If you are working for a small business or startup…

If you are working for a small business or startup, you should definitely be thinking about how you can make your boss more money and thinking of new ways to be added value to the business. If you don’t have this mindset, you’re not going to be around for the long term. The larger the company, the less this matter (IE: working at a fast food place, or for the US government). Just something to keep in mind – there will always be someone who wants the job more than you.

A little transparency regarding the wheel customization business

Here’s something that I have cross posted on the NWP boards. It reads like a rant, but it’s more of a plea for understanding. I will go into further detail on here in future posts.

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Hi guys, I feel that this post is very necessary and should contain some good information for all enthusiasts.

First off, I want to say that this stems from an overwhelming weight that I need to get off my chest. Very recently, I have seen a couple of “competitors” go down and things have not been great for us as well. I just want more enthusiasts to understand what goes on behind the scenes. Also, I am just speaking solely from my personal perspective, though these are probably things that other people in business can relate to.

Customizing and restoration of wheels… on the surface, it’s a beautiful thing. You send out your 20 year old wheels which are in poor condition and are not the most ideal sizing. A few weeks later, you receive them back with a fresh coat of powder on the faces which reflect off the mirror like shine of the new wider chrome plated lips.

Behind all of that, there are many issues that are left up to the shop you entrusted, to deal with. Let’s take a set of 15 year old Volk GT-P’s for example. They are 17×7 +47 and you want to make them 18×11 +22. Sadly, they are not aging well at all as they came off a junked car in Japan but you want them to look brand new.

As the person responding to this inquiry, I must know:

1. Are the wheels 1 piece, 2 piece, or 3 piece?
2. If the wheels are modular, are they 2 piece or 3 piece? If 3 piece, are the barrels welded? (SSR)
3. Do the faces have a standard diameter size, or are they smaller or larger?
4. Do the faces have a standard register bore, or will we need to have custom barrels tooled, or will there need to be trimming done on the aftermarket barrels, or the faces?
5. Are the faces casted or forged? If they are casted and the customer wants them to be powdercoated, then it’s likely that the faces will need to be properly prepped (cut polish) otherwise we run the risk of outgassing due to the porosity of the metal.
6. What size and type of hardware do the wheels use? If the customer chooses not to pay to replace their hardware, and they snap during disassembly or reassembly, who is responsible for that? (We are)

In this specific example that I described above, Volk GT-P’s are in fact 2 piece modular utilizing 1 piece forged barrels with a built in register that the face bolts to. The faces are forged aluminum and painted so they will need to be chemically stripped and inspected before powdercoating. Since this hypothetical customer wants a full re-barrel, we will need 8 new pieces – 4 lips, 4 barrels. Many older Japanese wheels, including GT-P’s use M6 sized bolts which have a tendency to snap, especially when they’re 20 years old and being re-used on a complete rebuild. Luckily in this case, we will need new hardware anyways because the hardware on these aren’t long enough. They’re designed to go through one register, instead of the two that will exist with the new inner and outer.

I get a lot of people asking if we can just “send them a new barrel”. We cannot, because every wheel is different. There are many manufacturers that all use slightly different ways to build their wheels and most of those decisions are as a result of cost, safety, or strength (depending on the wheels). Not only that, but many brands will use different manufacturers for their parts, especially the companies that have been around for generations. They’ll learn and constantly improve their products. If this GT-P customer had just damaged ONE wheel beyond repair, then he’s pretty much out of luck if he wants just a replacement barrel and expect to do the labor himself in order to save a bit of money. In cases like this, I usually recommend rebuilding all 4 into a 3 piece modular design using pieces that will strengthen, lighten, and improve the look of their wheels.

These are just the very basics of a wheel rebuild, and only then are we able to ask ourselves the following:

1. Which supplier will we use? What type of lips will we use?

If you asked for a new forged lip for your 18″ Work VS-XX. I can supply you with a 5052, 5454, or 6061 series forged lip and 99% of consumers wouldn’t know the difference. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter to 99% of customers as what seems to be most important these days is just aggressive sizing. The main differences between the quality of the metal is strength and weight. Also, the higher quality metal will polish out to be much shinier due to less porosity. If you have wondered why your Rota Slipstreams won’t polish out as bright as a Regamaster Evo, there’s your answer… shitty cast aluminum compared to aircraft grade forged aluminum. As far as what customers receive, priority is given to the best quality of whatever sizing is available. If the 18×3″ reverse style lip is in stock in 5454 aluminum, then that is what you’ll receive because I guarantee you won’t be able to tell the difference, and more importantly, there’s no way in hell you’re going to wait an extra 4-30 (yes, 30) weeks for the slight improvement in quality. Since we’re on the topic of this, there are positives and negatives to the different metals. The 6061 tend to crack during extreme impact or fatigue compared to the 5000 series which is more likely to bend in the same scenario. The 6061 aluminum gets it’s strength through heat treatment.

