A lot can happen in 34 years. Vehicle platforms, emissions regulations, raw materials, and consumer demand have changed the way the automotive aftermarket does business. According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the aftermarket rose from 7.2 to 36.2 billion dollars between 1990 and 2015. And as forecasters project continued growth through 2018, that means it’s pedal to the metal time.
But despite the impressive longevity of the automotive aftermarket, such success hasn’t been without a fair share of bumps along the way. The rise, fall, and rebound of vehicle sales, state legislation, oil rigging, professional fleet bids, and overall economic stability have impacted business owners significantly the past 10-15 years.
And throughout the last 34 years, Steve’s Vans and Accessories (SV Customs) has managed to survive turbulent times, successfully anticipate new market trends, and diversify the store’s product offerings to thrive in an ever-evolving industry. “I started in this business straight out of high school, working for a local van conversion shop from ’77-’81. After I left, I bought a couple vans and fixed them up for sale. By ’82, a local gas station went out of business and I saw my opportunity. I signed a lease, called Keystone Automotive, and we’ve been doing business ever since,” said Steve Hesson, owner of SV Customs. What began as van conversion and car audio upgrades quickly morphed into truck accessories, professional fleet bids, and an exploding e-commerce presence.
A Family Affair
Located in Marietta, Ohio, SV Customs is a family owned and operated franchised Braun dealer. Hesson’s wife Cindy manages sales, while daughter-in-law Amy oversees the finances and accounting. Sons Josh and Derek have grown up in the shop, studying their father’s business model and then capitalizing on opportunities that have paid healthy dividends throughout the years. Today, they oversee the growing e-commerce department, spray-in bedliner operation, and mobility expansion responsible for taking SV Customs to the next level.
Both boys, regardless of their success in the new business ventures, never forgot their roots and can be found helping their mom Cindy at the sales counter or lending a hand in the repair shop where it all started three decades ago. Today, Steve is still involved in the day-to-day operations, including the growing number of state fleet bids that have allowed him to expand into mobility upfitting. “We’re handling 3-6 fleet bids each month and climbing,” he said.
Since inception, Hesson’s business has benefited from the highest-quality inventory and customer service, delivered by the upmost professionals in a consistent and timely manner. This serves as a foundation of trust to a long lasting, prosperous partnership with Keystone. Hesson discusses four specific areas that contribute to sustainable growth together:
Depth and Breadth of Inventory
Keystone offers its customers product from more than 800 suppliers and access to 165,000 unique SKUs across eight distinct market segments. The sophisticated logistics system operates through a highly reliable and route-based fulfillment network. The seven warehouses and 47 non-inventory stocking cross dock locations are strategically positioned throughout the country to best meet the delivery demands of customers in North America.
“Ninety-nine percent of the product we’re selling or upfitting comes from Keystone. The large offering of brands and products makes it possible for me to diversify and grow,” said Hesson.
During Hesson’s 34 years in business, he’s watched Keystone expand its delivery services in his immediate area from one to five days per week. “Keystone’s delivery system has been a big part of my business continuing on. I know if I order something today, I’m going to have it tomorrow. It makes a huge difference,” he said. What consumers want, they get. If it’s not on the shelves at the point of purchase, then Hesson can confidently stand by next-day delivery with a valued partner like Keystone.
Relationship building is the foundation of long-term partnership. And for Hesson, he couldn’t be more pleased. “From pricing to returns and account reviews, everything is handled quickly and efficiently. Anything we need help with, our account rep goes to bat for us,” he said.
Hesson credits industry events like SEMA and the Keystone BIG Show as primary sources for maintaining a reliable pulse on the dynamic market, its latest trends, and innovative products. Tools like e-Keystone, exclusive distributor promotions, manufacturer rebate offers, and customized marketing programs give the team at SV Customs an advantage. They can remain educated, earn rewards or cash back on purchases that can be reinvested in the business, and build their personal brand.
“We have three counter areas and each sales person is utilizing e-Key all day long to pull up parts, check inventory levels, read descriptions, and evaluate cost,” said Hesson. “Throughout the years, we’ve participated in the Keystone Holiday Program. We always receive the Specialty Catalog and Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and Toyota Vehicle Specific Catalogs,” he added. “When customers come in wanting to accessorize a new vehicle, we hand over the catalogs for them to see the many options.”
Stories like that of SV Customs serve as a reminder of the important aspects of doing great business. This partnership is an excellent example of why Keystone is the leading and largest wholesale distributor and marketer of specialty automotive equipment and accessories in North America: loyal partnership, extensive inventory and delivery services, first-rate service, and exclusive business-building tools.