SEMA News—September 2012
Compiled by SEMA News Editors
35 Under 35
Human Capital for Our Industry’s Future
In any industry, it’s traditional to pay homage to past icons. But this month, SEMA News looks to the future as we present 35 younger participants in the automotive specialty-equipment marketplace who are already moving the industry in new directions.
In order to qualify for the SEMA News “35 Under 35” list, each individual first required nomination by his or her peers. In evaluating those nominations, we looked for signs that the candidate is someone who, at age 35 or under, already displays the responsibilities of leadership and has become a trusted, skilled player within his or her own organization. We also considered the level of industry involvement shown by these individuals and their expertise in their particular segment as perceived by their customers and peers.
In the end, we came up with 35 young people who are absolutely committed to the automotive specialty-equipment industry. They represent many parts of the automotive spectrum but, taken as a group, they demonstrate expertise as managers, entrepreneurs, small-business owners and creative talents—and, in some cases, all of the above.
35 Under 35
The Nominations Continue…Do you know a rising star within the
specialty-equipment industry, age 35
or younger? To nominate them
for future 35 Under 35 recognition, visit
These are people who know what’s going on at ground level, who see opportunities that are now forming and who travel in circles that might be very different from those of our “old-school” industry leaders. As a group, they are adept at leveraging technology to create value and gain a marketing or customer-service edge. They are dedicated to continuous improvement. Most are at their workplace well beyond normal working hours, covering more ground, looking to set trends or trying to invent something their customers do not yet know they need.
To get a sense of their business perspectives, we asked about the trends and challenges they see within the industry as well as how they came to be involved in the automotive specialty parts arena in the first place. We also asked, “What’s in your briefcase?” to find out what business tools they use regularly and can’t do without.
We found their answers universally interesting, often thought provoking and, in many cases, laden with insights that are quite profound. We hope you enjoy reading their profiles as much as we enjoyed working with these individuals to put the story together.
|Matt Cartwright, 30
Prospect and Lead Development
Director, Meyer Distributing
Before he came to Meyer Distributing in December of 2009, Matt Cartwright never dreamed he would be working with a warehouse distributor in the automotive specialty-equipment industry. A SEMA Scholarship winner in 2011, he has made the most of the opportunity since then.
“I immersed myself in as many aspects of the industry as I could,” he said, “and I have been privileged to learn under some of the best talent the industry has to offer, particularly working with Nick Gramelspacher.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be staying smart about growth strategies and planning for a future that will look nothing like the past. The challenge has always been to stay focused on what is ahead while maintaining profitable day-to-day functions—always evolving and moving forward. We must make swift, resolute decisions that are based on experience, empirical data and intuition. I believe that if any business stays focused, it can weather any storm that affects the industry.”
In his briefcase: Outlook e-mail and calendar, a Droid calendar, a white board and plenty of coffee.
|RJ de Vera, 35
Associate Director, Public Relations
and Event Marketing, Meguiar’s Inc. (3M AAD)
RJ de Vera is a 19-year veteran in the industry and now works in the car-care segment, where the challenging economy has boosted sales for do-it-yourself retail lines. He has worked as a brand ambassador for the likes of Pepsi, Valvoline, Denso, Michelin/BFGoodrich, American Honda and Acura, among others, and launched his own wheel brand, RO_JA Motorsports. In addition to working as a contributor to numerous publications, he co-hosted the MTV reality series “Trick It Out,” and was co-founder of www.motorworldhype.com, a website that promotes automotive innovations.
“When I was younger, it was natural to work on your car and modify it,” he said.
“Young people today are fascinated by a million things, so we as an industry have to work harder to get and keep their attention. I love cars, so I followed my passion and work in an industry where I love the work that I do and the people that I interact with. My two mothers always supported this ideology so I’ve got them to thank for the person that I have become.”
In his briefcase: Business and travel membership cards, an iPhone, a Blackberry, a Meguiar’s lanyard, a notepad and a “Top Gear” pen.
|Jeff Dahlin, 34
Publisher, Hot Rod Magazine
As the publisher of Hot Rod magazine, Jeff Dahlin is enthusiastically shepherding one of the automotive world’s most venerable magazines into the brave new digital age.
