August '19

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72 THE SHOP AUGUST 2019 S o far in 2019, many restylers are experiencing overall growth in their leather departments. Particularly, shops are seeing more dealerships and retail customers requesting non-factory-match colors than in previous years. We've finally reached a point in our industry where customers will walk into a dealership and ask for custom leather colors because they've seen bright red as a factory option on the Toyota Camry, for example. Back in my November 2018 article, I dis- cussed the growing trend in bright-colored leather interiors on low- and mid-trim-level vehicles and an overall rise in demand for these bold leather interiors throughout all vehicle brands. Nine months later, the trend is still on the rise. A CAUTIOUS APPROACH When demand for leather rose to the point where we had installers moving back and forth between our shop locations, we knew it was time to be proactive if we wanted to take on more work. We needed more installers, but what if we hired people and the market took a sudden dip? Before the 2008 Great Recession, sales in our industry followed a seasonal pat- tern, making it easy to plan for new hires. In today's market, however, hiring and growing in the automotive industry is challenging—a shop may be packed for months, then randomly drop the next month, depending on a variety of sales- influencing factors ranging from winter storms and other weather-related influ- encers to a lack of dealer incentives. Let's face it, inconsistency is the new norm for the automotive industry in 2019. So, how can a restyler plan for growth? As a start, we need to adapt to the market, allowing our shops to expand through cross-training our leather installers to perform all facets of an installation. My partner and I decided to hire, but also discussed some fresh ideas for the leather department, as we wanted to have a backup plan ready in case we experienced a downturn. We hired someone that not only could install vehicle interiors, but could also do custom sewing. This allowed us to con- tinue our growth with installations while also taking on new projects in the leather department. If installation business dipped for a week, the leather department could tackle new projects. So, what are some of the additional leather projects worth looking into? We're currently exploring multiple ave- nues with custom leather installations— ideas I hope to share in the future—while some custom leather projects have come from our car dealership customers. And they aren't all vehicle installs. SEAT REPAIR What's amazing here is, as restylers, we've already built strong relationships with our dealerships, so taking on new projects is simple—especially when you're providing a solution to a problem and saving them money. One of the initial things we implemented was a flyer for service departments showing before-and-after images of leather seat repair. We listed the areas of the seats we could repair and took them to every service department. This not only allowed us to establish a closer bond between our sales staff and each service department, but we had a solution for OEM leather repairs at all luxury lines. Where some people will decide on a quick-fix for their seats, such as patching a panel, many luxury vehicle owners want their leather to look like new again. Panel repairs took off immediately upon handing out the flyers. Versatile workers & non-vehicle projects can keep business consistent in an unsteady market. By Courtney Pahlke

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