LOS ANGELES – Consumers who consider cars as commodities baffle Beau Boeckmann.
“I don’t understand those people,” says the president of Galpin Auto Sports LLC, customizing arm of Galpin Motors, a 9-brand dealership group in California’s San Fernando Valley.
As an avid and innovative car customizer, Boeckmann connects with people who buy vehicles that say – even shout – something about them as owners.
“Cars are the most beloved inanimate object,” he says. “Lots of people like to express themselves through the cars they drive.”
Some of his more expressive customers want creations that turn heads and attract crowds in parking lots.
His father, Bert Boeckmann, owner of the Galpin group, started at Galpinas a salesman 54 years ago. A few years later, he bought the dealership, making it the world’s No.1 Ford store for 20 years. Early on, he became a customizing pioneer by first creating “surfer vans” for the beach crowd.
“The conversion-van business came out of Galpin,” the younger Boeckmann says here at a recent Automotive Customer Centricity Summit. “It started when a kid said, ‘If you put a carpet in that van, I’ll buy it.’ Galpin had been selling 20 vans a month. That went to 120 when we started converting them.”
Some of the more off-beat conversions included installing a chandelier in one van and, in another, a fireplace with a nude painting hanging over it. For his honeymoon, a romantic-minded customer ordered a love nest on wheels with assorted features.
Beau Boeckmann has taken “Galpinizing” to the next level,” says John Waraniak, vice president-vehicle technology for the Specialty Equipment Market Assn.
“Pimp My Ride,” a popular cable show on vehicle customizing, shot several episodes at Galpin.
“That helped propel our recognition,” Beau Boeckmann says. “We’re building on history, with a modern twist. Now, we’re customizing all makes and models.”
That includes installing aftermarket equipment to enhance a vehicle’s performance and looks, both inside and out. Particularly popular are hydraulics that lift and lower vehicles at the flick of a switch.
“We’re the ultimate toy store,” Boeckmann says. “The idea is, ‘You’ll see things at Galpin that you won’t see anywhere else.’ But not everything is wild.”
Then again, some creations are, such as the “Coffin Cruiser,” a hearse-like pickup truck – black, of course – with a coffin and an organ in back.
“My dad said, ‘That will never sell,’” recalls the younger Boeckmann. To his relief, it did after someone saw it displayed at the Los Angeles auto show.
Another Galpin eye-catcher is a promotional vehicle built for the U.S. Air Force. It features a single cockpit-style seat and a dashboard with three computer screens. Because of some technological installations, Galpin had to sign a military-security agreement.
Accessory sales strengthen dealership customer retention and boost profits, Waraniak says. “You can customize more profitably if you bundle things together.”
Yet, some dealers have stumbled trying to make a go at customizing. Boeckmann suspects they didn’t have their hearts in it.
“It probably wasn’t their passion,” he says. “It’s likely someone at a dealership was given it as an assignment just to make money. But my dad tells sales people, ‘If you are in this business to make money, you’ll fail. If you are in it to service customers, you’ll succeed.’”
The accessory business is tricky because it involves selling “everything a customer wants but doesn’t need,” Waraniak says.
Boeckmann agrees. But he offers a few tips on how to do it right.
One, train salespersons carefully. Two, display accessorized vehicles on the lot. “Otherwise, it’s hard for people to visualize,” he says. “Pre-loading the car has been most successful for us.”
Customizing business was off for Galpin last year as economically buffeted Californians cut back on spending.
Moreover, some surveys indicate “teens aren’t into cars as much as they used to be,” Boeckmann says. “It’s probably just that they haven’t figured it out yet.”
Still, a lot of his customers keep coming back for more. “They add to what they already have,” he says. “I think that as soon as they get a paycheck, they want to buy a new add-on.”
He describes his father as “the most-honest person I’ve ever met in my life.”
At age 79, the elder Boeckmann doesn’t like change, “but isn’t afraid of it,” says his son. “If it helps business, he’s all for it.”
The younger Boeckmann describes himself as the luckiest guy in the world. “I love what I do. I love the car business.”