People Places & Racing News

Josh Poulson: SEMA Person of the Year

By Mike Imlay

This past November 3, nearly 3,000 industry professionals gathered for the annual 2022 SEMA Show Industry Awards Banquet in Las Vegas. The Thursday-night celebration encompasses the presentation of several distinguished honors, but perhaps none as prestigious as the SEMA Person of the Year Award. Beyond any personal or professional achievements, the award pays tribute to an individual who embodies service and dedication to the specialty automotive industry and the advancement of SEMA members throughout the aftermarket.

Josh Poulson

SEMA Person of the Year Josh Poulson at the 2022 SEMA Show Pro Council Booth. Poulson is the current PRO chair.

For 2022, the award went to SEMA Professional Restylers Organization (PRO) Council Chair Josh Poulson. The principal of Auto Additions, Poulson is well known for his industry leadership contributions, philanthropy and overall positive influence on SEMA members.

“SEMA is proud to recognize Josh Poulson as our 2022 Person of the Year,” said SEMA President and CEO Mike Spagnola. “Josh has long been an active SEMA member who exemplifies the association’s spirit of volunteerism. He has served many years on the PRO council and on multiple SEMA task forces. More recently, first as a PRO select-committee member and now as chair, he has guided PRO in creating incredible benefits for its members, including sales and installer training programs. We congratulate Josh on this well-deserved honor.”

Person of the Year

Poulson (right) receives his Person of the Year Award from Sara Morosan, the prior year’s honoree, at the 2022 SEMA Industry Awards Banquet. Jarod DeAnda (left) emceed the event.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Poulson began his aftermarket career at age 16, when a friend recruited him as a part-time technician for Auto Additions. In Poulson’s words, it was more a “fluke” than anything else—simply a job to work himself through college.

“I showed up the first day and asked, ‘What do we do?’ And he said, ‘Well, we put sunroofs and striping on cars and stuff like that.’ I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ To be honest, cars weren’t really my first love,” Poulson recalls.

“I was an installer for probably about six or seven years, and they realized I wasn’t that great of one, but I was dependable. I had my strengths and my weaknesses, but I was better at talking to people. So one year they all went to the SEMA Show and left me to run things. When they came back, the owner [Ken Morris] said, ‘Oh man, he did a great job while we were gone. Let’s, put him into management/sales,’ and my role just grew from there.”

Moving up the ranks, Poulson became good friends with Morris and his wife Vicki, who together entrusted him with their company in 2000. “I still keep in frequent contact with them—they’re actually still part of the business. They’ve just treated me like a son going on 30 years now. They’ve always given me the [business] freedom when I’ve needed it, and their mentorship when I’ve needed it,” said Poulson.

Josh Poulson

As a SEMA council volunteer, Poulson has built strong relationships with his association peers. Here he is pictured with (from left) SBN select-committee member Tiffanie Hartenstein, SEMA Council Director Nicole Bradle, SEMA Council Director Denise Waddingham, his wife Amanda, and SBN member Melissa Parker.

Under Poulson’s guidance, Auto Additions has since doubled its sales to become one of the nation’s premier restyling brands, employing more than 35 people serving car dealerships and the retail public alike with more than 300 accessories and services. Along the way, Poulson became an increasingly active member of PRO and was named the council’s Restyler of the Year in 2012 and PRO Person of the Year in 2015. Having served on the PRO select committee since 2013, he was recently elected council chair. He is also a veteran of more than 25 SEMA Shows.

In addition to his work with PRO, Poulson is part of a group of individuals who formed Restylers United in 2006. Representing top non-competing restyling businesses from around the country, Restylers United members meet semiannually to share ideas and assist each other with problems and challenges in the field. To date, the group boasts 14 active members who have also become lasting friends.

“We talk about what problems and challenges we’re going through, bring in vendors, and things like that. Whether it’s about buying a competitor, going over financials, or deciding to bring on a new product line, just having peers like that whom you can talk to and get honest opinions from—people who have done it and been in business longer than me—is invaluable,” said Poulson.

In 2018, Poulson also became a partner in Auto Accessory Configurator, a software solution for U.S. restylers and shops that helps car dealers sell and provide accessories to their customers. According to Poulson, his experiences with Restylers United, Auto Accessory Configurator and his industry peers in general have provided him with a keen understanding of markets and challenges, making him a more effective voice within PRO and SEMA.

“There are many challenges for SEMA to address,” he explains. “There are the major ones, like CARB and emissions regulations and the right to modify your vehicle. But there are also some unseen things coming down the pipeline that maybe we’re not effectively reacting to because we don’t know how they’ll unfold.”

A specific concern for PRO is the changing model of how OEs sell vehicles through dealers, he added. Fast disappearing are the days when customers would walk into a dealership, select from many vehicles on the lot, and order a restyle package to further refine a vehicle to their tastes. “Now they can just order it however they want from the factory, and we’re maybe cut out. So for PRO membership, the future car-selling process and ensuring we’re a part of it is the biggest thing. The second biggest thing is the future of technicians and skilled labor, because now we’re competing with the OEMs, dealers and every mechanic shop out there. And not only do technicians have to be good with their hands, but with their brains too, because working on cars is harder than ever.”

Luckily, through his skill, dedication and openness, Poulson has built a strong network of peers and supporters within the SEMA community to take on such challenges.

Person of the Year

Poulson is greatly assisted in running Auto Additions by Accounting Manager Kathy Ross and General Manager Jamie Rambo, who have become close personal friends.

“If you have ever had the opportunity to hang out with Josh, he will jokingly say that he hates cars,” said BOOSTane founder and fellow SEMA volunteer Ian Lehn. “The irony is that it comes from someone who at every turn has made his professional and volunteer career about giving back to the automotive industry. I’d hazard to say he’s one of the biggest enthusiasts in our industry, and just doesn’t want to admit it. Person of the Year speaks to his commitment to those around him and to the future of the aftermarket.”

“I am fortunate to call Josh a close friend, and to have witnessed up close the sacrifices that he has made for our membership and aftermarket community,” echoed Denise Waddingham, SEMA director of councils and liaison to PRO. “Whether he wants to admit it or not, he is the kind of guy that we need leading us into tomorrow, even if he says he prefers car businesses to actual cars.”

For his own part, Poulson said he has a number of people to thank for his career and his SEMA Person of the Year Award. Among them is his wife of 22 years, Amanda, who he said is the family’s true car enthusiast. “She’s the one who pushes me a little bit to make sure I keep up my game there,” he laughs. “Our daughter Halle is 16, is just starting to drive, and is excited about it. Our son Chase, who’s 14, is also super excited about cars.”

“I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention two key people at my business,” he added. “My right hand man, General Manager Jamie Rambo, pretty much takes care of the day-to-day operations of the company. We’ve worked together for about 13 years, but he’s been a lifelong friend. And there’s also our Accounting Manager Kathy Ross, who has been with us for 20 years and helped me tremendously. And, of course, there’s my mentor Ken Morris and his wife Vicki, who hired me, got me started, brought me along and then entrusted me with the company.”

In fact, it’s the relationships that he’s formed over the years that have not only kept Poulson in the industry but fueled his advocacy for it. “Cars may not be my biggest passion, but the people in this industry are passionate about them, and I’m passionate for them,” he explained. “Whether it’s my employees, my family, fellow PRO members, other SEMA volunteers, or walking the SEMA Show and seeing 135,000 people who love and breathe this business, I keep thinking: Am I doing everything I can to help all of them?

“When we as car people—as business people and entrepreneurs—put in our heads to do something and are willing to put in the hard work, we’re a dangerous group of people,” he concluded.