“It wasn’t long ago that print media was the only viable advertising and communications outlet for enthusiasts of almost every market. Now, there are countless ways to reach readers and consumers,” he observed. “We can engage content-hungry users like never before. When you’ve got readers posting photos of their project cars up on Hot Rod’s Facebook page, or checking real-time updates from their phones, you’re commanding a lot of influence and keeping people excited.”
Dahlin credits his late father for his career. “He first exposed me to the advantages that aftermarket products can provide,” Dahlin explained, adding that the basics of vehicles and their components still fascinate him.
In fact, Dahlin regularly dons shop clothing to visit garages, fabricators and manufacturers. “I’ll get involved and learn about things by doing. I have a lot of fun and understand someone’s business a lot better when I actually get my hands dirty with the hard parts they produce.”
In his briefcase: Shop clothes and an iPhone he wishes was “hardwired to my brain.”
Justin Devlin, 33
Justin Devlin has demonstrated a knack for project development at Auto Meter Products, successfully interfacing with hardcore enthusiasts and NASCAR- and NHRA-level pro race teams, then translating their needs into actionable projects.
“I have always had an interest in cars and performance, and thankfully this opportunity opened up for me just a few months after I graduated from college,” he said.
Devlin sees the instrumentation market going increasingly high-tech, paralleling trends in consumer electronic devices, such as tablets and smartphones. “We feel our enthusiast and racing customers want to maximize the information they can obtain in the smallest and most graphically intensive package possible,” said Devlin. “However, my biggest concerns right now are the economy and gas prices. Until they turn around, many people may not be in a position to purchase products that are not an absolute necessity.”
In his briefcase: a laptop, an iPad and a Droid phone with a Dilbert app for a comic perspective on engineering. Devlin also runs Solid Works software for 3-D printing.
|Chris Douglas, 35
Vice President of Marketing,
COMP Performance Group
Growing up in an automotive family, all Chris Douglas wanted to do was race cars and be involved in motorsports.
He has accomplished both of those goals and built an 18-year career in a field that he is passionate about. He is a former World Karting world champion racer.
“The consolidation of traditional distribution channels in the next three to five years will be a big challenge for many,” he said, “and I have concerns about how government legislation will impact our industry and how we will provide good installation options for the next generation of non-mechanical consumers.
“This industry (and many others) is undergoing unprecedented change, and those who are able to adapt will continue to be successful. But I don’t think there has ever been a more exciting time to be involved. We have so many more options and tools today that allow us to better deliver our messages in a cost-effective manner.”
In his briefcase: iPhone, iPad, computer to access Google Enterprise apps, plus more-traditional tools, such as written lists and Post-It notes.
Malek Family, 27
Malek Family worked on cars with his father and uncles as a kid, but it was when he built his own high-horsepower engine at the age of 19 that his future in the automotive industry took off.
“Times have certainly changed since I first started in this industry,” he said.
“In the past, people were focused on the way the car looked. Now, their interests are more centered on how the car performs—lighter parts, powerful engines, more-efficient brakes and optimized suspension. Finding a balance between looks and performance, between street car and track car, is a challenge that is open to a lot of creativity.
“As cars become more intelligent, we must evolve with them so that we can continue to expand their performance. Keeping up with online trends, networks, forums and devices will be important in order to reach out to as many people as possible to get the products and the company noticed.”
In his briefcase: His computer performs crucial roles for the company’s customer database, parts management, organization, marketing, sales and product design, and his iPhone keeps him accessible to his customers.
|David Estes, 31
Director of Operations,
David Estes inherited his lifelong passion for cars from his father. “Growing up, it seemed we always had new cars in the garage,” he recalled. “While I knew they weren’t ours, it took me a while to find out that my father was helping all of our friends and neighbors fix their cars with a handshake and a wave.”
Now as Trimax’s director of operations, Estes brings that same helping-hand philosophy to his work with automotive security products, the success of which he believes hinges on the company’s ability to be innovative in an economy focused on continuous improvement. He has been responsible for studying trends in the aftermarket, sourcing products, and negotiating terms and contracts for Trimax, among other things.
“Innovation and intellectual property are all you have to separate yourself from the pack,” he asserted. “We now live in a world of continuous improvement. It’s important to constantly evaluate and survey your assets to ensure you’re meeting the wants, needs and demands of your end user.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone to tap into a host of business-related apps.