2. If the desired lips are not in stock, how long will it take before they are?

This is the most important thing that I want consumers to understand. In a very niche business such as rebarreling, quantities we deal with are generally small. If you consider that with what I mentioned previously – that not all wheels are the same, then you can begin to understand that to custom tool some lips, you might have to wait, and wait quite a bit at that. Most of the time, these rim shells are designed for wheel manufacturers, and for the most part, every “forged” wheel company you see pop up gets their shells, blank faces, and hardware from the same suppliers. That’s not really a surprise or a big deal as these are just the same high quality wheels produced using the same reliable method, just marketed through different styles, brands, and price ranges. What we are doing is adapting these rim shells to older, usually discontinued wheels.

The short answer to the above question is that, we’re not really sure how long it will take. We’ll be given an estimated ETA by the manufacturer and we can draw upon previous experiences, but due to the fact that we aren’t actually the ones physically making the rim shells, we’re relying entirely on the word of the manufacturer. Most customers are given an ETA based off of this knowledge and also warned that in extreme cases, it can take almost an indefinite amount of time. This is okay and easily accepted by the customer if they’re doing a totally custom build such as 10″ wide lips, but more commonly than not, a simple sizing such as rolled stepped 19×4″ lips will be out of stock with no production date for 8 months. What do we do in this case? 2 weeks in, the wheels have been completely disassembled, the faces are back from finishing, the barrels are ready, but we’re just waiting on the lips and it just so happens that not a single manufacturer has immediate plans to produce them.

The solution may be to stock up, but again, it just doesn’t make sense for a small company to stock up on pieces that probably won’t be used for another year.

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There are a lot of hidden costs and expectations that the public has does not want to pay for, so we can’t charge for them. I have a ton of examples for this… a customer wants to re-lip his SSR wheels. SSR’s have welded barrels so we have to machine them on a lathe, or the face is too large to fit into the new lip so the register must be CNC’d smaller, or his 20 year old nuts are all rusty, mostly stripped, and crusty. Who pays for that? Are we in the right to contact the customer about this and expect them to pay after they have been quoted, invoiced, AND they have paid in full before work began?

Another perfect example: A very high end wheel distribution company takes their brand new expensive wheels to us for redrilling work. We quote them at a discounted cost because they’re repeat customers, and they’re good people. Even though the past few sets we redrilled came out flawless, we still warn them that there may be flaws because MACHINE WORK is being done on them. It turns out that the metal shavings from the redrill has scored the inside walls of the lug hole because this particular set had a deeper hub. We deliver the completed product and the customer is not happy. What do we do in this situation? Here’s a $4000 MSRP set of wheels that we now may be held liable to refinish on a job that had hardly any profit built in to begin with.

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Trying new things: Refinishing of a 2 piece welded wheel is biggest headache in the world. 2 piece welded wheels allow you to fine tune your offset down to the millimeter, but let’s say you want to powdercoat the face and polish the lips. The first problem is, which step do you do first after stripping the entire wheel? Do you polish the lips, mask them, and then powdercoat the faces? We’ve done this and either the tape masks too much, or masks too little, or the tape itself gets stuck IN BETWEEN the face and the lip. Do you cut the faces out, powdercoat them, polish the barrels, and then weld the faces back in? This appears to be the correct method, but as I mentioned previously, that’s more machine work getting done, after the finishing has been done. You run the risk of weld splatter, burning the finish, or the polished lips getting slightly nicked up during all the extra handling. I have had that happen on a personal set of wheels and had to send the wheels back out to get the lips touched up. More messups, more driving around, less efficiency, less profit. So we get the lips touched up and find that the polisher accidentally hit the powdercoat on the edge of the faces. Now we’re back to square one, and you see the problem.

