SEMA News—September 2013
Compiled by SEMA News Editors
35 Under 35
Young and Rising Industry Stars
Who’s who among young industry entrepreneurs and up-and-comers? That was the question SEMA News set out to answer a full year ago with its inaugural “35 Under 35” feature article.
Looking to the future SEMA News editors asked the industry to help identify 35 people age 35 and younger who were already making an impressive mark on the specialty-equipment industry and taking it in exciting new directions. The article drew a lot of attention and praise from aftermarket newcomers and veterans alike—so much so that nominations immediately began flowing in for a second year’s class of young go-getters. In the following pages, we are pleased to present a fresh slate of 35 honorees for 2013.
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 future35 Under 35 recognition, visit www.sema.org/35-under-35.
In order to qualify for SEMA News “35 Under 35” recognition, each individual first required nomination by his or her peers. In evaluating the nominations, we looked for signs that the candidate already displays leadership qualities 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.
This year saw not only a higher number of nominees than last year, but an extremely diverse and highly accomplished talent pool with an impressively broad range of capabilities. In many ways, every nominee was a winner, but we could only choose 35 finalists to make these pages.
The following 35 young industry trendsetters represent virtually every segment of the specialty-equipment marketplace. They stand out for many reasons—hard work, long hours, dedication and integrity—not to mention fresh ideas and technical awareness that is helping to keep the automotive passion not merely alive but forever young. Ultimately, their perspectives on the challenges, opportunities and technologies reinvigorating a changing industry are especially instructive. In every case, we have the distinct feeling that these are people you’ll be hearing more about in years to come.
Jon Barrett, 29
Senior Account Executive
A decade ago, Jon Barrett started his aftermarket career as a judge for the Hot Import Nights car-show series before becoming a data analyst at Edmunds.com. Today, his work at Kahn Media merges social-media marketing with data analysis, giving top aftermarket brands insights into turning social-media channels into sales.
“The shift to a digital medium was spurred by a need for instant information from consumers,” Barrett observed. “They want to see things as they happen, hear about products and innovations before they hit the streets and see event coverage immediately after the event is over.”
“The biggest challenge I foresee for PR and social-media marketing over the next five years is the increasing monetization of social media networks and how that affects their overall viability to brands. We are seeing more and more social networks implementing things such as paid advertising or algorithms that limit the overall reach of a page without a monetary ‘boost.’ In the coming years, it is going to become increasingly important to work with entities that understand how to get the most out of newly monetized social-media networks while keeping an eye out for the next big social-media revolution.”
In his briefcase: An Android phone, a Wi-Fi hotspot, a camera and an old-fashioned day planner. His most indispensable tool, however, is coffee.
Jeffrey Braun, 31
With seven years in the business, Jeffrey Braun has already shown himself to be a tireless leader within the Meyer Distributing team, often thinking and strategizing years—if not decades—in advance. In his capacity as Meyer’s CFO, he is responsible for a plethora of top-to-bottom operations of one of the industry’s fastest-growing companies.
Braun sees outside trends such as the housing recovery and the natural gas boom as directly impacting the fleet side of the industry. “Home construction is highly correlated with the purchasing of contractor equipment for fleets of vans and trucks,” he observed. “Aftermarket add-ons in this ‘functional’ segment have shown much resilience and have taken off recently as businesses are reinvesting in the hopes of an acceleration in new housing starts.”
Online sales are currently on Braun’s mind. While he sees benefits to such sales growing the overall aftermarket pie, he also views them as an equally large challenge for the industry: “Many manufacturers have gone to the online market with pricing policies that have created potentially irreparable margin erosion for distributors and brick-and-mortar retailers.”
In his briefcase: Conducting business wherever he may be, Braun considers his laptop and Aircard his most important tools.
Brandon Bernardo, 27
As a self-described “third-generation manufacturer” influenced by his father, Brandon Bernardo figures he’s been in the specialty-equipment field pretty much since birth. As vice president of Roll N Lock, he has helped to position the truck-accessory manufacturer for rapid growth through a healthy pipeline of new products and innovations.
“The strong recovery in truck sales that began in 2009 has been, and continues to be, a very encouraging sign for the future of our industry,” he said. “Despite high unemployment and formidable economic headwinds, American and global consumers continue to purchase pickup trucks. The utilitarian nature of these trucks has proven to be valuable in both good times and bad, ensuring the pickup’s market position for the foreseeable future.”
Bernardo sees economic globalization as a major challenge to the industry. “It seems increasingly difficult to forecast where the next global crisis will arise,” he said. “As a result, firms in our segment need to be prepared for anything and everything.”
Whatever the economic trends, however, Bernardo believes that aftermarket businesses can remain competitive by running conservative operations and continuing to focus on providing value and quality to customers.
In his briefcase: An iPhone, a legal pad, pencils and energy bars.
Kris Carlson, 33
Director of Media Relations and Territory Sales Manager
Kris Carlson thanks his family for getting him into the automotive aftermarket. “My grandfather, uncle and father were all car guys with a strong affinity for Corvettes, so I grew up in the environment,” he recalled.
Today at AutoMeter, Carlson oversees media relationships and sponsorship activities, a company website generating well in excess of a million individual visitors annually as well as management of automotive aftermarket sales territories for AutoMeter and Stack in North America.
“A few current trends we’re watching in our segment are performance with fuel economy, the rapidly changing landscape of car electronics and drive technologies, and an evolving consumer market,” he said. “While we as an industry are adapting to the ecologically conscious and these exciting new vehicle technologies, we are also mindful of a changing consumer whose disposable income faces an ever-increasing array of choices in today’s marketplace.”
