The story of the foreigner with almost no money and only minor English-speaking skills armed with nothing more than a dream and an undying vision of success on U.S. soil isn’t anything new. Some of today’s largest, multi-million-dollar companies started off as nothing more than a raggedy hot dog stand on a street corner, its owner struggling for every cent. It’s one of our country’s biggest draws, and the stories, if nothing else, offer some serious inspiration for those hoping to make it big in America. In the automotive bubble, there are those who have already been there and done that, those who are working hard to establish themselves, and those who might take advantage of those who don’t research.
In our industry, there are a number of signs that determine if a company’s actually made it, but the most important is whether or not they’re turning a profit. The truth is, no matter how many people vouch for your product, no matter how many people praise it as the absolute best, if you’re bleeding money rather than breaking even at the very least, then you’re not really making it. It’s a tough business, and with the booming influx of Internet-savvy car enthusiasts, it’s become even tougher. No matter how good your intentions, no matter how superior your product might be, there’s a network of naysayers with itchy trigger fingers who are relishing in the thought of tearing you a new one via the web. Like it or not, this is where our community is currently, and it doesn’t look to be letting up anytime soon. Negativity reigns supreme, unlike yesteryear. Some of the bigger names have been on the receiving end of an Internet witch hunt, and at the end of the day, 2 percent of those leading the charge were actually making valid points, the other 98 percent were bored, looking for something to be part of.
I regularly see a group of motivated small business owners that are pushing forward with no financial backing, other than their own personal bank account and probably a few credit cards. Though the odds are always stacked against an up-and-comer, these guys are a little different in that they live and breathe Hondas. Rather than coming up with new parts or ideas in a boardroom, they simply put their finger on the pulse of the community that they’re an integral part of, which in my eyes, is a definite advantage. They’ve realized a very specific, very demanding niche market that perhaps some of the larger companies haven’t catered to, and it’s proven to be the magic touch. Gil Salazar of CircuitHero.com started off with just one item: a shift extender that became wildly popular. It pushed him to introduce a full line of products on his website. A sure sign of success is the numerous replicas of that very same shift extender that have popped up all over the web.
Raul Ramirez recently launched his new company, Checkerdsports.com, and his billet steering bosses and ECU holders have proven to be so popular that demand is actually exceeding supply—a very good problem to have for a new business.
Frank Garcia of downstarinc.com specializes in hardware packages for engine bays and other parts of the vehicle—saving you time and money by purchasing a complete kit rather than hunting for what you need through catalogs. People often throw the words “hustling” or “grinding” around carelessly, but if you really want to define those terms, take a look at Frank’s last few years. I’ve yet to attend a California-based event where he didn’t have a Downstar/BoltBoys booth set up to sell product and answer questions, and he regularly goes through late-night stints of prepping orders for shipment. This is all done while maintaining a regular day job as well.
The point is, here are three regular guys just like you and me, addicted to all things automotive (especially Hondas), blazing their own trail toward success. And by that, I mean they’re not waiting for something to fall into their laps, and when they’re old and gray, they’re certainly not going to be telling their grandchildren how they wish they’d given it a shot. They’re taking it. Right now.
Fake It Till You Make It…
The fly-by-night business is a booming one. We see them come and go every day, though with the help of popular auction sites and clever packaging, some of them stay a bit longer than one would hope. This is a normal part of any industry and ours is really no different. Rebadged replicas, outright fraudulent copies, and inferior product snake their way into the market with relative ease. I think there’s definitely a distinction between replica parts that emulate, yet carry considerable quality to keep the parts safe for the end user, and the type of replica parts made solely as a quick rip-off—intended to fool the consumer and not to perform safely or properly. Those scare me. With one the consumer is making a decision based on his economic standing and with the other, well, they’re being taken. Do your research, know what it is you’re getting, and buy into quality, not hype—regardless of whom the product is coming from.