Shut Up and Take My Money!
Written by David S. Wallens
From the June 2016 issue
Posted in Columns
There’s been a lot of talk in our world lately about the death of the speed shop. Even Leno has discussed it. The speed shops of yore, places where you could pick up a good ¾ race cam, a Sun tach and some of those yellow Lakewood traction bars, have more or less disappeared from the American landscape.
I actually spent two years working in such a place, Automod Atlanta. I’ll let you guess where it was located. (Hint: Atlanta.) I got the job by placing an ad in our regional SCCA newsletter: “I’m about to graduate from college and am seeking a job in the automotive world.”
Brian Hernan, the owner of the shop, saw the ad, called me up, and invited me in for an interview. I started work the Monday after graduation–first in the warehouse, but eventually graduating to a desk on the sales floor.
This was pre-internet. Our retail beat centered on the local SCCA scene, but our wholesale accounts stretched far.
Here’s the really cool thing: We catered to the sports car world. If it improved an MGB, 240Z or VW Rabbit, then we sold it. And in many cases, we actually stocked the part right there in our warehouse-rows of pallet racks containing all of the day’s top performance brands, like Hella, Cibié, Weber, Momo, Nardi, Kamei, Zender, Koni, Ansa, Amco and K&N.
You wanted a roll bar for your MGB? We had one in stock.
Needed a front spoiler for your 240Z? Should I pull a urethane, fiberglass or ABS plastic one? Fiberglass hood for a 5.0 Mustang? We stocked ones made to our own design.
Weber tuning questions? Let me get Brian and he’ll help. We stocked jets, parts and pieces for both down-and side-draft models. Plus we had the Pat Braden and John Passini Weber tuning books right on the shelf.
I left there 22 years ago to join the GRM family. Automod never made the jump to the internet, and I’m pretty sure they’re gone now.
I want to slightly change gears, but don’t worry. This will all tie together shortly.
Whenever I’m on the road, I try to visit some local guitar shops. In reality, any piece of guitar hardware, either new or used, it just a few keystrokes away. But there’s something magical about hunting for it in person, and I have been lucky to visit killer guitar shops all across the country: Nashville to Austin, New York to St. Louis, and Las Vegas to San Jose.
During a recent trip to New York-my annual winter pilgrimage to see family and grab a nosh while taking advantage of the seasonally low hotel rates–I hopped a train to Brooklyn. My destination was a place called Main Drag Music. I found them on the Googles, and it was one of the half-dozen shops I visited during those few days in my urban paradise.
Going to these different places also forces me to see different parts of a city. You never know what you’ll come across, right? Anyway, while in Brooklyn I found a pretty big independent music store, especially by New York City standards.
The dude who worked there saw me eyeing a bass. “Try it,” he insisted. So I did.
No pressure. No hard sale.
Then he saw me looking at the effects pedals, those magical little stomp boxes that can make you sound like Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan–okay, not exactly, but you know what I mean.
“Looking for something in particular?” he asked.
“Here, you want this one,” he replied without hesitation, handing me a silver metal box from a small Finnish company called Darkglass Electronics. “I have it on my pedal board.”
Then he ushered me to a soundproof practice room and brought me a ’78 Fender Precision Bass.
Half an hour later, I put down the guitar. Closing time was approaching, and I figured it was best to not get locked inside the store. While such a situation could lead to the ultimate jam session, as best I could tell the store did not contain a Chinese restaurant.
“How’d you like the pedal?” was all he asked.
The price was close to $250. I figured that I could probably find it online for less. In my book, that’s a lot of money for an effects pedal–like, a lot.
But, at least in my mind, I did the right thing: I handed him my credit card.
He gave me info, and the store invested in the inventory–never mind the rent and other brick-and-mortar expenses. He let me try it out to my heart’s content. He made the sale.
Fast-forward to today, and I’m still in love with that piece of equipment. It would have taken me several other purchases, I figure, to find this tone. In the end, his advice and knowledge saved me time and money.
We’re all looking to save a buck, and I fully realize that ordering things online is easier. You can summon nearly anything to your door in a day or so, from a new bicycle to a 48-roll pack of toilet paper, by barely moving a muscle.
