Founded 51 years ago by Jerry Palanjian, Grand Prix Performance has become the go-to tire and wheel source in the Newport Beach, Calif., area for owners of Porsches, Maseratis, million-dollar Bugattis and other exotic cars.
Grand Prix also offers window tinting, wraps, black-out packages, powder coating and even its own wheel fabrication service that designs and builds tailor-made rims. (No two sets are the same.)
The dealership’s customers have a lot of money to spend, but don’t always know what they want. “They depend on us to guide them,” says Jessica Palanjian Rankin, the company’s vice president.
In this MTD exclusive, she discusses what it takes to serve Grand Prix’s sophisticated customer base, how the dealership keeps up with ever-changing service standards and why the company would rather set - than follow - trends.
MTD: Beyond levels of disposable income, what sets the owners of super-expensive, high-end cars apart from the average buyer and how do their expectations differ?
Palanjian Rankin: We’re in a unique area. We’re in the center of car culture and adjacent to the entertainment industry, with Los Angeles being just north of us. A lot of trends start in California. A lot of innovation comes from this area. So we’re lucky to be in a place where a lot of exciting things are happening.
We have a really sophisticated clientele. People here are exposed to the newest, the latest and the greatest. They see it on the road and in dealerships where the newest cars are.
People here are informed maybe more than the average person when it comes to their vehicles because many of them are enthusiasts.
People here love their cars. They love to drive. And there’s not a lot of public transportation. People are in their cars a lot. Cars are an extension of their personal space and who they are.
They depend on us to guide them. They’re counting on us to be the experts and to take the headaches out of sorting through the endless options.There are some brands people come in for. But I think a lot of times people are looking for us to guide them and help them make good choices.
However, I do think people are the same whether they drive an economy car or a Bugatti. People want the same things. They want to be treated with respect. They want you to respect their time. They want you to listen. And they want you to help them with the process.
That’s all basic stuff, regardless of how much they are willing to spend with us and how expensive their cars are. We don’t treat people differently based on what they’re driving and what they’re going to do with us.
It comes down to expertise. Customers want us to make it easy for them. That’s why they trust us to handle their cars.
MTD: Shop equipment and training needs are different when servicing high-end vehicles. How do you keep your employees current with the latest training and standards?
Palanjian Rankin: You have to stay current with best-in-class equipment. But that being said, if you don’t know how to use it, then it really doesn’t matter. It’s important for us to invest in equipment, but we’ve learned that even more than equipment, you need the right, well-trained people — experienced technicians. That’s a big differentiator for us. You need to know how to troubleshoot. People don’t want to feel like we’re using their car for a trial run.
There’s always something new to learn and we stay up with it because new cars are coming through our shop all of the time.
We recently had a brand new car in - an Audi e-tron. We hadn’t seen it before. We asked the owner to come in for a measuring session to make sure the custom wheels he wanted us to make for him would fit perfectly.
We have techs who have a lot of experience, know our standards and what we expect. Customers know our guys because they see the same faces. A lot of times, customers will bring in lunch for them when they’re working on their cars. They know it’s a team effort.
Our employees are a big part of our story - the expertise and knowledge they have compared to people who might be trying to build a new team from scratch. You can tell the difference and you can feel the difference.
As a consumer, I know the frustration I feel when (dealing with) lack of service or expertise. I think people today are even more appreciative of our brand of service.
We also have good relationships with our tire manufacturers and tire vendors. We rely on them to spend time with us, keep us informed and train our guys about products. We’re also active members of Independent Tire Dealers Group LLC and we participate in the Tire Industry Association.
And we’re hands-on as a family. My dad, who recently turned 81, is here every day. He oversees everything that’s going on. We answer the phone ourselves. We don’t have a phone tree. You come in and you can talk to a person. We’re always available. We want to help people solve their problems and purchase the things they want to buy.
Whatever it is, we’re here to handle it as soon as we can and as well as we can. And I think that’s becoming more and more rare.
MTD: Custom wheel demand can ebb and flow in different parts of the country, but wheel sales have always been strong in southern California. What are the secrets to selling custom wheels and keeping up with the ever-changing styles and preferences?
Palanjian Rankin: We like to think of ourselves as taste-makers. We’re always looking to see what the latest and greatest is. What are the new finishes? What are the new styles? What are the new fitments? We’re starting trends. We’re not just responding to them.
We have a wheel manufacturing facility that’s run by my brother, Alex. We can innovate and create products. We can see what works and what doesn’t. We can take risks. We can do bespoke projects. We can do one-offs. We can do smaller batches.
We can maintain control and quality in a way that when dealing with third parties, you can’t always do. We control the process because we’re not at the mercy of other people.
Alex knew we could do it well and he was right. He’s very committed to quality and precision.
We deal with wheel vendors, also. Because we are so close to so many (wheel) manufacturers, we have stock. And we also have access to a lot of suppliers that can provide products very quickly. I think if we were somewhere else in the country where we had to rely on long freight times, it would be a different story.
You need to have things in stock for people who want it right now. But with the custom stuff, you’re going to have to wait no matter what because it’s a fitment specific to your vehicle. It’s not a bolt-on.
Our customers don’t always know what they want, but they know where they want to end up. We help them get there