In the grand scheme of things, lugnuts may simply be a peripheral yet needed item to a customer plunking down several G's for a set of custom wheels.
Maybe. Or not.
For more than 30 years Gorilla Automotive Products has been a big ape in the wheel accessories jungle and, to let you in on a little secret: It's because they don't treat lugnuts and the like as simply tangential paraphernalia thrown in as an afterthought to a wheel package.
``Primarily, we like to consider ourselves-like gas is to a gasoline station-we are wheel accessories to wheel businesses,'' explained Paul Quezada, national sales manager. ``We look for customers who we mean something to.''
Those are customers interested in Los Angeles-based Gorilla's staple: lugnuts, wheel locks, spacers, simulators, center caps, hub-centric rings and lug wrenches. All are manufactured in its factory in Taiwan-the same one it has dealt with for almost three decades.
The company doesn't really push its products through a performance warehouse ``because they don't do that well in terms of wheels,'' Mr. Quezada said. Instead, Gorilla focuses on wheel distributors and wheel and tire shops that emphasize the custom wheel side of the business. ``If they're just ordering in occasionally from a catalog, that's not our customer.
``We want someone who's stocking wheels, who's direct with wheel lines, who's in the wheel business. That's where we succeed-that's really our market segment. Our channel of distribution is wheel and tire people.''
While jobber stores are ``wonderful,'' he added, they don't sell that many wheel accessories because their customers are typically shopping for hard parts, oil, batteries. The same goes with the large discount big box-type stores, which mostly are interested in price alone.
Gorilla's biggest customers are regional wheel players in the tire and wheel business. ``We delve into the individual markets and determine who the players are,'' Mr. Quezada said. ``We try to make sense in terms of the marketplace and how we go to market. That means we set up our minimum quantity pricing. So if you're truly a wheel/tire shop that should be direct with us, you're not going to swallow hard when we tell you what our minimum buy-in is.''
Smaller shops not really big into wheel sales are ``our customers' customers,'' Mr. Quezada said. That helps Gorilla maintain and provide integrity in the marketplace in two ways: By insisting on a minimum freight pre-paid order, ``it culls through who should be direct with us and who's not. We can then refer them to distributors in their area.''
The company also has manufacturer reps across the country who visit accounts before they're set up. ``That provides us with the certainty that who we distribute to is truly a good account, they'll pay their bill and we're not just shipping to a vacant lot somewhere,'' he said. ``Geographically, that rep knows the area.''
The automotive aftermarket is teeming with companies selling wheel accessories-just take a look around the trade show floor at any Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas. Still, Mr. Quezada has adopted the attitude that ``primarily, we really don't go into a marketplace looking at who our competitors are. We charge forward, find out who the customers are. We knock on doors and put the information out there. We have a wonderful brand name we've protected in terms of providing a quality product, shipping in two to three days and providing $11 million worth of product liability at a competitive price.
``...I don't really look over my shoulder to see who's running up behind me to take my business. I just provide the services day in and day out. I don't look at their pricing, their freight pre-paids, though I'm aware of it because I'm a sales manager. But we know who we are and haven't deviated from that formula.''
Because the company is privately held, it does not disclose sales figures, though Mr. Quezada said ``with 100-percent assurance'' that it is one of the largest wheel accessory firms in terms of aftermarket business. Nor does Gorilla offer any special programs to retailers. ``Just day-in, day-out service and pricing,'' he added. Peter Schermer is Gorilla's owner and president.
In the spectrum of wheel purchases-where a customer can spend anywhere from $3,000 to upwards of $10,000 or more for a wheel package-Gorilla's products could be considered a mere drop in the bucket.
However, ``we're certainly important in terms of completing the sale,'' Mr. Quezada said. The company's target consumers fill a wide range in this performance side of the wheel and tire business. They can include youths-still living at home with parents-who have some discretionary income burning a hole in their pockets. Some shops cater to celebrities and athletes; others customize vehicles rolling off car dealers' lots. Still others have found a lucrative business in doctors and lawyers who ``want their vehicles customized to look fancy,'' he said.
Some of the most successful shops selling Gorilla products ``specialize in wheels and tires, lift kits and lowering kits,'' Mr. Quezada said. ``(Their) wheel presence is enormous. You walk in to the shop and it's just wall-to-wall wheels and you know...you're in the right place.''
Marketing wheel accessories in a bustling shop isn't rocket science. But it's also not as simple as pointing a customer to a bin of lugnuts ``because there are a lot of nuances to making sure you're getting the proper offset, bolt pattern, fit....'' When he visits those types of shops, Mr. Quezada said he recommends they stock Gorilla's wheel installation kits, which come complete with wheel locks, lugnuts and valve stems.
``When you're selling the customer a complete wheel/tire package at one price, then sell the wheel accessories kit as a one-price package, too,'' he advised. ``That precludes the customer from believing they're just getting lugnuts. If there are bins of lugnuts sitting behind the counter-which some shops do-the customer will say, `Why don't you just throw in those 20 lugnuts in my package because I just spent X-dollars.''
Gorilla kits are shrink wrapped and undergo quality control checking, he said. The firm also offers ``a multitude'' of lock patterns, rather than just one. Each customer receives a registration sticker with the pattern of the lock's key. That way, if a key is lost, a phone call to Gorilla and $8.50 will procure a replacement key.
The firm also markets what it calls a ``system package.'' Instead of lugnuts, valve stems and one lock per wheel, every stud is protected by a wheel lock. That's meant to discourage thieves who would rather not waste time with a custom wheel set protected by 20 locks.
Gorilla's customers, Mr. Quezada noted, ``want quality wheel accessories. So you focus in on wheels and tires and let me take care of your accessory business, and you'll never have a problem.''
``You can't fasten a wheel without wheel accessories,'' he said, ``and as far as I know, you can't use Velcro.''