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Secret to Success – Ben Bermudez

Being privileged enough to be born within a family business can sometimes almost guarantee success in life. This would have been the case for Ben Bermudez, unfortunately mother nature destroyed not only his family business, but also his home and way of living. With this setback in life, Ben took a proactive approach in learning about his passion of cars and now owns Wheels Boutique, the nations largest wheel dealer.
Tell us about your childhood and your parents business…

I grew up in Miami, FL but more specifically the Redlands area. My family business was agriculture and we had few 100 acres lots and grew mostly coconut trees for resale. I would of probably stayed in the family business but fate would have it in 1992 for Hurricane Andrew to destroy our business and our way of life, leveling our house to the floor, and all our trees! Nothing was left, so we moved and just lead a normal suburb life.

It took 6 months plus just to get power at the house which was leveled. It was crazy because the life I knew and trusted was gone. Our family business was gone and its was time to start all over and not by choice. I was young but it was scary. Still to this day I have nightmares about this event.

Many people don’t know you hold a masters degree in business. Has it helped you?

In this industry I couldn’t tell you, it’s all about taste. I think Wheels Boutique is modeled by my personal style and look of cars. As you can see, our cars are not over done with exaggerated body kits,  color changing paint jobs, and so many mods that you don’t even know what car it is. Why destroy the lines of a car? For that start with a different platform.

What kind of jobs did you have after the setback?

I started in the wheel industry as a salesman in 1994 and ended up managing a large wheel mail order company. Within weeks I out sold everyone and just loved it. It wasn’t a necessity, rather more for experience and to learn the industry, you have to start somewhere.

I hated selling off the shelf cheap wheels since I already had clientele interested in custom wheels since I was building custom spec wheels that no one else could. This started with custom HRE wheels in 1997 at the company I was working. I couldn’t really service my high end clients so, I decided I need to do this for myself. In 1999, I opened Wheels Boutique.

How large has Wheels Boutique grown since you’ve started in 1999?

Well Wheels Boutique started in a 500 sq ft location in 1999 only doing mail order. Now we have 2 built locations with 3rd one in the works. Main warehouse now is 15000 sq ft and our retail location is 3500 sq ft. Employees including myself and my partner Carlos bring the total up to 21 total now.

My partner Carlos was brought on in the beginning for help. Carlos ran Wheels Boutique and all the accounting from day 1 and he is Vice President and now a brother to me.  You need someone you can really trust.

After launching Wheels Boutique, was it successful from the launch?

Well in 1999 there weren’t any three piece companies like there is now. Back then you had HRE, Racing Hart and Lowenhart who really ran the game. There weren’t forums like now and everything was magazine ads. We got rolling by offering wheels to high end cars in which no one else knew the fitments/specs to which got me my nick name ‘wheel god’. We know specs enough to push wheels to the limits.

Honestly, I wish it was like back then where you don’t have everyone just slapping a name on no name brand wheels and saying it’s the best. They’re just over whelming the market and honestly customers end up with junk.

That’s why at Wheels Boutique we don’t sell no name brands. People just don’t understand why companies like HRE have been around forever and the engineering that goes into building wheels. I won’t name names but you have to see how many wheels we see that fail and honestly put a customer’s life at risk. This is why we don’t sell those brands. So if brands aren’t listed by us, do your research because we did.

In 2003 we became HRE’s largest dealer in the world and have never looked back since. We also have been the largest dealer for a lot of other brands but most recently when we acquired ADV1 as a new brand, we also became their largest dealer overnight.

Did you have any significant setbacks or obstacles as you were building your company?

Yes, plenty of obstacles. Finding good guys to work for us has always been hard and in the beginning cash flow was always hard to find.  Especially in 2004 when we tripled in size just out of demand.

What do you offer that other dealers do not?

