Crutchfield Soups Up Its Product Line

Car stereo equipment accounts for half of Crutchfield Corp.’s $192 million in annual sales. So it’s not too surprising that the consumer electronics cataloger has expanded into the auto accessories market. Its latest catalog, which mailed April 28, includes a 16-page bound-in insert selling such items as shift knobs, pedals, gauges, and accent lights.

“There seems to be a movement that reached mass culture with the 2001 [drag-racing] movie The Fast and the Furious,” says Crutchfield’s vice president of marketing, Alan Rimm-Kaufman. “The market is undoubtedly getting bigger, having grown by more than 50% in 2001 to $14 billion.”

Rimm-Kaufman says that over the past few years, the average age of the Charlottesville, VA-based company’s target customer has increased to the mid-30s from 30 a little less than a decade ago. The so-called sporty car market generally caters to males 16-25 years old. Entering this market gives Crutchfield an opportunity to expand its audience.

But Ed Bjorncrantz, a partner with Evanston, IL-based consulting firm The Callahan Group and a former vice president at car parts cataloger J.C. Whitney, warns that prospecting could be difficult. “It’s a very young, highly mobile and transient customer,” he says. Many of these customers don’t even have their driver’s licenses yet and still live at home. “So finding mailing lists in this business is difficult, because the names can degrade very rapidly,” he notes.

Nonetheless, because so many of the electronic components that Crutchfield sells don’t require replenishment for years, the cataloger is banking on the new market to provide an influx of repeat buyers. “When our customers buy electronics from us,” Rimm-Kaufman says, “they’re done for a while. The products last, and we have to wait for them to change cars before they’ll buy more car audio equipment from us.

Although Crutchfield’s mainline electronics carry an average ticket of $300, the new car accessories average $50 in price. But the cataloger believes customers will place larger orders — ordering, say, more than a half-dozen car accessories compared with one stereo component, thereby generating a higher average order size.

What’s more, Crutchfield believes that the car accessories market is wide open. While competitors include retailers such as AutoZone and Napa, catalogs such as J.C. Whitney and AJ Prindle, and Websites such as ProTop International and Auto Accessories Zone, Rimm-Kaufman says that few of them speak to the “fashion” element of the accessories market. “There’s no good distribution, no good product availability,” he says.

Bjorncrantz disagrees, however. “Crutchfield is an excellent company with a great customer service approach, but it’s a little late getting in,” he says. Not only has Whitney been in this market for the past two years, says Bjorncrantz, “but there are also a lot of little stores all over the place that sell accessories and know what they’re talking about.”

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