Should you be working on collector and high-performance vehicles? Well, the answer is a qualified yes! Here’s why:

The owners tend to have more money available for their vehicles. The average owner age is 56 with an income surpassing that of the averages and has a real interest in their vehicles.

Doing some “eye ball” research, one cannot help but notice that the vehicles we’re working on are getting older. I have been on a “shop tour” to prepare for this article, along with contacts in other cities and areas around the country. Between new-vehicle service contracts, certified used cars, a fair number of depressed new-vehicle sales years, our lots are filling with older vehicles. We’re not getting our fair share of newer vehicles. And, their owners tend to be some of the most price sensitive customers who, in the end, are looking to see what work they don’t have to do! Maybe it’s time to attract the vehicle owner who has a special vehicle and with it newer street vehicles.

• It’s a lot of fun.

• It allows for you to open up a new market channel not now serviced by your shop’

• People who own these vehicles own “regular” daily drivers too – get ’em all!

Moreover, according to Hedges Company there are about 276 million vehicles on the road in the U.S. By 2021 HIS Markit estimates that there will be about 20 million vehicles older than 25 years of age on the roads. Today, Hagerty says there are about 5 million collector cars on the road. Throw in tuners, hot rods, rat rods and all of the rest, the number easily doubles. That means, for the average shop, there are at least 54 vehicles just in your immediate shop area, likely many more. Somebody is getting that business, why not YOU?

“Forget past mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it.” — William Durant, co-founder, General Motors

In past articles about these vehicles this is about the place I would have commented about how these vehicles generally represent older technology, and that you are all set to work on them. No more! Today high-performance and collector cars have added or OEM technology just like their new vehicle counterparts. These vehicles are frequently computerized, set up for sound, use designed engine and other components and much more. I think we can put a fork in the thought that a set of sockets and open ends are all you need.

One last thought. For a lot of us our paradigm has been that collector car or hot rod meant some modified or restored car. Generally a two door. The vehicles were typically assumed to be from the early 1930’s to the “end of the era,” the 1960s. Again, the reality is such that it may be one of these, but often not. Looking at all of the Top 100 lists lately, one sees pickups, SUVs, four doors, a huge number of imports and many more vehicles that we may look past. More research looking at advertisements on a variety of media, these vehicles are all over the country, so no shop, even in the snow belt, should feel left out of this one!

Hope that’s enough convincing. Summing it all up, there are lots of new opportunities for you, it is typically profitable work if done correctly, there is a wide variety of vehicles to work on and their owners tend to have income and are motivated to spend on their vehicles. Works for me.

The question left to solve is how to get these people and their fleet of vehicles to our shops. At this point I must thank our very own Ed Hanson who appears regularly in this magazine. I have had the honor of knowing Ed and his wife (she is nicer than Ed!) for many years. Through all of this time Ed has been a leader in doing custom and performance work in his exhaust and repair shop in California. I know I would take my old Pontiac to him in a heartbeat. So, Ed and a group of “adviser” shop friends I’ve known joined me in complying the following ideas for you to use in growing or cultivating your special vehicle work market. It would be tough to do all of this at once, so pick a few and get a start!

Use technology to reach your market. Email marketing is inexpensive, though may be a bit time consuming. The secret is what you send. Meaty tech articles, yours or others with attribution, are always eagerly read. In this day of vehicle tech, articles on appearance, typical DIY kind of activities, most popular upgrades and more are appreciated. Another key to success is getting the right recipient. Start with your current email list of customers. Then, as you get involved in some of the activities that follow, get names and emails. Let them know right up front what they can expect, and not just some regular come on for sales, and they’ll generally be very receptive in participating.

Thank-you cards (with a greasy thumb print on the inside?) for current service customers. For a few bucks, you can get a four-color card cover with your name and a collage of specialty vehicles. Thank them for their recent service and include a special or other notification that you are there for all of their vehicles, even the special ones!

Social networking works. Get some help and design a special vehicle blog and advice site. Look at what’s already out there and see how yours might be different. And remember, the downfall of every blog is lack of your participation. It does take a time commitment. And don’t forget things like Yahoo Groups and other group programs. Use the various tools such as Facebook to further tout your blog site and bring traffic.

Sell your value, not your prices! People who own special vehicles have a few bucks dedicated to their vehicle. Value and quality are far more important than “cheap” to them. If they can get in their vehicle and go cruising or a car show without drama, they’re happy.

Host a customer-appreciation program for your customers at your shop or elsewhere and include a car show. Have a people’s choice award for the vehicles and let your customers vote while they munch on their burgers. Offer a chance for all to sign up for your blog and email tech and care notes.

Once you get a few specialty vehicles coming your way, be sure to include a thank you service card with the invoice, along with a note that they will receive a free oil change (or whatever) for every person they refer your way. One piece of advice. Don’t put service stickers on the windows, and make absolutely sure there is not one smudge or stain anywhere! And no smoking in or around the vehicle.

Customer-loyalty programs are awesome. Simple things like a really nice display of pictures for all to see of your specialty vehicle customers to something like every 10th oil change free are all popular.

Make yourself visible. Ed Hansen tells me he is out there at the car shows, weeknight drive-ins, you name it. If there are target vehicles and customers around his marketing area, you will find Ed. It is important to stress a simple fact we all know really; friends buy from and trust friends! Your business will grow bigger faster if you get your smiling face out there. Better yet, sponsor a show price or provide ditty bags in cooperation with your part supplier. I always get a plastic bag with some window cleaner, waterless car wash, wipe on polish, key fobs, business cards, brochures for future shows, you name it. And, I always use and appreciate them and make it a point to frequent the usual supplier of the bags. Oh, and here’s your big chance to get a pile of emails and names for you marketing efforts.

As we wrap up, there are a few rules of the specialty vehicle repair road:

• Keep the vehicles inside at night, always!

• During the day keep the vehicles in their own area away from the coming and going of the other customers! One shop puts up stanchions and a rope around the vehicle. Owner is impressed, lookers stay back away from scratching distance and other cars are automatically parked out of harm’s way.

• Keep them spotless! Guess it’s too obvious, but often overlooked, but put floor mats in on arrival and take them out in front of the owner to show it was there!

• Keep your part supplier(s) in the loop so they know what you are doing!

• Provide the owner with a detailed report and always return the old parts if possible!

• Pick who drives the vehicles and keep it to yourself and maybe one other very responsible person!

• Again, no smoking in or around the vehicle!

• If there’s a test drive to do, it’s all you. And, if you are comfortable the repair is right, wait and have the owner do the test drive while you do a ride along!

• Never abuse people with a flood of email or other social media. There’s a fine line between too much and too little!

• Take a few pictures of the vehicle when it arrives and when it leaves in case there is discussion over a “new ding” or something!

 One respondent takes the care of the vehicle even further. He has the equivalent of boat bumpers that he suspends from the windows effectively isolating the vehicle side form other vehicles, equipment posts, etc.

“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” - James Cash Penney, founder, JC Penney

The specialty vehicle market is large, driven (no pun) by people with more income than average as a rule, are fun to work on, and will provide a new stream of income. And, as the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) has reported, the specialty vehicle market for parts and accessories is growing at a rate that far exceeds other vehicle part markets. Be sure to get your piece of the action!