Adam Friedrich, 26
After a stint as a local golf pro, Adam Friedrich switched to the automotive aftermarket, starting out in sales at Classic Instruments and quickly working his way up to inside sales manager. “I had always been interested in classic cars and figured this would allow me to learn more every day,” he explained.
In his current position, Friedrich heads sales meetings while working closely with the instrument manufacturer’s new-product
“A company may put out a great new gadget, but after five years, if nothing else is done to improve that gadget or to create new ones, it could become a piece of the past,” he emphasized. “We must continue to evolve as time goes on.”
On the plus side, he said, “Aftermarket products are becoming more reliable and longer-lasting. With technology today, manufacturers are listening to their customers and making improvements based on consumer feedback.”
In his briefcase: iPhone, computer.
Nicole Girkey, 34
A marketing communications professional, Nicole Girkey has leveraged extensive media contacts to spearhead conspicuously successful public relations and marketing efforts for a variety of big-name aftermarket companies.
“Constantly adapting a marketing approach for clients to maximize their ROI is a daily challenge. Trending right now is the move of company and product marketing to maximize a changing variety of social media outlets, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.,” she said. “Mix this with the move of media outlets into the e-realm and the rise of online video integration, and there are a plethora of new opportunities just waiting to be capitalized on in the marketplace.”
Girkey loves her work. “Over the years, the constant interaction with the wonderful people in the industry, ranging from icons to everyday leaders, has continually fueled my passion for the aftermarket,” she said. “Couple that with my love of tricked-out rides and going fast, and it’s just a perfect fit.”
In her briefcase: iPhone, iPad, business cards, pens and a jump drive filled with latest client files so that she can handle random media calls on the fly.
|Nicholas A. Gramelspacher, 34
National Sales Director,
Being from Jasper, Indiana, where Meyer Distributing is based, it was only natural that truck enthusiast Nick Gramelspacher sought out Meyer’s owner Mike Braun following college. After 14 years, he remains with the company and says he still learns from Braun every day. Active with SEMA, Gramelspacher was recently elected to the Board of Directors.
“Gas and oil prices are one of the biggest factors influencing buyers and discretionary income,” Gramelspacher said, “and Internet sales taxes and manufacturers selling to non-stocking customers at the same price as stocking distributors are also hot-button issues that everyone needs to pay attention to.
“Wheels, tires, lift kits, step tubes—bigger seems to be better and gaining popularity. Tonneau covers are as hot as ever, especially the newer models and styles such as roll-ups, fold-ups, retractables and ABS black or pre-painted. I love to see that some manufacturers are still innovating, giving us new products to sell and not just finding a way to make the same thing cheaper.”
In his briefcase: ThinkPad notebook, EBC pen, Sharpie marker, business cards, iPad, passport, flashlight, mechanics’ gloves, ChapStick, hand sanitizer and Southwest Airlines beverage vouchers.
|Lenny Mauricio Gomez, 30
Digital Marketing Sales,
Digital marketer Lenny Mauricio Gomez suggested that “the rise of the digital age” has been the most important trend affecting his segment. “Being able to integrate smartphones with cars and having your personal space move with you is important. I also think ‘smart’ consumers are a huge trend to watch, especially in a down economy.
“My father was a mechanical engineer, and my mother was a bridal-gown designer. As a child, I was intrigued about how things worked and fascinated with layers of design and how they intermingle to create a finished product.” These influences led him to a career in digital marketing, where he believes honesty, world-class customer service and perceived value are still the keys to success with consumers.
Gomez said his segment faces challenges from OEMs offering satellite radio, iPod, Bluetooth and Internet integration: “In the very near future, you will see dealerships aggressively go after this niche market. However, in the end, it will be good for all, since demand and interest will increase at the ground consumer level.”
In his briefcase: iPhone; PalmBeach.fm, Blogger for Internet marketing, PingUp.com and Google Analytics apps; pen
Daryl Green, 25
A recent summa cum laude automotive engineering graduate from Mankato State University, Minnesota, Daryl Green was instrumental in launching restyling manufacturer Retro USA three years ago.
“The most influential person in my career would have to be my father,” said Green. “He currently owns a small collection of classic cars, including a couple he restored himself.”
