Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2002   by Andrew Ross

Market Feature: the Fast and the Furious Meets the Slow and Steady

The long-promised potential of the performance exhaust market may finally be taking hold, thanks to Hollywood.

One jobber in Manitoba (who decided he didn’t want to be identified) put it this way: “We stock five double-sided rows 30 feet long just for pipe, but we’re still always going to the warehouse to pick up exhaust. There are so many different options, it is tough to stock everything. We have the popular stuff, but when you get into the F250 Super Duty, long box, short box, etc. . . . I’d need to fill my building to carry all that.”

Most jobbers already in the exhaust market have learned that the replacement business is driven by availability, with the added element of needing competitive pricing.

Jobbers like Bill Elton at Colonial Garage & Distributors, based in St. John’s, Nfld., know what sells exhaust–the aforementioned burgeoning exhaust inventory–but offering a price alternative has become an increasingly important factor, which has in itself bred other issues.

“Only about 20% of our mufflers being sold are first line,” says Elton, but he advises caution to jobbers looking to seek too many sources of supply. “When you start splitting your orders, you’re not hitting your prepaid minimums. We’ve got to hit the freight prepaid numbers or we’re not competitive.”

One issue which is likely in contrast with other areas in the country is the popularity of universal fit units. “If you come to a place like Newfoundland, they’ll make anything fit.” The geography of the island province and its widely spread population mean that garages that stock mufflers tend to stock universal fit units. “They’ll buy universal units and make them fit. They have to carry stock because they’re too far away from a source of supply.”

A second trend that Elton says hasn’t hit Newfoundland’s rocky shores is the insurgence, or perhaps resurgence, of the performance exhaust market.

Tips and mufflers have been around for a while, but recent indications are that it has morphed into a very strong and profitable market, primarily in urban centers, and primarily among the sport compact community.

“The performance end of the exhaust line has been going like wildfire,” says Ivor Jones, president of Canusa Automotive Warehousing Inc. in Dorchester, Ont., which operates nine jobber stores located from Windsor to Guelph, Ont., under the Auto Parts Centres banner and 11 associates under the same banner.

The rapid growth of the performance exhaust market is in stark contrast to the slow and steady nature of the traditional replacement market. “This development helps because there’s a bit more margin in it. It’s been flat for years. I think there’s some sunshine on the horizon.

“Polished stainless tubing is becoming the norm now. The young guys are spending big, big money. The chrome tips are definitely moving, especially in three, four, and five inch. The standard chrome pipes are pretty much gone, but heavy gauge chromed units are selling. Anything with chrome seems to be hot.”

He says that the trend goes for mufflers and tips as well as clamps, stainless versions of which go for three dollars, instead of 30 cents for the standard fare.

“If a customer’s using stainless tubing, most of them are buying stainless accessories to go with them.”

So, why all this sudden fuss about the performance exhaust market? Scott Scherr, manager, Warehouse Services Ltd., in Edmonton, Alta. has a pretty good idea.

“The movie ‘The Fast and the Furious’ has had a big effect. I had one customer who sold more nitrous systems in the month after the movie came out than the whole year before. The director of the movie says that a lot of kids will take the car handed to them by their parents, modify it, and have themselves a 10 second street car. You can’t just go down the street and get yourself a (muscle car) anymore; the automakers are catering more to the upscale.” Though Warehouse Services is just beginning to look at expanding into the performance segment (it’s a very large supplier to the standard replacement exhaust market; in fact it’s their stock in trade) Scherr says that it appears to have great potential.

“You’ll have the guy with the $50,000 truck who wants a dual system, and also the guy with the ’89 Civic who will spend $1,500 on a stainless system because he read somewhere it will give him a few horsepower.

“I’m not as hit with it as the other guys, I don’t have a showroom, but it’s certainly true. The money maker is going to be the higher-end stuff. The kids with the toques and the pants hanging to their ass, those are the guys who are going to be running the country and they know what brands they want and they’re informed. They surf the Net, they know the brands, and they know what they want.”

It’s a business that requires an effort to stay informed of the changeable trends. “On the performance side, it’s about brand. You’ll find that a lot of the manufacturers that are really in tune with the trends are stateside–so you have the dollar to contend with–but one supplier isn’t going to have it all and that makes it hard on our level,” says Scherr.

He says that one of the promising trends is that younger technicians are talking to service customers about some of the performance products, but he advises everyone not to prejudge the customer as to whether he is a good candidate for a performance sale by the condition of the vehicle. “There’s a guy here with an old beater and a big honkin’ exhaust tip on it. Chrome tips and decals; it’s a label, you get to fit in.”

Exhaust Notes:

Part numbers have been rationalized for better logic in stock keeping. Consider this when thinking about stocking exhaust. Consider also if it’s been a while since you addressed your racking.

Performance is about brand, availability, and fashion. Read up on what’s hot.

Catalytic converters are popular wherever emissions testing is occurring. Stock universal and direct fit units in concert with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Consider performance as it applies to light trucks and SUVs as well as the growing sport compact market.

Exhaust repairs may include emissions components like O2 sensors on OBD II-equipped vehicles.Don’t overlook the opportunity.

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