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Drivers Express Themselves at New Auto Center

Things are in overdrive at the Galpin Auto Sports center that opened this month in North Hills. Even with little to no promotion, the center for customizing any make and model of car or truck has drawn more business than it can handle, said Beau Boeckmann, president of Galpin Auto Sports, a division of the Galpin Motors empire. “I have no idea how big this is going to be but everyone who walks in who’s a car guy, their jaw drops and say this is going to be huge,” Boeckmann said. The Specialty Equipment Market Association believes that Galpin is at the forefront at what is a guaranteed profit center for car dealerships, which in general are experiencing shrinking margins. “You’re going to see more and more car dealerships getting into accessorizing and customization,” said association chief executive officer Chris Kersting. “This is a natural next step (for Galpin) and a great business concept.” Occupying the space of the Ford dealership’s former mini-mall at its North Hills complex, the auto sports center is a project that had been years in the making. Conceived by Boeckmann, son of dealership owner Bert Boeckmann, the auto sports center was described as being a “natural outgrowth” of the dealer’s past accomplishments in customizing cars. The first conversion vans were done at Galpin, as was the first sunroof and 4×4 trucks. “We can do just about anything to anyone’s car as long as it’s safe and it’s fun,” Boeckmann said. “It’s about people’s passion for their automobiles.” The complexity of getting the center up and running surprised him, however, Boeckmann said. “You’re dealing with hundreds of vendors and areas of expertise, warranty issues, sales and service,” Boeckmann said. “Finding the right people is also difficult.” The 25-person staff was chosen from among service technicians already working for the dealership, independent artisans Galpin has worked with in the past, and other experts attracted by what the dealership is doing, Boeckmann said. “Some of the most outstanding technicians in the industry are working there,” Boeckmann said. “These are true artists doing paint and interiors, to technicians doing engine work and performance modifications.” Along with the service department, the center also includes a retail store so people can look at what products are available and even design what they want their vehicle to look like, Boeckmann said. Retail sales for specialty automotive products in North America hit $32 billion in 2005, according to a study by SEMA. When it comes to specific products, the West Coast in 2003 led the nation with the amount of suspension and handling equipment sold at $1.36 billion; and was second in the nation for accessory appearance sales at $2.93 billion, the association study said. Galpin’s Auto Sports Store stands out in the industry for how it places all its customizing features under one roof. Rodney Pierini, president and chief executive officer of the California/Nevada Automotive Wholesalers’ Association, said he was not aware of other dealers doing something similar in the state. “It’s a pretty smart move on their part to capture that part of the market,” Pierini said. “It’s a growing segment of the automotive aftermarket industry.” That the industry is so fragmented is what brings attention to Galpin for what it is doing with the auto sports center, Boeckmann said. “There’s kind of like the small wheel and tire shop, the small audio video shop,” he added. “What we wanted to do is bring it all in one place and back it with a name like Galpin where people will have faith we’ll do a good job.” The growth in the specialty parts industry is indicative of an overall trend among consumers to have products personalized to show off their own style, Kersting said. Cars and trucks have always been a great example of how people express themselves, Kersting said. “Witness how you can go to a specialty coffeehouse and get coffee served in 5,000 different ways,” Kersting added. “Look at what people can do with their cell phones in terms of faceplates and ringtones.”

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