|Mark Stek (left) with celebrity client Rampage Jackson.
At age 35, Mark Stek, an Oskaloosa, Iowa, native, and Iowa State graduate, currently holds the position of marketing director for Kelderman Manufacturing. Also known to SEMA members as Kelderman Air Suspension Systems, Kelderman is a diverse and unique SEMA-member company that manufactures and fabricates everything from agricultural parts to air suspension systems for a customer base that is as diverse as their products.A 12-year veteran with Kelderman, Stek grew up around the automotive industry as the son of a hot rodder. He now applies a synergy of his sports marketing/management degree emphasis with his hot-rodding roots to foster relationships with celebrities and bring added value to both his company and his customers. We sat down with Stek to discuss his experiences working with VIP customers and how they may benefit other young executives in our industry.
How did you get started with celebrity/VIP builds?
The UFC's Rampage Jackson approached us a few years ago at the SEMA Show. He already had a lifted truck, but really wanted our suspension on it. Once the logistics were worked out, his truck came to our shop in Iowa and we totally transformed it. We created a video for YouTube that showed the build from beginning to end and that has really increased our exposure. Our celebrity clients, so far, all have reached out to us to receive our product.
What’s the best part about developing this type of business?
The best part about working with celebrity customers is that it is really a neat experience for all of our employees. When they visit our facility, everyone is eager to meet them and maybe get a picture and/or autograph. The guys we have worked with have been more than accommodating, which makes it a lot of fun.
What do you find to be most difficult when working with this type of clientele?
The most difficult part about working with celebrity customers is that their scheduling is very complex. Celebrities are often short on time on a fairly consistent basis. In Rampage’s case, he was training in the U.K. while we were working on his truck. He was coming back to the States for a couple of weeks to visit family, so we had a very small window of time in which the truck needed to be complete and he could visit our facility for the “reveal.” In other instances, you might be dealing with working around the end of a baseball season as was the case with Wes Helms. Being able to meet their schedule and their expectations is very challenging.
How do you find and cultivate these types of contacts?
We want the process to be as “organic” as possible. We know there are celebrities out there who like what we can offer, but maybe haven’t heard about us. Informing them about us is important so they can make a decision based on what they want rather than forcing it. We are confident that we have a great product and the satisfaction of our customers really speaks to that. We work closely with our outside PR agency (Martin & Co.) that, when necessary, can use their more appropriate contacts in order to help us develop a relationship between Kelderman and a particular celebrity.
How do you utilize those relationships and builds in a positive way to impact customer interaction with your brand or products?
We try to utilize the celebrity status of our customer in as many ways as possible to help promote our company. We had Rampage sign autographs at our SEMA Show booth in 2010. We have also included our celebrity customers in some of our promotional material, ads, website, Facebook, etc., in order to help people associate that celebrity with our brand.
What benefit does Kelderman receive from working with celebrities?
The benefit that our company receives from being associated with celebrities is that it increases credibility. When you consider the fact that they are able to have the best of the best and they choose your company, it says a lot. It also allows our products more exposure and the potential customers to associate a product they may be unfamiliar with to someone that they may already be familiar with.
What advice would you offer to other YENsters looking to reach out to build these types of relationships either on their own or on behalf of their company?
When doing anything to help grow a company, you must use every resource that is available to you to your fullest advantage. Developing relationships and trust will take time, so be patient.
Are there any specific advantages that you feel the younger people in our industry may have when working with celebrity/VIP customers? Any disadvantages?
A younger generation in the industry will have more experience with a younger, up-and-coming crowd of celebrities, so that will allow for a better understanding of the market to which that celebrity will appeal to. There is a good chance that a celebrity will be similar in age, so conversations about personal interests, family, etc., will even be easier.