what else are you doing to stay competitive?
The Race Fittings Solutions retail space is packed with the equipment and supplies best suited to the local drag racing and street-rod market.
JO: We are building a website so that we can offer internet sales in the future. We’re going to bring someone in to handle internet sales. Nowadays, it’s something that you have to offer. But that’s not our main concern. Our main concern is being a walk-in retail business and local speed shop.
SN: Is that your biggest challenge?
JO: Being such a small business, it’s difficult to get loans or funding from financial institutions. So the risk I’ve taken is having to leverage all of my personal assets and credit to be able to get parts in the door. I’ve personally laid everything I own on the line to make sure we always have the right amount of stock or the right amount of capital we need to be able to get new parts in the door and equipment that the business needs.
SN: Given those challenges, what advantages have you been able to find versus the competition, and how are you leveraging them?
Since opening in 2011, owner James O’Neal (right) has built solid relationships with suppliers, leading to Retailer of the Year recognition.
JO: Customers come to us because we have a knowledgeable staff. We have a face; people can walk in and deal with someone who knows what you’re working on. They know whatever motor you’re working on or whatever car you’re putting together. That knowledge helps guide customers in the right direction, answer questions they might have, or give opinions on what they should do. You obviously can’t get that level of service, knowledge and experience building cars from an internet site. That drives people into our store, because they want to find out what we think about what they’re doing and see if we can guide them in the right direction. We are much more knowledgeable of the products we sell than our competitors. After that, it’s having the inventory to offer customers. On the back end, it’s forging relationships with other suppliers and warehouses that can help you get what you need and solve issues you have.
SN: How does building relationships with suppliers figure into your formula?
Race Fittings Solutions
Owner: James O’Neal
333 W. 75th Pl.
Hialeah, FL 33014
Number of employees: Four
Years in business: Six
Keys to Success:
JO: We recently won Retailer of the Year from National Performance Warehouse (NPW). NPW has really helped me out along the way and helped me grow and given me the tools I’ve asked for. Any problems I’ve had, they’ve solved. That’s led to them getting a good chunk of our business. They put us in a position to sell products and build a good reputation in town of helping customers on the retail side.
SN: What is your philosophy when it comes to building a customer base?
JO: We try not to turn away a customer, even if it’s hard for us to reach price-wise. We always try to find a way to make the sale. We try to be competitive in every aspect, not only in pricing but also in ordering parts, payments and returns. If a guy comes in and asks us if we can match a price, we don’t say no. We are willing to go above and beyond what we need to do to make the customer happy, and that sets us apart. If we have to go outside of our return policy for whatever reason, we try to solve the customer’s problems all the time.
SN: What is the single most important factor when it comes to staffing?
JO: The biggest thing about training our staff to serve the customer is that they must have knowledge and experience in the industry. We are vocal with each other. It’s not about being greedy and trying to make sure someone gets the sale once the customer walks in the door, but more about trying to help that customer out. We never say no. If we’re not sure, we ask somebody.
SN: What is your strategy moving forward?
JO: We are going to continue to grow our product lines with the manufacturers we work with now. We are offering a little over 200 different lines, which can be difficult to manage and make sure we update the lines and get the right inventory in the door. We have a big enough location to grow into. If more staff is needed to continue to grow, we will hire more employees.
SN: What advice would you share with newer retail start-up stores?
JO: I would advise a new retailer starting out in the industry, no matter how frustrated they may get, to continue to work on being able to be competitive, service the customers and build relationships