But when someone makes an investment in our scene, I give them the nod. If we don’t return the favor, then I’m going to run out of places to stop while visiting Brooklyn.
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There is something intrinsic about picking up a part and touching it. It's something electrons on a screen will never do.
I'm sure I met you at Automod. Little did I know that I was in the presence of future GRM greatness. Great little candy store.
Automotive Machine Shops are dying out too, down to exactly none in my town from 4.
having someone guide you regardless of the sale.......
Hasbro wrote: I'm sure I met you at Automod. Little did I know that I was in the presence of future GRM greatness. Great little candy store.
That place was awesome. I was there 1992-'94.
I miss being able to go to the local speed shop and have the guy behind the counter delve into a tome to pick out the perfect stuff for your build. And often, the markup wasn't too terrible, especially if you got the "jobber" price. I think there's only one or two speed shops left around here, and they have a web presence and tuning facilities.
I blame it on guys who work in speedshops but only utilize them to fill 2 big bottles of nitrous and opt to overnight everything else from Japan.
David S. Wallens wrote:Hasbro wrote: I'm sure I met you at Automod. Little did I know that I was in the presence of future GRM greatness. Great little candy store.
That place was awesome. I was there 1992-'94.
Sometimes I'd just swing by to see what was parked out front - always something good. Do you remember any of these:
-Metalflaked cherry red slopenosed Karmin Ghia - fast drag motor, loud
-74 yellow europa
-80 silver Accord hatch. 1600 lbs., low diameter tires sticking out of the fenders, old school autoxer. Spent a bunch there on this one.
Very good times, man.
I think captdownshift nailed it. In my business I buy hundreds of thousand of dollars in parts a year. Even the very large distribution houses are getting to the point that they do not stock a lot of parts. Unless its something you use several times a year, and specifically ask them to stock it, with the agreement you will buy it if you don't use it in six months. Seems harsh right. That is the way our economy is going. I do a lot of custom one off machines, so I don't use the same parts all the time. Even though they are not special I'm still stuck with them going to the factory to get the parts which a lot of the time takes 8 weeks. Now scale that from a 20 million a year house to a local supply house that has to deal with internet sales.
On a side note, I am lucky enough to have a 4 wheel parts distribution house right in my back yard. so I get internet pricing and a storefront to buy at. Best of both worlds, but of course very rare.
I remember how excited we were to go pick up a new set of Super Swampers at the speed shop an hour away.
I duilt my first small block race motor under the guidance from the man behind the speed shop counter in Natick. A place called Performance City. I probably built 20 more motors after that. Always getting my stuff from them. I may have cried a little when they closed l.
Pretty much all of my guitar gear comes from our local shop, the Guitar Attic. (Full disclosure: I wrote most of the copy on his website. )
A couple of months I walked in, and Randy, the owner, goes, I got something that you might want. It was the DigiTech Trio, a kind of foot-operated drum machine. He showed it to me and spoke highly of it. At the time, I wasn't quite ready for it.
A month or so later, I asked him: So, tell me about the Trio. And he did, as I got the full demo plus a test drive.
In reality, I probably could have found it for a few buck less online, but he made the sale. Plus he invested in the inventory.
And then, just because, he gave me the optional extra foot control on the house. I don't think a faceless corporation would have done that.
PS: He was right. I totally love it.
It's funny. I had the opportunity to be that guy when i would bartend at the brewery. The opportunity to show people my passion, and curate a good beer experience was amazing. I was never selling, only sharing my enjoyment. Those places are all but dead.
What model of pedal from Darkglass? This might be relevant to my interests
Antihero wrote: What model of pedal from Darkglass? This might be relevant to my interests
Back in Phoenix my go-to parts place was Mini Sports. Don Roberts and his wife Sharon ran the two stores there. There have never two better people on this planet than Don and Sharon. I had a 240Z and bought all of the maintenance parts for it from them and picked up a rear sway bar there as well. This would have been 1980-85.
