Lessons For Magento From The Automotive Restoration Industry

Magento Appears To Be Promoting “Quick” To Combat Disruption From Below

Magento has recently been promoting a story about a 10-day, start to finish eCommerce build. I’m sure we’ve all heard similar marketing messages about how easy it is to get a store up and running in quick and simple fashion. There are some people in the community that are concerned with the implications of that messaging. Is this going to become a persistent theme that we are going to hear more of or just an edge case? I believe the concern is valid based on my own personal experiences in the automotive restoration market.

Magento is the go-to choice for eCommerce operations that need to granularly control their customer interactions. It’s flexibility is unsurpassed and it’s primary market has been those that need this flexibility and invest in customizing the platform. Although quick and fairly “stock” builds are very possible, the assumption if you are utilizing Magento is that you are looking to build something custom. I am assuming it’s this assumption that Magento is trying to shift in order to combat “disruption from below” with SaaS platforms. However, what are the ramifications of shifting this perception?

Customers Assume That Quick Is Inexpensive

Good, cheap, fast: pick two. That’s a phrase I use commonly. It’s goal is to convey that doing things well and fast take a lot of resources and thus can’t be inexpensive. Unfortunately, most customers don’t understand this simple fact. In a project where the costs are strongly tied to the amount of time it takes to complete a project they often assume that if it is done quickly then it must be more reasonably priced. They think in days, not resource hours. They fail to consider that one day can easily be hundreds of resource hours if you have enough people working on the project.

An Automotive Restoration Is Very Similar To An eCommerce Build

This false understanding in the marketplace is one that I am very familiar with as it has plagued the automotive restoration industry for over a decade. This example is an extreme case, but it’s in extreme cases where the affects are obvious.

If you don’t already know, I love cars. My spare time is consumed with working on and enjoying all types of automobiles from classics to modern muscle cars. I have a 1963 Impala that has been in three restoration shops over the course of 8 years so the problems in that industry are one’s I’ve seen first hand.

It’s amazing how similar an automotive restoration project is to a complex eCommerce build. The costs are largely affected by the resource hours spent on the project, it’s very heavily reliant on proper project management and managing client expectations, and it takes a variety of skilled craftsmen. This is why I think it parallels an eCommerce development project enough to see how it’s problems could also apply to our industry.

Television Popularity Skews Perception

2004 was an important year for the automotive aftermarket industry. They broke into the mainstream with the premier of shows like Overhaulin’, American Hot Rod, and Pimp My Ride following the success that the custom motorcycle show American Chopper had in 2003. These shows often focused on the drama more than the actual build, but they all condensed a car build down to single episode and in some cases like Overhaulin’ showed that completing a very complex automotive project in a week was a very possible task. Even though the clues were there, they failed to convey to the audience the amount of preparation and highly skilled resource hours went into the project.

A Market Void Will Be Filled

The popularity of these shows drummed up a huge market of people wanting to restore or customize their cars. Unfortunately for many restorations shops, most of this market had very unreasonable expectations of budget and complexity of what they were asking for. It did help book up the reputable shops but it also created this very large underserved market of people with unreasonable expectations of quality and price.

The focus on the drama more than the actual work in these programs left the impression to many that the work was not nearly as complex as it actually is. Take a growing and underserved low-end market and the impression that the work is not very difficult (anyone’s nephew can build a website, right?) and you end up with a lot of under-qualified people filling that void. This led to an epidemic of new restoration shops that made promises to clients that they could not even come close to delivering. They cut corners, butchered projects with unskilled workers, and took customer’s money and destroyed cars. Countless amounts of consumers exists with stories worse than mine never seeing their cars again or picking it up in pieces after years of waiting and tens of thousands of dollars never to be recovered.

Market Perception Is Reality

The “unreasonable” market was so big that these types of low quality shops seem to become the norm instead of the exception. The market is not educated enough to be able to distinguish the players from the pretenders which compounds the problem and creates the perception that the entire industry is untrustworthy.

Be Careful Crafting That Message

I understand the need to position the Magento platform competitively against the SaaS competitors. It is definitely true that you can get a site up with Magento quickly if you need to do so. However, I just want us to be careful as a community in crafting that message and to make sure that we don’t foster and grow a market with unreasonable expectations.