“In our segment of the industry, the trend is always changing,” he noted. “Every year at the SEMA Show, I’m amazed to see the new products, styles and platforms. I currently see the popular trend moving away from restyled pony cars toward more modern compact cars, such as the Dodge Dart and Ford Fiesta. I believe these vehicles have a large potential for restylers—a new vehicle is a blank canvas ready to be worked on.
“The challenge of keeping up with changing OEM models has led us to work closely with several other restylers to create new products. This collaboration has also helped in promoting each other’s products.”
In his briefcase: CAD software to interface with rapid prototyping machines; business cards, paper, pens and a Blackberry.
|Marco Gutierrez, 27
In a few short years since joining Kahn Media, Marco Gutierrez has already worked his way up from videographer to art director, thanks to what is described as an insatiable work ethic. Co-workers cite incredible HTML designs and massively successful viral videos for some of the industry’s top brands.
“The most important trends currently affecting the media marketing segment are the social media boom, mobile device integration and creator/producer start-up,” he observed.
“The biggest challenge facing us is staying current and innovative. As technology continues to advance at an exponential rate, the ways people share and interact with each other change day to day. We have to watch what youths are doing and stay current with the trends—or set them.”
In his briefcase: MacBook Pro, Canon 5D, iPhone and apps, including iMovie, Wordpress, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Also, he carries Zip ties, a pad and a pen.
Chris Howd, 34
During his 14 years in the industry, Chris Howd has performed award-
“Have a new idea? Better get it to market fast,” he advised. “Rapid prototyping and 3-D scanning have shattered traditional lead times to get new products to market. Times have changed. Baby Boomers are retiring and spending less. eBay has killed the swap meet. The ‘profile’ has replaced the automobile as the social expression of choice for young people. You aren’t advertising to promote your business online. You are fighting a battle to engage the next generation of buyers.”
In fact, Howd has a unique multi-generational perspective on the industry. “My grandfather retired from BFGoodrich after 45 years, and my father owned his own restoration shop. I wanted to be like them but never dreamed I’d follow them into
In his briefcase: Pen, notepad, a spectrum of Internet-connected devices and a Matchbox car as a reminder that he still plays with cars.
|Steve Hale, 25
Steve’s Restorations and Hot Rods
At just 25, Steve Hale is active and conspicuous on the show circuit. His vehicles have won a number of best-in-show and first-place awards and earned more than their share of media acclaim, including the featuring of his Green Machine vehicle on Spike TV’s “Powerblock.” Recognized and respected by customers and industry peers alike as honest, talented and dedicated, Hale’s signature is the promotion of futuristic, environmentally friendly materials and high-quality, unique vehicle builds.
“I think one of the most important trends affecting the restoration and restyling industry is the blending of modern technology with classic style,” he said. “Also, I feel it’s important to think outside the box and make every job unique. Rather than replicating every current trend out there, I’d rather set my own.
“The biggest challenge facing my segment is continuing to provide the highest level of quality workmanship while utilizing the newest products and technologies, yet operating in a green-friendly manner.”
In his briefcase: A MacBook Pro with a partially broken screen and “all of the necessary tools to build awesome vehicles.”
Lindsay Hubley, 30
Lindsay Hubley seems like a natural in the enthusiast event business, but, in fact, she learned hot-rod, off-road and truck event promotion from her father, Bruce Hubley, who remains her most significant mentor. Stepping into the successful family business, she is in position to notice a return to grassroots marketing programs as a major business trend. “They provide a one-on-one experiential marketing and a direct sales environment that automotive aftermarket companies desire,” she asserted.
However, she also sees dangers looming on the horizon in the form of increasingly restrictive legislation on both vehicle modifications and land use.
“It truly effects how the industry will look in the future,” she said. “If our off-road enthusiasts have no access to areas in which they can pursue their sport, there will not be an off-road industry. If legislation drives up the cost on enthusiasts to restore a hot rod or build an off-road vehicle, it will limit the number
In her briefcase: Business cards, a notebook, a pen, an iPhone and a relationship-oriented marketing style.
|Zack Kanter, 26
As the young president of suspension manufacturer Proforged, Zack Kanter foresees an increasingly competitive industry in the near future, thanks to the Internet, current economics and other factors.
