Dana Mitchell, YEN Member Insights, November 2012


Dana Mitchell, SEMA YEN Member of the Month Spotlight, Automotive News, Aftermarket News, November 2012

Dana Mitchell

Sales Manager, Al’s Liners

With a formal background in architecture, Dana has extensive experience in architectural design, environmental consulting, automotive restoration equipment, and DIY truck accessories.  Admittedly an "amateur restorer and automotive guy", Dana feels fortunate to be in the automotive industry where he is able to employ his personality working for a company like Al's Liner.

Tell us a little about your diverse professional background and how each of your experiences has benefited you in the position you hold today?

After school and working in a couple of odd jobs I began in Environmental Consulting, focusing on Remediation Project Management and Program Management for Asbestos, Lead and Indoor Air Quality. Working mostly with public and private school corporations I was responsible for maintaining federally mandated programs and educating maintenance staff on handling and maintaining potential hazardous materials. This threw me directly into dealing with people face to face on sensitive subjects and large scale presentations for audiences sometimes reaching the hundreds.

After over a decade of working in various aspects of the field I wanted to pursue my passion: automotive restoration and customization. Fortunately I had some friends that were in the midst of rolling out a unique line (Auto Twirler), producing auto body rotisseries and other various shop carts, dollies and tools. We took a very grassroots approach working strictly B to C traveling the nation attending a multitude of events, Car Shows, Auctions and so on selling and branding the line. Within a very short time we had established Auto Twirler as the restoration tools built by restorers and grew to a nationally recognized product line. This gave me the opportunity to see the direct to consumer aspect and as the brand recognition grew I was able to work with larger retailers and distributors such as Summit and Eastwood.  In late 2007 it came to my attention that a company I had worked with closely in the Environmental Field and known for a majority of my life had decided to take their Dealership Spray On Bed Liner Product to the consumer market and develop a DIY Bed Lining Kit.

They had specific opportunities and were looking for someone with experience in the automotive aftermarket. This allowed me to get involved from the beginning in creating the brand, packaging and overall advertising/marketing plans. Looking to develop a B to B set up, we immediately started targeting national and regional distributors. Al's Liner has since become a well-recognized brand inside of a four year span that has national and international distribution. This mix of occupations has taught me to handle all clients and presentations with thorough and consistent information and delivery.

What trends are you experiencing in the DIY market?  What insights can you share of the common perception that the industry is trending towards a DIFM market?

The DIY Market continues to grow and with the innovations in products what I see as hard core do it yourselfers are able to get products and materials that were not available 5 or 10 years ago. The swing in the economy allowing shops to expand on profit centers is where I feel the DIFM trend is coming from, some consumers see the benefit in spending a little more and having products installed for them verses doing it themselves, a lot of shops and retailers steered away from this when the market slumped but there will always be the folks like myself that get satisfaction from a job well done and saving a buck or two.

When and how did you come in contact with Al's Liner?  Give us a little history about Al's Liner.

I have known the Tomasino Family for many years and worked with them throughout my career in Environmental Consulting.  Al's is the retail line for Scorpion Protective Coatings and Scorpion Truck Bed Linings which has been a leader in Spray On Bed Liners since 1996.  In 2008 they decided to compete in the DIY Market offering the first high solids option for a DIY Spray On Bed Liner. Al's proprietary formulation allows us to offer the highest solids content outside of the Franchise High Pressure Applications. With a simple application gun, anyone can apply our coating to virtually any substrate with minimal equipment required.

What experiences can you share about going to market in the midst of a recession and still experiencing significant growth during the first year of operation?

We were fortunate to have an aggressive CEO and personnel that understood distribution programs and had the connections and drive to get the product to market. We approached all levels of distribution selling to jobbers, distributors and E-tailers while maintaining our program to insure the growth was controlled and directed to keep the structure in place that caught the attention of retailers and distributors alike. With a good combination of advertising and marketing along with Resistance of staying in front of key buyers we were able to grow with leaps and bounds for four years running.

What "secret" techniques are you incorporating in order to maintain consistent double digit growth?

We have no secret techniques, you have to develop solid products that preform as you say and insure your program is lucrative for all involved.

The right product, personnel and program can be an amazing advantage.

Tell us about the pros and cons of being situation in small town America.

Small Town USA, is there such a thing these days? With the Internet and ease of travel we have now, you can be anywhere in a days' time and most times conduct business from the comfort of your office. Sales personnel have to be at the right place at the right time and you cannot be afraid to spend time on the road but it is not like the 60's when you live out of your car and literally go door to door. We are able to maintain lower overhead but being just outside of Indianapolis, IN has made it a perfect location for shipping and logistics.

Tell us a little about PWA and your company's involvement in the association.

We are in our third year with the PWA, being a long time member of SEMA we were looking for additional avenues to get outside of the traditional truck accessory distributors. One thing the recession did was force most distributors and jobbers to diversify the lines they carry. We took a chance and attended our first conference and saw immediate results.

PWA is a tight knit group that works closely with vendors and jobbers alike, it has taught us many things about dealing with regional distributors and as the PWA grows you are seeing the national guys getting involved.

What role does attending trade shows play in your marketing plan?  How critical is it these days to still attend trade shows (as an exhibitor)?

Trade shows are a key component to our marketing strategy, it keeps you in front of the distributors, jobbers and consumers as well as allowing you to learn much of what the market is looking for and how changes are developing and taking place. We utilize trade shows to meet with a multitude of clients in one location and continue our brand awareness and growth. An aggressive staff is key, everyone is a potential client, customer or education source. To be at a trade show and wait for people to come to you is a waste of time, you have to be aggressive and absorb as much time and info that you can while exhibiting. They can be expensive so taking advantage of the opportunity is a must but if handled well will pay off time and time again.

What advice can you offer younger members in our industry in regards to working for a start-up or a new division of an existing company?

Be aggressive, make sure your products and programs are solid and perform as promised. Like anything, if you put the time in and lay the foundation you will see results. A sales staff cannot be afraid to make the call or presentation, if you do your homework and are persistent you can gain access to clientele you thought was unobtainable. Start small, shoot big and work your tail off. It makes for great results and will give you a place in the industry before you know it.