2023 SEMA Hall Of Fame Inductee
Kunzman & Associates
Few people entering an established industry can literally invent a position. And even fewer can land that position at one of the industry’s biggest hitters. But as the first service rep for speed-parts giant Mr. Gasket, John Iannotte can claim both accomplishments and one more: He did both before his 21st birthday.
Iannotte’s roots in the industry are literally grass: He met veteran speed-parts rep Bob Barker by mowing his lawn. “Bob told me one time, ‘You work hard for me here, and one of these days I’ll bring you on the road with me,’” he said. “October 4, 1974, I went on the road for Joe Hrudka, Herbie Goldstein and Bob Barker.”
What differentiated his role was its scope in the aftermarket industry. “Before then we had tech [and sales] reps,” he noted. Though other industries employed reps to service products after the sale (warranty, recall, returns, etc.), the hot-rod industry had only recently risen to the point of warranting them. And Iannotte was the kid they taught to do that work.
“When I left Bob in 1981, I was stepping out on faith,” he continues. Thirty days later, Ken Parks of Parks Auto, Jim Payne of Master’s Warehouse and Perry Turnipseed of TASCO fronted John $25,000 worth of stock to peddle. And when Joe Hrudka bought back Mr. Gasket, he offered Iannotte his old territory.
Iannotte returned to Bob Barker Marketing and Sales in 1989, but under unfortunate circumstances: as one of the beneficiaries of Barker’s estate. “He was like a dad to me,” Iannotte lamented. But as if channeling his mentor, he reinvented himself once again. “That’s when I went out and bought my first trailer to do service work out in the field for the warehouse distributors and jobbers.
“You had all kinds of guys working with NHRA and the manufacturers to go to the races with big trailers and everything,” he explained. “This trailer was to go out and make jobber calls with it, do jobber events, weekend events. We’d all come together as competitors and put on an evening seminar, and I ended up hauling everything from place to place.” In 1997, Iannotte’s agency won the SEMA Manufacturer’s Rep Agency of the Year award.
But it was Iannotte’s work in SEMA’s Manufacturer’s Rep Council (MRC) that probably left the biggest marks. “Ellen McKoy always challenged me to do more for SEMA,” he says.
They devised a certification system for aftermarket technicians. “Well, before ASE would put their blessings on it, each [applicant] had to get ASE A6 certified,” he says. McKoy urged him to get certified. It proved invaluable. “When I was trying to get installers to do the test, they’d say, ‘Man, I don’t know; I’m not good at tests.’ I’d say, ‘Well, I’m just a salesman. If I can pass it, you can pass it.’ And that’s how I got quite a few of them to do it.”
While serving on the MRC, “one of the things I did was to figure out another way to raise the professionalism in our industry,” he continued. Urged by fellow rep Tom Wilson, Iannotte pursued Certified Professional Manufacturer’s Rep accreditation. “I learned a lot that I thought I knew about repping,” he admits. “I learned a lot on the money side, a lot on the logistics of how to go about [it].”
Just as he did with ASE certification, he leveraged his CPMR title to encourage other reps to follow suit. In 2001, he merged his agency with the N.A. Williams Co., the country’s largest traditional rep firm. In 2015, another great opportunity came Iannotte’s way—he joined Kunzman & Associates for the Southeast as the company was building a national rep agency.
Typical rep, Iannotte is always on. But what he’s selling isn’t necessarily something that benefits him, at least directly.
Instead of hoarding the blessings of mentorship, he literally gave them away. ASE certification didn’t benefit him. The guy devoted a part of his career to telling other reps—literally his competition—how to operate at a higher level. Read between the lines and it looks like he wants everyone to thrive.
“You don’t ever know when you need a friend, just even a competitor, whom you can just call and ask them a question,” he says. “Now we’re competing, but we are one big family.”