“A lot of companies in our industry grew up in a much less competitive market—enthusiasts had fewer options for parts, and an unhappy customer could only complain to the local car club,” he explained. “Today’s customer can compare price, availability and reputation in a matter of seconds, and unsatisfied customers have much louder voices.
“Our industry is still highly fragmented, and that’s going to generate a lot of interest from private equity groups. The money behind them will bring a higher level of sophistication to the aftermarket and make the industry a lot more competitive. Brands and retailers with great products, service and data are going to see exponential growth at the expense of those that
In his briefcase: Actually, he carries a book bag and is armed with a laptop, iPhone and Netsuite, a cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planner. “At the end of the day, I find my most complex problems are solved on a 4-x8-ft. whiteboard on the wall next to my dining room table,” he said.
Joseph Mills, 32
As 11-year industry veteran Joseph Mills was growing up, a good friend of the family was constantly working on his race car down the block. Mills credits (or blames) that friend, John Lichtenberger, for inspiring him to chase after his dream.
“He had a beautiful ’70 Olds 442. It was absolutely pristine and he was always working on one thing or another,” said Mills. “My buddies and I would hang out in his garage. It was spectacular.”
“Our company is made up of enthusiasts who love what they do,” Mills continued.
“In getting past the traditional marketing hype and focusing on integrity in both our message and our products, we make a stronger connection to the enthusiast market. We aren’t telling consumers what they want to buy; we’re responding to them. We need to continue our commitment to them while also finding the next enthusiast. It may seem a bit clichéd, but there is no truer path to creating the best product possible than always knowing that your next one will be the best yet. We became successful via this mantra and hope to continue to do so.”
In his briefcase: MacBook, iPad, iPhone, DSLR and a righteous pair of headphones. Having a camera on hand at all times gives Mills the opportunity to preserve all the great parts of the industry.
|Horace Mast, 29
Horace Mast learned that he had a talent for understanding and applying the basic principals of four-stroke engines when he was a mechanical engineering student at Texas A&M. In addition, the Formula SAE program that challenges college students to design and build a one-off race car helped him shape a strong work ethic.
“The high-performance engine segment continues to grow as consumers are more willing to adopt new engine technologies into their vehicles,” he said. “Consumers are conducting more research into their choices of GM small-block engines, driving companies to be on the forefront of technology and performance.
“I feel that our segment will continually be challenged with improving engine technologies that are developed by OEMs. Staying on the razor’s edge of technology is what will ultimately allow companies to stay ahead of the competition as they battle the OEMs for relevance.”
In his briefcase: “The best tools I have by far are my employees.” Mast believes that there is no tool or asset that is more important or that can add more value than a group of dedicated hardworking employees, and no business tool available can replace employees who work as though the company is their own.
Nadeem Muaddi, 30
The Muaddi brothers founded TheHogRing.com news blog and online community for auto upholstery professionals in 2011, but they have been in the auto upholstery industry all their lives. Their father, John Muaddi, an auto upholsterer for more than 35 years, taught his sons everything they know about the trade, but they were the ones who found a new way to unite their segment and reinvigorate an entire community. A year after they launched their website, it netted more than 30,000 page views per month from professional auto upholsterers all over the world.
“For years, the auto upholstery industry was very insular,” they said. “Shops operated with little communication among each other. Today, more shops are building websites, creating blogs and utilizing social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. They’re also keeping up with industry news and exchanging tips and advice via The Hog Ring.
“Car interiors are becoming more tech heavy, which requires auto trimmers to add more knowledge to their skill sets. For our shops to continue growing, we need to bounce ideas off of one another. Online communications are making this possible, revolutionizing the way we operate within our industry.”
In their briefcases: Pens, paper, laptops and smartphones.
Clay Note, 30
The driving forces that prompted Clay Note to enter the diesel performance industry almost six years ago were lack of customer service and poor-quality overseas products flooding the market.
“I wanted to provide our market segment with the best possible Made-in-the-U.S.A. parts while also keeping the dollars in the country,” he said.
“With more than 15 specialty products that we produce exclusively in the United States, I would say we are fulfilling that goal.
“The largest challenge in the future will be the stranglehold that agencies such as the state and federal governments—including the Environmental Protection Agency—are putting on our industry, which is shrinking from true performance and innovation to skin-deep aesthetic modifications.
