SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter When customers at Galpin Jaguar and Galpin Lincoln Mercury want to know how their new vehicles will look outfitted with different wheels and tires, the salesmen don’t walk them into the showroom. They click onto the Internet. There, on a Web site set up by Flip’s Tire Center Inc., they can find customized packages of tires and wheels photographed on different cars so customers can actually see how their cars will look decked out with different accessories. Flip’s began developing the Web site late last year with the idea of using it as a catalog for its aftermarket accessories that is, items installed on vehicles after they’ve left the showroom. But as the company researched the idea, it became clear that a simple listing of its products would fall short of meeting the needs of its largest customer Galpin Motors Inc., one of the largest car dealerships in the nation. “We knew we had to help the sales force at Galpin,” said Philip “Flip” Smith, proprietor of the Van Nuys-based company. “They are constantly calling and asking us, ‘What’s the price of this?’ and ‘Can we put these on this particular car?’ We’re kind of fumbling into this, but the more we do it, the more we realize what the potential is.” So far, the site www.flipstires.com features just a few cars and tire and wheel types. But the company plans to add a larger selection of vehicles and a range of accessories, including grilles, running boards and lights, as well as performance packages, lowering kits and exhausts. “I think this is going to be a great sales tool for us,” said Dennis McCroskey, general manager for Galpin’s Saturn of Santa Clarita and Saturn of the Valley dealerships in Valencia and Van Nuys. In car-crazy Los Angeles, there are plenty of motorists who want to distinguish their vehicles from the sea of similar-looking makes and models, and accessories like wheels and grilles can help them to get a custom-made look. At the same time, the profit margins on these accessories can range as high as 25 percent to 30 percent, making the add-on sale especially attractive to dealers. “Dealers can make as much on selling the tire as they can on the car,” said Smith. “And if someone is financing a vehicle, the difference in the monthly payment is not that much.” Most of the accessory business comes from customers who want to chrome-plate their wheels to get a bright, shiny look, which ranges from $400 to $600 per set of wheels. But there are many customers who will drop as much as $2,500 to put new tires and wheels on a truck and have the vehicle lowered. And special wheels and tires for some luxury cars can cost even more than that. “I had a customer who wanted 20-inch wheels on a Jaguar. It cost $8,900, and that’s not something you stock regularly,” said Brian Allan, general manager of Galpin Jaguar Lincoln Mercury. “We were able to go to this Web site and show them how it would look.” New-car buyers have always turned to aftermarket shops to add custom touches to their cars. But whereas many past efforts indulged eccentricities such as the classic, 1970s surfer van, painted with wild designs current interest tends to come from people who simply want to add a few distinctive features to their wheels. “The market has always been there, it’s just gotten a little broader and a little more serious,” Smith said. These kinds of accessory sales account for about $2.6 million in revenues at Flip’s Tire Centers. “We’re not advertising it; we’re not promoting it,” said Smith, who projects that sales will increase substantially once the Web site is fully completed and the company begins publicizing products such as televisions that can be installed into the back of vans to keep kids occupied on long road trips. Some of Flip’s business comes from 10 or 12 dealers who want to have a vehicle specially outfitted for the showroom floor. But while these display vehicles may sell customers on the idea of adding customized wheels or other accessories, buyers often want a different style from the one they see in the showroom. “If a customer doesn’t see a vehicle with a set of wheels he wants, it’s easy to put him on the Web site,” said McCroskey.