Rebarreling 1 piece wheels? Machining faces to accept a sandwich style mount? These are all things that we will not have seen had there not been someone to experiment and test the safety of on their own personal wheels, just like many other car modifications.

The point of this is that every service we’ve been able to offer, we’ve learned from trial and error, and continue to learn each day the most efficient way to go about it. What is the quickest, most cost effective way to accomplish something which will result in the greatest outcome? That’s the million dollar question.

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Regarding turnaround times: Since we’ve got a great deal of experience and have more history to draw on, we’re able to quote more and more accurately. Mostly, we’ve lost the business of many just by being honest that we’re sometimes unsure how long something might take. The biggest behind-the-scenes issue is that of vendors not delivering as promised. I can’t speak for others, but I know they have experienced this. If you rely on outsourced labor, then you must be prepared to take the blame for it, that it TOTALLY SUCKS. We can have 50 good experiences with a company but if they fail to deliver once or twice, then we’re going to suffer massively for it. I have dealt with countless situations where I had to refund money to an unhappy customer because we could not deliver by a promised date. Let’s say that a lip has taken a couple weeks longer than expected to deliver. By the time we receive it, the customer is unhappy so I tell them we’ll get it rushed and chrome plated as soon as possible. History and experiences shows that it will take a certain amount of time to complete so I give out a promise and a ship out date. Then, for whatever reason, be it problems with our plater’s machines, or problems with the lips, everything ends up taking 10 days longer than expected. The unhappy customer is furious by then and starts throwing out threats, somehow gets ahold of our personal cell phone numbers, and will not listen even as I explain the current situation. At some point, there are going to have to be compromises made such as giving up the remaining half of the balance, shipping at our cost, refunding a bit of money, or having to drive two hours to meet up at midnight to deliver wheels. Even after we’ve tried to be as reasonable as possible, a bad review thread is made where things get blown out of proportion, stories are exaggerated, etc.

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“WHAT IS THE POINT OF YOUR BUSINESS? WHY DON’T I JUST GO DIRECTLY TO THE POWDERCOATER?”

Well, if you find yourself asking this, then we’re obviously not around to service you. Cool, you might know some people who can get you a hook up price on powdercoating, or polishing, or a couple of lips, etc. What people don’t understand is that most businesses exist through finding a price difference, managing relations, and then being able to offer a centralized experience to the customer. I won’t speak for all, but MOST consumers who want wheel work done, are just looking for a place to take their wheels and get EVERYTHING done at once. This is why we exist. They want to drop off their old wheels with old tires and pick them up in brand new condition. Again, MOST people do not have the time to take apart their wheels, source lips from a supplier, drive their lips to a polisher, drive their faces to a chemical stripper, pick them up a few days later, then drive them to a powdercoater, and wait even longer. A week later, they pick everything up and have to assemble them at home with hand tools, hope their first time seal holds, and then drive them again to a local tire shop.

This business model is pretty much the same idea as a grocery store. MOST people won’t drive to an organic farm to pick their own fruits and vegetables, nor will they have connections with a butcher, dairy farmer, and a corner bakery.

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Unhappy customers… it only takes a few to ruin your reputation. What you see posted on car forums about all businesses in the automotive aftermarket is usually the top 10% happy customers and the bottom 10% unhappy customers. You don’t typically hear from the people with normal experiences, or people who got their stuff slightly quicker, or people who experienced a slight, but reasonable delay.

The reason that it seems like all these wheel customization businesses are fly-by-night here today, gone the next, is because they’re composed of small passionate teams who are learning, but get tanked by a couple of bad reviews. There are lots of drawbacks to running a small business such as having to cover each others’ duties, not always being able to answer the phones, not having the time to respond to all e-mails, etc. There’s just not always enough manpower, and one small thing can be taken the wrong way. If I’m talking to a walk in customer and my partner is out driving doing dropoffs, and my employee is in the warehouse doing labor, then the phones most likely won’t get attended to. That’s just the way it is. There are solutions, maybe, but it’s difficult.

For those who are familiar with this niche, you might realize that there is not a single company with a perfect reputation. I see complaints about our competitors about really petty things that are blown way out of the water and I really truly feel bad about it. If I asked you to name 5 companies that offer full re-barreling and customizing of wheels, I bet you cannot do that. And guess what? In the end, it’s you, the consumer that suffers for it. Just do everything in your power to try and figure out / resolve a situation before putting someone on blast for it.