“Customers are also choosing to keep their vehicles for longer periods, allowing for more maintenance as well as aftermarket modifications and people getting to know their vehicles rather than depending on the manufacturers’ warranties. That has given the aftermarket time to produce more products.”
In his briefcase: Since his company specializes in Powerstroke performance, Note would be hard pressed to not have a spare CPS close by. He also always has his iPhone on him to run Facebook giveaways for his loyal customers.
|Jordan Priestley, 30
JDP Motorsports LLC
The people who got Jordan Priestley started on his 15-year career in the performance industry included his father, Don, who helped him build his first big-block when Jordan was only seven years old; family friend Forest Seek, who owned a parts store that focused on performance cars; and Dave Lindsley, who owned a ’67 Camaro RS with a built small-block and was also a successful business owner. Since launching GDP Motorsports, Priestley has offered a fresh new take on the classic speed shop.
“Our core segment is late-model U.S. performance,” Priestley said.
“The U.S. automakers are continually outdoing each other, which has led to the most powerful musclecars of all time. The biggest challenge that our business segment faces in the next five years will be fuel costs and learning newer, more efficient technologies. Our industry will start seeing smaller-displacement engines that utilize direct injection and forced induction. We’ve already started working with these new technologies and hope to be ahead of the curve.”
In his briefcase: Priestley utilizes social media on a regular basis, allowing him to reach a far greater audience than he could have even 10 years ago, so he always has his laptop or iPhone going.
|Justin Oltz, 30
Business Development Director–Asia,
Growing up in Florida, Justin Oltz had access to everything from go-karting and jet skiing to drifting and drag racing, and he loved the vehicles that he ran ragged.
“I was blessed with access to wonderful weather in which to have fun with all sorts of autocraft,” he recalled. He has now put that passion to work in the custom calibration equipment field.
“My ‘need for speed’ evolved as I learned more about the variety of add-ons companies offered,” he said. “They made vehicles look exactly how I wanted them to look and drive exactly how I wanted them to drive.
At SCT, we provide mass customization to both dealers and distributors in markets throughout the globe—and we do so in a sustainable manner by offering the appropriate level of both technical and business development support. The industry must continue to balance the goals of adding support for new vehicle platforms and expanding into new international markets with the need to continue growing existing vehicle platforms and markets.”
In his briefcase: “I guess I’m a bit traditional for someone under 35 and still tote a camel leather briefcase with a smart device, a few simple pockets for name cards and a passport.”
Kelleigh Ross, 28
Based on a decade of experience in the industry’s high-performance segment, Kelleigh Ross sees today’s aftermarket in a state of technological transformation.
“As vehicles come equipped with more technology and performance upgrades from the factory, high-performance companies like ours are having to readjust our focus and be able to offer consumers high-performance aftermarket upgrades for their vehicles that will work within factory specs, while continuing to offer them the ‘fun factor’ of high performance,” she observed.
She further believes that technology is breeding more sophisticated consumers.
“The ongoing growth of consumer Internet shopping will continue to change our industry.
“Consumers scanning QR/bar codes to Google shop products or get informational videos as well as researching the forums on products and companies is the trend. Our industry must adapt and stay on the edge of technology, continuing to add rich content, consistent pricing and promotional material to the web.”
In her briefcase: An iPhone, the keys to her Mustang, fuel-injector testing data, a laptop and whatever aftermarket part she happens to be researching.
|Tyler Scarfe, 27
As a specialist in the Pro Touring segment of custom-car building, Tyler Scarfe believes that trends and developments are driven by new technology and the capabilities of today’s production cars as well as the technology and tools available to match.
“We see amazing custom cars and components come out of our competitors’ and peers’ shops, and the bar is continually being raised,” he said.
“Ongoing education and skill development is absolutely essential to keep up, now more than ever. Our challenge is to develop our product line and manufacturing capabilities, which presents us with the need to start running more complicated and expensive equipment.
“Learning is always a challenge, but it is the only way to grow as an artist and a business. I always tell my employees that we are doing something wrong if we ever have a day where we don’t learn something.”
