No one has surfed California's endless wave of enthusiasm for cars more successfully than Los Angeles-area auto dealer Bert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Motors Inc.
Over the past 50 years, Boeckmann has built Galpin Ford in North Hills into the highest-volume Ford dealership in the world.
While he was at it, Boeckmann built successful Aston Martin, Jaguar, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercury, Volvo and Saturn stores, too.
Next year he will open a Honda dealership.
One foundation of Boeckmann's 60-acre empire remains the Ford store.
But an equally important foundation is his interest in ideas that drive foot traffic, sales and general customer interest.
These include an on-site restaurant, in-house Starbucks franchise and, perhaps most important, a concept called Galpinizing.
Boeckmann, 74, doesn't take credit for the idea that led to Galpinizing. He says Frank Galpin, the Ford store's founder, gave him the idea more than 50 years ago by customizing a new 1952 Ford to look like a Lincoln. But Boeckmann (pronounced "Bockman") expanded the concept and gave it its name.
Vehicles with a difference
Galpinizing is the addition of custom touches that personalize a vehicle. They can range from a set of aftermarket wheels to remakes that result in wild pieces of automotive art, complete with custom paint, interior, wheels and an elaborate audio/video system.
The system works so well, Boeckmann says, that as soon as the customized units go on view, they're sold.
"We just took a look at how to make cars different so that customers would want to buy them," Boeckmann says.
"We had fun. It was nice to have something others didn't have, and we'd see people get excited about what we had. It was amazing."
The success stories are many. They began in 1959 with custom paint, pinstriping and landau tops. They include accessories such as purses and scarves that match custom vinyl tops.
Boeckmann says he remembers a woman buying a car because she liked the purse that came with it.
"We had just got it done, and a surfer dude walked in and said that if we'd put carpet on the floor, he'd take it. With that concept, we went from selling 15 vans a month to selling 125 a month. Next (about 1968) we started building 4x4s. Nobody else was doing it. We put on winches, special tires and wheels and gun racks. We used to sell two 4x4s a year. Soon we were selling 25 a month. Right away, we knew we had something."
The effect on overall sales has been startling: Of the 16,000 new units Galpin moved in 2004 from all of its dealerships, 25 percent, or 4,000, bore the stamp of Galpinizing.
A Galpinized vehicle can cost from $500 - for custom wheels - to thousands of dollars above sticker price. For example, a base Mustang with a V-6 costs $2,495 more when Galpinized with custom wheels, alarm and rear wing. A Galpinized Mustang GT with custom exhaust, custom grille, 20-inch wheels, alarm and window tint bumps in price $7,721.
Most Galpinized units come from the Ford store, says 35-year-old Beau Boeckmann, Bert's son, who spearheads the Galpinizing program. But even custom-ordered Aston Martins aren't immune. A few of those get custom wheels, Beau Boeckmann says.
"Our starting point is asking: 'What have I not seen before?'" Beau Boeckmann says.
"The ideas come late at night in my head, or maybe I'll see a crazy idea on TV, or there'll be an idea hatched in a brainstorming meeting."
He adds: "The most important thing is, you have to listen to what people want, what they're thinking about, and about what the salespeople hear."
Tiki, T-Birds and more
Once an idea is approved - whether it's just wheels and tires, custom paint, a custom interior or a special audio/video installation, the work is done by a team of 10 specialists at Galpin's new North Hills facility, Galpin Auto Sports.
The $2 million-plus Galpin Auto Sports has 18 service bays to assemble vehicles and 7,000 feet of showroom space to sell custom items such as parts, accessories and clothing.
The results can be varied - everything from a wheel-tire upgrade to a wild 2005 Ford F-250 Crew Cab diesel pickup called the Tiki Truck.
The Tiki has a hot tub in the bed, a generator, teakwood deck, frozen drink machine, cooler and barbecue grill. The rig is topped off with Polynesian-themed wheels, grille, seats and paint job.
Galpin has not sold the Tiki Truck, which was built for the company's annual car calendar. If a customer is interested, though, it will cost him or her $83,500, Beau Boeckmann says. That's a little more than $40,000 above sticker price, he says.
Bert Boeckmann recalls that one of Galpin's most successful efforts involved the 2002-05 Ford Thunderbird.
"In 1957 the original version came in a nice shade of pink with a white interior," he says. "We painted a new one that color and put on some whitewall tires. We sold a number of those.
"We try to have representative stock all the time. Usually, the customer will buy what he or she sees. Customers can request their own modifications to these cars, but for every one a customer asks us to modify, we have seven or eight Galpinized cars ready to go. Mostly, they're attracted to what they see, and they buy it."
Bert Boeckmann, left, and his son Beau built the Tiki Truck for Galpin's annual calendar. The Tiki has Polynesian-themed wheels, grille, seats and paint job, a hot tub in the bed, frozen drink machine, cooler and barbecue grill. Price: $83,500. PHOTOS: JON F. THOMPSON