Cap & Hitch of New England Continues to Broaden Its Scope
Friends for life.
That’s as good a description as any for Jim Maynard and Jeff Hanks, co-owners of Cap & Hitch of New England, a West Springfield store that sells those namesake products, plus dozens of other kinds of car and truck accessories.
“We grew up together in Wilbraham, playing hockey together, going to school together,” said Maynard as the pair sat with BusinessWest in the shop on Riverdale Street where 10 employees work. “Our main guys here are also friends we grew up with. We have a lot of history together, and all of us come from similar industries.”
Hanks, a certified mechanic — he prefers the term “auto technician” — and Maynard, who has worked in a number of automotive-related fields, from snowplowing to auto sales, saw an opportunity several years ago when Hanks’ father was planning to get out of the truck-cap and trailer-hitch business, and they took over ownership of the store.
“We decided to go into business together,” Maynard said. “His father had a business here, mainly caps and hitches. We brought a broader scope to it. We also brought in the whole electronic aspect with a website.”
That site, www.capandhitch.com, details what has become an impressive array of products, including bed liners, tonneau covers, snowplows, emergency lighting, step bars and running boards, grills and grill guards, bug shields, roof racks, rain guards, chrome trim accessories, wheels, ladder racks, toolboxes, shelving — and much more.
“We do contractor equipment, commercial van outfitting, we do everything,” Hanks said. “It’s tough to nail down. We have all types of car accessories, interior and exterior, work-related, aesthetic-related.”
Cap & Hitch fills a need in the marketplace, he added, because many of these products aren’t typically carried by car dealers. “We do a lot of work for dealerships because they don’t want to do that. There aren’t a lot of people doing it.”
Caps and hitches remain the store’s lead products, however, Maynard noted. “We have everything from fiberglass truck caps for commercial and personal use up to heavy-duty commercial caps, and trailer hitches of all types, from small cars to commercial, fifth-wheel, and gooseneck hitches.”
Hanks said the customer base is about 75% retail and 25% commercial, and he and Maynard try to give buyers access to as many product lines as possible. “We have all kinds of truck accessories, towing equipent, snowplows, mobile electronics, emergency lighting, strobe lights for vehicles — you name it.”
For the most part, he added, customers are bringing in newer cars and trucks to get decked out with accessories. “We still get people with used cars who want to get stuff done, but a good majority of the work we do is with new vehicles.”
When he and Maynard took over the business in 2006, “it wasn’t in the best shape to begin with,” Hanks said. “Then, with the recession, we struggled.”
Those struggles were a direct result of depressed auto sales from 2008 onward, which meant fewer customers visiting Cap & Hitch to accessorize.“It was tough,” Maynard said, “but we survived by stressing customer service, getting the job done. We pride ourselves on that. Customers will come in here and say, ‘you guys are so highly recommended, I asked a two friends and a car dealership, and they all said the same thing.’ We put ourselves in customers’ shoes and solve any needs they have. We want to give them fair prices, too.”
Part of staying successful in the business of selling and installing vehicle accessories is keeping on top of new products and trends, whether that’s reading industry publications or attending the annual trade show of the Specialty Equipment Marketing Assoc. One of their more recent services is installing breathalyzer equipment for drivers who are ordered by a court to use them.
“We really want to focus on the product knowledge we have here — our knowledge of what customers need and want,” Maynard said.
Hanks agreed. “We’re constantly updating our knowledge base on new products. So much new stuff comes out every year — new products, new toys. Half the stuff we do now, we didn’t do on day one.”
‘Toys’ is an appropriate word, because car and truck enthusiasts get genuine pleasure from customizing their vehicles to their needs and tastes.
For example, Maynard said, “I’m a drummer. I love music, and even though it isn’t a big part of the business, I love putting a sound system in somebody’s car, somebody who’s also a music lover, and watch them sit in their car and turn it up.”
That’s the kind of enthusiasm he wants to generate with every customer, he added.
“Honestly, besides coming to work with friends and the good times we have, I love delivering a vehicle to a customer, then seeing a smile on their face, seeing them happy with the end product, happy to pay for the job, excited about driving their vehicle.”
Maynard and Hanks enjoy connecting with people outside of the store, too, especially in the realm of youth sports.
“We both play hockey, and we sponsor a lot of youth activities, a lot of youth sports, like the Springfield Caps and various soccer teams,” Maynard said, adding that the company buys jerseys for youth teams and sponsors a golf tournament, among other efforts.
“We want to give back as much as we possibly can,” he added before thinking back to his days in youth hockey. “Part of our upbringing was sports, and we saw good people and small businesses doing things for us. I grew up playing with a sponsor’s name on my shirt so our parents could afford the most ridiculously expensive sport on the planet.”
In addition, Cap & Hitch of New England offers discounts to military, police, and fire personnel, Maynard noted. “They’re out there risking their lives for us so we can get up every day and play with vehicles.”
Hanks finds similar pleasure working in a field he’s loved from his childhood. “My whole family is in the automotive industry in one way or another. I grew up around it.”
And now these lifelong friends are prepared to take Cap & Hitch to the next level, with a goal of eventually moving beyond the small store that’s already bursting with products.
“We’ve continued to grow,” Maynard said. “And we want to keep growing.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]