A lot but mostly 15 years of custom wheel experience. People need to research where they buy from before they buy. We have full staff of over 21 people and have been in business since 1999. A lot of online stores are young guys out of their bedroom and its easy for them to close and run off with your money and have zero knowledge of this industry. We stand behind all of our fitments and stand behind all brands we sell.

I have always been in the wheel industry since day 1! I’m mostly known for my custom offsets and super aggressive fitments and color combos that other can’t replicate. Such as my SLS AMG and 1st Nissan GTR ever done with 375 rear tires!

Do most of your sales come from online or offline?

Well depends which location. Obviously our retail store mostly does walk-ins, while our main warehouse does everything but most sales are phone orders.  We service people all over the world who can’t get the look they want until they call Wheels Boutique.

Was Wheels Boutique affected by the recession?

Honestly what recession? I’m very proud to say that. We have seen some dips in our market but really never affected us! Either we’re that good or god really likes us. I’ll take either one.

What do you consider the most important aspect on a set of wheels?

The most important aspect is fitment. Anyone can bolt on a wheel but will it be right?  Wheels with a perfect lip, not so cambered that the wheels look like they face the sky but ‘hella flush’ style, making it fit so perfect that it looks like the wheel and car just flow perfect.

We don’t like to make cars look like rainbows and incorporate 5 different colors into wheels, especially if they aren’t part of the original car color. The most popular finish is two tone brushed with polished windows.

I believe the main brands we carry have the perfect style to fit every taste and gap in the wheels industry. I guess that can be easily proven as we’re the world’s largest dealer for what most people believe to be the hottest brand in the wheels game: HRE and ADV1!

What was hot for 2011 and where are things moving towards in 2012?

Main trends in 2011 was concave or conical design as some manufactures use different terms. But still the hottest to date is forged monoblock 1 piece design. People really like the durability and style of a forged 1 piece design. As for something new I have seen a few things in the works that will change the wheel game again.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in the wheel game?

Buy mine cause I won’t do this again lol. It’s a very very hard industry. I have seen countless stores in every avenue open and close in my last 12 years doing this. It’s not easy and it’s not about how much money you have. Selling is all about reputation, style, and image.

Where do you see Wheels Boutique in five years?

I’m not a dreamer in that way but I hope to have a larger operation and more involved in wholesale as were expanding that department as we speak. A few more retail store wouldn’t hurt either.

What does success mean for you?

Success to me is being content with what you have, although I do consider myself content but I always want more for me and my company and strive for it daily. As of today I feel very successful. Especially after doing what others have tried to do and failed, I guess makes anyone feel good.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

I really don’t know what to say without sounding cliché — but if you truly believe and want something bad enough you will accomplish it.

What was your project car growing up before you started Wheels Boutique?

Wow my 1st car build is still famous here in these parts. It was a 1st ever fully built 1996 Honda Prelude with an S trim Vortech supercharger making over 600 WHP.  It ran low 11’s back in the day with no traction and would break axles at the track every time but it was a street monster.

Of all the project cars you’ve done, which would you say is the most memorable?

Wow for the earlier projects I have built and owned over 50 cars personally to date.  I don’t know where to begin but 1 of my favorites was my 1997 Dodge Viper GTS with 250 shot of nitrous and my 2002 E39 BMW M5 with 200 shot of nitrous also which would eat Porsche turbos with 4 people in the sedan. That was an epic car!

What are you currently got in the garage for daily and weekend use?

Well right now I have 2011 Mercedes SLS AMG, 2012 Porsche Turbo cabriolet, 2011 Audi R8 v10 and my daily is a 2011 Ford Raptor and or 2011 BMW X5M. Each have custom wheels of course and too many mods to list.  I’m my own best customer lol.

We want to thank Ben Bermudez of WheelsBoutique for sharing his story with us. Together with HRE Wheels and ADV1 Wheels, WheelsBoutique will for sure make a statement in 2012. We look forward to what they come up with in the coming months.

Make sure to check out WheelsBoutique at:

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