I sold the Datsun and bought the Lancia Scorpion (same one I have now). After changing the timing belt for the first time I could not get it to start. Don knew nothing of Fiat engines but he certainly knew the basics. He walked this 21 year old through it and before long I found that the Italians timed the cams off off #4 and the distributor was 180 off. There was no Google back then and he took the time to help me.
They also had this girl who worked there who I (along with most other guys) had a huge crush on. She was cute but also knew her car stuff. She was getting ready to install an 18RG into her Celica. Just about as close to perfect as it gets.
I was at the opening of the (then) new track at Firebird and the Cobra Club was running a track day. Don had his BP Cobra there. Don had been the National BP Champion in '68 (IIRC) in that car. He gave me a ride doing a few hot laps around the new track. I still remember that. I just Googled his name and found this:
How I wish there were more places like Mini Sports and people like Don and Sharon today.
I liked this post more than any other staff-related post in any kind of recent memory.
I get it. I flip through the magazine and enjoy it but I primarily subscribe to support this site.
Vigo wrote: I liked this post more than any other staff-related post in any kind of recent memory.
Thanks. That was a fun column to write.
+1 to being one of the best editorials that have been published (and there's a lot of competition for that!).
It resonated a bit for me because for all my life, my Dad has been self-employed running a local business in the homebuilding/remodeling segment. For the last few decades, it's been focused on kitchens and his niche is custom work in higher-end neighborhoods. He'll go to the job site, take a bunch of measurements, design a layout, specify all the various cabinets (many of which are custom orders), specify a countertop, and present the prospect with the plans and a quote. So many times, that prospect gets completely bent out of shape when Dad refuses to let them walk out of there with a copy of the plans without signing a contract. Lowes and Home Depot might be able to hunt around for the right SKU to price out a job, but they lack a design staff and the expertise. So many folks don't realize that the reason a little specialty shop should be more expensive is because what you're buying isn't a SKU, it's knowledge.
The same thing comes up frequently with people looking for motorcycle gear. I hear the recommendation to go to a local shop, try on helmets/jackets/whatever to find the right size and the brand that you like, then go order it online and save a few bucks. Makes my blood boil.
wae wrote: The same thing comes up frequently with people looking for motorcycle gear. I hear the recommendation to go to a local shop, try on helmets/jackets/whatever to find the right size and the brand that you like, then go order it online and save a few bucks. Makes my blood boil.
Oh man, yes. I tried on a bunch of helmets at the local MC superstore, and none of them felt right. I was shopping in the ~$100 range. A salesman offered to help, and he found a Shoei that was close, then opened up packages of cheek pads for me to try, and got the helmet fitted just right. He had me in a $350 helmet. I probably could have saved a lot by buying online, but I never would have figured out the perfectly comfortable setup that way. I dropped the coin on it, and never regretted it.
wae wrote: So many folks don't realize that the reason a little specialty shop should be more expensive is because what you're buying isn't a SKU, it's knowledge.
That is so true.
Thanks again for the nice words on the piece.
Also, our local guitar shop just got this:
You can see it here.
The googles show Automod Atlanta is still in business.
Found this website: http://realpages.com/sites/examples/automod/page3.html
If you were checking out basses at Main Drag, you might have played my old '74 Jazz:
They took in in partial trade for the gorgeous '66 Jazz I bought from them:
I've bought at least half a dozen guitars/basses from Main Drag and Rivington Guitars. Also done quite a lot of business over the years with Ludlow, Matt Umanov, and the old Rudy's. No need to ever set foot in a Sam Ash or Guitar Center when you've got such great independent shops around here.
I try to do the same with car parts. I do tons of business local shops in NYC and north Jersey. If I'm looking for something specific (like a set of period-correct Carlsson wheels for my 190E or an Alpina steering wheel for my E30) I'll call the owner at Guten Parts and he'll find it for me. If I need new Nomex gloves, I'll go to Driving Impressions where I can try a whole bunch on to make sure the fit is perfect.
With the local places, prices aren't significantly higher than online sources, but you do pay sales tax (and I don't have a problem with that). And it's not just about "supporting local business." There's value added in that they provide immediate customer support; more important, they have a huge amount of knowledge that they bring to the table. I don't need to spend time researching stuff online if they already know what they're doing.
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