Examples:

“I sent my wheels to Rim Jobbers A and they quoted me $200 more than Rim Jobbers B, so fuck them, stay away from there.”

“I shipped my wheels out to Rim Jobbers C and they sent the wheels back and they misplaced one of my discontinued wheels’ valve stem caps and also one of the decals got scratched.”

“Rim Jobbers D quoted me 8 weeks to get these lips and it took them 12 weeks and I missed 3 car shows because of that!” – Guess what? Due to the low supplier count, it’s likely that every other company has to wait just as long for the lips to his production, unless they have the correct pieces in stock.

What you don’t know is that if the company you’re dealing with is a legitimate business with happy prior customers, then they are probably good, honest people. I know that if I heard those complaints, I’d be calling every supplier I know to try and source a replacement rare valve stem cap or trying to get dimensions to recreate new decals. But, in the automotive service industry, I feel like it is these small things that are putting a lot of passionate people out of business. There are so many misunderstandings in every field that I wish other business owners would shed some light on their side. I am a car enthusiast and consumer as well…

Do One Thing and Do It Well

Hello all, this is probably the 10th time that I have restarted my blog (I have database files from all the way back when I started this site in like 2004 or so). I seem to do this each time I have some good quality thoughts to share.

 

Recently, there has been quite a good amount of distress in my life that has been 100% work related. I will not delve into that on here (for now, at least) as the details won’t really help support this post.

This post stems from the combination of a realization I had and some sound advice I recently received. Interestingly enough, the “realization” came from two food establishments. One called Malbec, a very nice establishment serving New Age Argentinian cuisine (one of my favorites) and another called In ‘N Out, a quintessentially Californian fast food burger joint. What both of these places have in common are their very simple menus. In ‘N Out makes amazing burgers because that is all they do. The In ‘N Out experience is about the hamburger, fries, and drink. You cannot order a spicy chicken sandwich, a deep fried fish filet, questionable tofu based “beef” tacos, or a chili cheese pastrami dip with gravy, something I just made up but would expect to find at a typical American fast food diner.

Similarly, Malbec has a simple menu as well. Argentinian cuisine is not very complex. If you eliminate all the frills, you basically pick a meat – steak for example, and they will serve you an Argentinian steak based dinner plate. It’s not like an asian fusion cafe which has a menu thicker than a textbook with NO PHOTOS OF ANYTHING. You’ll flip through 8 pages of chicken dishes and won’t be able to decide whether you want Orange Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken, Broccoli with Chicken, Cashew Chicken, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Mandarin Chicken, Szechuan Chicken, Lemon Chicken, Pineapple Chicken, Sesame Chicken, Spicy Chicken, Chicken Wings, etc, etc ,etc. An hour later, you then need to consult your mates about which main you want. Chow Mein, Noodle Soup, Fried Rice, Steamed Rice, Brown Rice, Ramen, Pho, Spaghetti… the list goes on! My point is, how can one place possibly be good at making all of these things? Well, the short answer is that they can’t.

It is vital for all small businesses to focus on ONE niche and serve that niche to the best of their abilities. For those of you who are local to Los Angeles, you’ll be able to relate to this example… If you are craving an amazing chicken dish, you head to Savoy Kitchen for their Hainan Chicken. If you are craving hot dogs, you might head to Wurstküche, not 7-11. The fact that a place like Burger King serves Oatmeal and Dutch Apple Pies is fucking appalling to me. Who the fuck would go there and order that shit? They may find it profitable to serve oatmeal, but this greed is the reason why Burger King will never become a top level burger joint. Yes, you can basically do everything under the sun once you become a large company (like Hyundai selling cars, microwaves, televisions, and heavy machinery), but for 99% of businesses out there, this is definitely not ideal. Imagine the quality of everything if all these companies lived by this belief. We would have amazing specialty businesses everywhere for everything. Perhaps I’m wrong though, for those of you that want to eat a mediocre rack of lamb with a questionable sashimi appetizer and top that off with a shitty froyo dessert, I guess buffets exist for you.

I basically find myself in this situation right now. It is time to refocus, do just a few things better than everyone else, and most importantly, KEEP THINGS MANAGEABLE!

Words by Alex Zhao.