In his briefcase: He is never without a Sharpie, whether he is in the shop or in a suit, but he resorts to a laptop computer to connect and reach his market.
|Michael Sullivan, 28
Michael Sullivan made the “35 Under 35” roster for his sense of leadership, innovation and dedication to customer service in the aftermarket performance cooling segment. These qualities have helped him build a well-respected name brand in a relatively short time.
“I started my career in e-commerce after a brief stint in college,” he said. “I sold that business and transitioned into manufacturing in the automotive cooling sector, given a void in the market at the time. “Mishimoto’s biggest challenge will be to stay ahead of the curve with leading-edge technology. We’ve recently invested in the construction of a corporate campus that will provide an enriched environment for our company and allow our engineering team to bring product to market more effectively.
“Another challenge I see is competitors reducing prices to satisfy price-driven consumers. A number of companies in the industry are buying products from low-cost regions that have not been engineered, tested or quality controlled. In the short term, this strategy may prove beneficial, but eventually it will compromise entire product categories and create inaccurate perceived value. This is not a sustainable business model.”
In his briefcase: iPhone, MacBook Air, notepad and an orange Sharpie.
|Sean Stratton, 29
While Sean Stratton was in high school during the late ’90s, he spent some time writing articles, covering events and working with parts manufacturers for a large motorsports website. He quickly learned that the combination was a growing market that he wanted to be a part of, and his installer/retailer company is now involved in street performance and Internet retailing.
“There is a strong move toward more social media and the development of more interactive online content,” he said, “and continuing to develop our customer service departments and services is crucial. The challenge will be to improve communications between manufacturers and retailers in an effort to provide the most up-to-date information available about new and innovative products as well as setting standards for Internet pricing levels. It will also be important that we keep younger consumers involved and active within the automotive aftermarket.”
In his briefcase: A smartphone with apps for e-mail, web and notes; a tablet like the iPad, with the same apps; and a good old-fashioned notepad and pen for brainstorming sessions.
|Neil Tjin, 33
Neil Tjin considers his cell phone to be his “weapon” of choice, talking more than 4,000 minutes a month. He also answers hundreds of e-mails a day, and that responsiveness is one of the keys to his success.
He was named Industry Person of the Year in 2004, Sport Compact Council Person of the Year in 2005 and works as executive editor for HCI and B/Scene magazines. He has designed numerous project vehicles and won design awards from Ford and GM.
“Things have been steadily improving for our company as we find new and creative ways to work with our partners,” he said.
“The challenges I see for our segment are lack of innovative products, lack of new modified automotive shows, lack of financial and product support from manufacturers (sponsorships, partnering with upcoming racers, builders and designers) and, most importantly, lack of new faces in our industry. We need new builders, new designers, new racers, new car show competitors working with respected manufacturers that build parts to serve the purposes of both function and form to grow and expand the aftermarket industry.”
In his briefcase: Actually, it’s a Royal Purple book bag, with a laptop, a pen and a notepad.
Ashley van Dyke, 27
With more than 15 years in media, marketing and motorsports event production, Ashley van Dyke says that her greatest influence came from her grandfather, Richard Avalo.
“I grew up at Evergreen Speedway, a short track in the Pacific Northwest,” she said. “He was the NASCAR director of racing, and I was very lucky to spend time in his shadow as a child. I learned so much from him about how the racing business works and how to manage people. My appreciation for safety and respect for the officials comes from being exposed to the management side of the business very early in life. I am so grateful for everything Pops taught me.
“Marketing content and product information through social media is talked about as a trend, however, it brings tangible ROI and measurable results.
“Our biggest challenge now is to make motorsports relevant to the American people and engage with youth markets. We are striving to stay in front of an ever-changing audience and relate to consumers on their level.”
In her briefcase: Chevrolet Performance Catalog, Sharpie, iPad, Twitter app, Bob Bondurant certificate of graduation.
Melanie White, 33
Whether her company’s customers own trucks, off-road vehicles or musclecars, Melanie White said the current trend is that “folks want their vehicles to be universal and serve as many purposes as possible.” Technology, she believes, will be an increasingly critical issue in fulfilling their performance desires. She is an active networker through SEMA’s Young Executive Network (YEN) and the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN), and is chair-elect for the Truck and Off-Road Alliance (TORA).
