We recently had the pleasure of catching up with a passionate SEMA member who is a leader in the distribution side of the automotive aftermarket—Jon Pulli, CEO of Turn 14.
Some of our readers aren't familiar with Turn 14; could you give us a brief overview on the company and, most importantly, your role there?
Turn 14 Distribution is a performance warehouse distributor focused on modern, post-2000 vehicle applications. I co-founded Turn 14 with Chris Candido initially to fill a void in the sport-compact market for an East Coast-based distributor. As a co-founder, I have done every job in the company but, at this point, as CEO, I am able to focus my day-to-day on oversight and future planning. I spend most of my time strategically planning avenues for Turn 14’s growth in the short and long term. I feel a constant, yet welcomed, pressure to achieve our target growth numbers. Distributors, when doing their job correctly, act as a conductor between retailers and manufacturers. My goal is to grow Turn 14, which, in turn, benefits the brands we distribute, the retailers we service and Turn 14 employees.
Could you give us a little background about yourself—family, education, how you caught the car bug?
Both of my parents were entrepreneurs who ran numerous successful small businesses, so business was in my blood from an early age. With that said, Turn 14 was started with only $100. I graduated from Franklin and Marshal College with a degree in accounting, so I have always been a numbers guy. From the very start, Turn 14 has been profitable. The best part about starting with zero is that you cannot afford to dig yourself a hole and tell yourself you will become profitable later.
In terms of the car bug, I got that in high school when I was enamored with car stereo systems. By college, I got into the sport-compact scene with a Toyota Celica GTS. I have never been a track nut or a car show buff, but I genuinely enjoy fast, well-rounded street cars that can be driven day in and day out. After the Celica, I bought a Subaru WRX STi right when they were first released in late 2003 and that’s when the business really started to go.
How old are you? Are you married? Do you have kids? Where do you live? How long have you been a SEMA member?
I will be 30 this month. I am married to a stunning woman name Samantha and have a 16-month-old daughter named Keira with beautiful blue eyes that she got from her mother. We live in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. I have been a SEMA member since 2003.
Much of our industry has changed with the advent of the Internet; for instance, distribution is now different. Could you give us an overview of how the Internet has impacted you both positively and negatively? How do you stay ahead of the curve?
In today’s market, distributors are now order fulfillment centers that also sell to traditional brick-and-mortar stores. As the Internet has infiltrated every corner of our society, buying online is now the standard. Distributors need strong web tools to allow their jobber bases to be competitive. Brick-and-mortar retailers who used to sell with high mark ups now get price matched against massive online retailers by customers on their cell phones. Local and regional markets are no longer closed so smaller retailers in the business need strong discounts to even have a chance to make a sale. This evolution has meant that distributors need to constantly work on efficiency and technological advancements to keep pace and be able to operate on less profit. This transition positively impacted Turn 14 by lowering the barriers to entry into the wholesale marketplace long enough for Turn 14 to establish itself. The major negative impact is the constant downward pressure on pricing and, in turn, profit margins.
Logistics is paramount to good distribution; do you approach logistics in an innovative manner? Do you have any tricks for encouraging teamwork in logistics strategy?
We focus a great deal of our effort on creating efficiencies and then trying to improve upon them. We never allow ourselves to believe a process has been perfected; instead, we are constantly scrutinizing, trying to think abstractly to improve. Employees are trained to constantly question our processes to try and find ways that they can be improved. This has resulted in a company full of thinkers, instead of followers, who take pride in our systems primarily because they have had a hand in designing and improving them.
Speaking of teamwork, how do you build your teams?
Teamwork is paramount to running a streamlined distribution center. During a typical sale, six staff members from different departments have a hand in making a transaction successful. Without teamwork among departments everyone would suffer. To encourage teamwork, we get our staff together outside of the office on various occasions. A good example took place last fall. After a great summer selling season, our sales staff ran the warehouse for a day while we sent the whole warehouse staff to a Phillies game with box seats. The warehouse staff had a blast on their surprise day off and the sales staff got a refresher on how hard our warehouse staff works. At the end of the day, our warehouse staff came together during an escape from the norm and our sales staff came together trying to handle the warehouse for a day. Both teams gained a higher level of respect for each other in a short, one-day exercise. Since that event, salespeople know when they are asking for too much from our warehouse and the warehouse is happy to help get late orders out the door when a salesperson makes that request.
You are in this business because you have a passion for vehicles. What is in the stable right now and are you planning any new additions?
Right now, I have a ’06 Lotus Elise with a custom supercharger and side-mount intercooler kit putting down 257whp. I also have an ’87 Toyota Supra with a 1JZ-GTE swap in progress, plus an ’03 Civic with your basic bolt-ons for the daily commute and, last but not least, an ’04 Dodge 2500 pickup to tow the boat. In terms of new additions, I’ll probably sell the Elise pretty soon and get something spicier, maybe a 997, GT-R or R8.
Lastly, if you could provide one piece of advice to a young person considering this industry, what would it be?
Work your butt off to continuously improve; in my opinion, drive and effort can make up for any other shortcomings you might have.