Reaching out to young, car-obsessed tuners in California is not a new strategy for aftermarket retailers.
But marketers often have difficulty reaching tuners because their preferences tend to change quickly.
For the most part, the tuner business has been a loose collection of parts, tire, car audio, customizing and speed shops, and kiosks on dealership floors. It generally has operated under the radar of retail auto parts chains - until now.
Autobacs Seven Co. of Japan has built what it calls a "car life" store in Stanton, Calif. The 35,000-square-foot store, which opened last year, is intended to bring the concept of a "big box" or "category killer" operation to the automotive aftermarket.
Autobacs executives say the store is a harbinger of a giant retail business that carries bigger inventories in more categories at cheaper prices than smaller stores.
"Autobacs is fine-tuning our first U.S. location," says Bob Donnelly, Autobacs' U.S. marketing director. "Not everything or every concept moved well from Japan to California. But we've fixed most of the problems, and we're going to become even more aggressive."
The company is looking at four more U.S. locations, according to Shopping Center Insider, a trade publication that reports on shopping center development.
Industry analysts say Autobacs' combination of merchandising and entertainment could change how vehicles, as well as auto parts, are sold in this country.
Autobacs is Japan's biggest auto parts retailer, with more than 530 stores in that country. The company's annual revenues exceed $2 billion.
In its first year, the California Autobacs store did more than $9 million in business, the company says. Its sales per square foot are more than twice as high as sales at traditional auto parts stores.
The store offers 10,000 products and more than 800 brands. It stocks 400 wheels.
The Autobacs store includes 14 service bays. Autobacs specializes in tires and wheels, audio and video installation, oil changes and lubrication, and engine upgrades.
Autobacs devotes 5,000 square feet on the store's second floor to what it calls "automobilia." Included are books, magazines, DVDs, toys, models and apparel related to cars. A lounge serves beverages and features a large-screen TV that plays racing videos.