“It’s going to be important that we stay on top of both vehicle technology and the new technologies that change the way we do business,” she said. “Since we manufacture load- and sway-control suspension, it’s crucial that Hellwig products work well with innovations like electronic stability control.
“And with technology like smartphones and tablets, information is at the tip of our fingers at any time, anywhere. It will be important to monitor the messages about us and our products, as well as use the technologies available to promote ourselves.”
In her briefcase: An iPhone, an iPad and a MacBook. “The only thing missing is an Apple sticker on my Jeep.”
Blake Warner, 29
Blake Warner is a third-generation member of the industry. His great grandfather, Harold Gillette, was with Goodyear, and his father, Ken Warner—Blake’s inspiration—is with Mickey Thompson Tires.
“Today’s automotive enthusiasts demand a greater level of precision than ever before,” Warner said. “Beyond pricing and branding status lies a point of value hidden within the aftermarket wheel business: fitment. From the Hella Flush movement to full-blown race suspension setups, wheels with an aggressive width and offset make or break an end user’s ability to maximize the handling and look of a vehicle.
“Keeping manufacturers and dealers closer to end users for educational purposes will force companies to invest further into online approaches. The Internet gives many of our customers the ability to learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. Staying on the front end of these trends will be a continued challenge for years to come.”
In his briefcase: While Warner’s briefcase was tossed years ago, he constantly uses his iPhone for e-mails, texts, Facebook, LinkedIn or taking calls. “That thing is literally the go-to for my career,” he said.
Andy Williamson, 34
With an extensive résumé big on editorial, marketing and advertising accomplishments, Andy Williamson has been an energetic supporter of new and innovative thought in the automotive aftermarket. He has also worked with OEMs to help develop youth-related marketing programs, successfully connecting automotive brands to a generally mainstream-averse community.
“There’s a ton of life within this marketplace, and running in that race is all part of the challenge,” he said. “You can either stand on the sidelines and watch, or you can get in there and help shape it. I choose to be on the shaping side.
“Personally, I’ve seen great growth these last two years in our industry. We made it through some dark years when the economy made a lot of people very scared. Now the trend is a very strong marketplace. We are very busy with work and have grown tremendously over the last year. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.”
In his briefcase: iPad, Moleskin notebook, headphones, sketchbook, Starwalker Montblanc pen, Refuel Motor Culture pocket knife, a mix of magazines, Advil and a pack of Big
Mandi Woodell, 31
The automotive industry is much more than a job for Mandi Woodell; she considers it one, big, happy family, and her father, Van Woodell, is her biggest influence.
“My Dad is my hero,” she said. “He taught me to love the bad days as much as I love the great days. I’m very lucky to have him for a boss and a father.”
Woodell has served multiple terms on SEMA councils and committees and has been elected to serve on the Select Committees of Young Executives Network (YEN), SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN) and Light-Truck Accessory Alliance (TORA), and she has worked as a judge for the SEMA Show New Products Showcase awards.
“The biggest challenge in our business is customer service,” she said. “We warehouse distributors tend to spoil our jobbers—and with good reason: They keep our lights on. We want to offer the very best customer service, with a knowledgeable sales staff, cool spiffs and specials, social media and keeping them up to date with catalogs and the latest product offerings. In our little corner of the world, we’ve been very blessed with some wonderful customers—most of whom have also become our friends.”
In her briefcase: A positive attitude.
Dave Ziozios, 34
An active leader in the wholesale street performance segment, Dave Ziozios is an admitted tech junkie, and he sees integrating changing technologies into business as the industry’s biggest challenge over the next few years.
“I love technology as a tool,” explained Ziozios. “When a product or service comes out that actually makes life easier, I’m all for it.”
“At Motovicity, we pride ourselves on the fact that we have some of the most highly trained technical salespeople in the industry, and they are very good at helping our customers grow their businesses,” he said. “Our ability to leverage technology to add relevance and value to our vertical partners is critical to success as the industry moves forward and evolves. When our customers succeed, we all prosper.”
Ziozios said that he came to the industry on a winding road, but he knows exactly what keeps him in it: “Every day, I get to work with amazing people. Their knowledge, passion and dedication keep me motivated to push forward.”
In his briefcase: Galaxy IIS smartphone, iPad, Emergent Task Planner forms and a good old-fashioned pad of paper.