Carlson is also paying close attention to the youth market, which he believes is especially squeezed by a higher cost of vehicle ownership relative to income than in generations past.
In his briefcase: An iPhone, an iPad, a 17-in. MacBook Pro, Sharpies, a multimeter, a handful of zip ties, duct tape, a multi-tool, business cards and a note pad.
Rory Connell, 28
Growing up, Rory Connell loved all things “that burned gas,” from cars to dirt bikes to go-karts. In fact, his career started with a job in a go-kart shop that was owned by neighbors.
“Just by fate, Jim Holloway from Mothers was a customer,” he said. “One day he asked what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I wanted to work with cars but didn’t know how to break into the industry. He encouraged me to go to Wyotech, and things have worked out great ever since. I’m grateful for his advice.”
Now, as general manager for Source Automotive Engineering, Connell is concerned with “keeping the passion for cars young.” While embracing the Internet and the social-media tools of an emerging generation, he still believes that brick-and-mortar “mom-and-pop shops are the core of real enthusiasm, fostering long-term customers for the industry.” To Connell, one of the greatest challenges confronting the industry is “finding a way to accommodate both the big WD and the small speed shop.”
“As the cars we produce parts for get older, so do our enthusiasts,” he noted. “We don’t want our customers to disappear like spinner rims.”
In his briefcase: A laptop, an iPad, an iPhone, multiple industry publications and always a copy of Hemmings Motor News.
William James Filter, 26
Product Planning Manager
William Filter gives credit for his career path to his parents (who are both teachers), Professor Jim John at Northwood University, Ryan Devine, who also works in product planning at Dana Holding Corp., and friend Brent Bujouves. But his greatest inspiration was the cars he saw at events such as the North American International Auto Show and the Woodward Dream Cruise in his hometown of Detroit.
“The biggest challenge I foresee for the aftermarket is a void of young professionals who will replace an aging workforce.” Filter said. “This translates to a fast track up the career ladder for young professionals in the industry. We will see a mass migration of individuals to this very unique industry who have limited experience or knowledge. As a product manager, I know that working with experienced professionals can drive the success or failure of the business. It will be an interesting ride to see where this industry goes in the next five years.”
In his briefcase: Pen and paper, iPhone or iPad, Excel and web-based project-tracking software. “By far the most important tool we all have is a brain,” Filter said. “Common sense is becoming less and less common. Real-life experiences help to develop common sense, so get out and experience life. It’s better than any video game or movie could ever be.”
Steven Gough, 30
Steven Gough was influenced by his dad’s innovations. Rather than concentrating on the speed or cosmetics of their automotive pursuits, their focus has always been on solving problems in the repair process.
So while Steven acknowledges the Internet as a tremendous trend influencer, he’s also proud of his father’s creativity and the technological advances his company has developed.
“We’ve taken an old technology—induction heating—and created products that revolutionized the repair process,” he said. “We can heat a frozen nut red hot in 15 seconds without a flame, and we can do it right next to a gas line, wires or plastic shields without causing collateral damage. It not only saves time and money, but it’s also safer.
Technicians have been dealing with the risks involving flames since rust, thread-lock compound bonds and corrosion have been occurring. We’ve been looking for an alternative for a long time, and now it’s here. Our challenge is to reach unique product users through an evolving industry.”
In his briefcase: Gough believes that the only tool any problem solver needs is the zeal to understand that which he/she doesn’t know. “The next generation will change the standard tools and render them antiques by virtue of technological advancement,” he said. “In my briefcase, you’ll always find a question.”
Justin Cesler, 29
As founder and owner of Driveline Studios, photographer, journalist and marketer Justin Cesler has built an extensive industry portfolio, generating interesting content for numerous publications and clients. In fact, his personal mantra is “content, content, content.”
“Many people seem to continue to focus on the quick, easy attention grab, but I believe that content is and always will be king,” Cesler explained. “From a marketing perspective, I believe that there will be a much-needed shift away from the current concept of having fans for the sake of having fans to a more mature marketing approach where brand fans and enthusiasts are incorporated and appreciated on a much higher level. Growth these days depends on much more than just reaching your audience for a one-second ‘like.’”
“Print media is probably going to have the toughest time adjusting to the digital world, although I believe that there will always be a place for the kind of thorough, in-depth reporting that traditional journalists are capable of producing,” he added.
In his briefcase: “Enough camera gear to open a small retail store, my laptop, an iPhone and roughly 100-GB worth of memory cards. Missing from that list is the charger for at least one of those items, and I probably also forgot to bring my business cards.”
Justin Hartenstein, 31
Founder and President
Justin Hartenstein was fascinated with all things automotive at an early age and was also intrigued by electronics. He wired speakers and amplifiers for his friends even before he was old enough to drive, and he dismayed his parents at 15 when he swapped a 351W into his first car (a four-cylinder ’89 Ford Mustang LX) in their driveway. By the time he entered college, his constant tinkering and testing had evolved into a business.
“The Oracle line of products consists of innovative automotive lighting solutions,” he said.
“The goal is to grow our business by providing our customers with cutting-edge, solid-state lighting accessories with unsurpassed quality at fair prices.”
Oracle Lighting is currently one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States and has been highly ranked on the Inc. 5000 list for the past four years. Oracle Lighting was also named “2013 Exporter of the Year” by the SBA and was recently named a “Small Business Champion” by the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
In his briefcase: Hartenstein considers his iPhone the most important tool in his briefcase, but he also carries a MacBook, an oscilloscope, Beats, a GoPro Hero3 and a Nikon D800 as well as Oracle catalogs and jobber sheets and plenty of business cards.
Ryan Knutson, 32
Growing up, Ryan Knutson hailed from an automotive-enthusiast family. “My grandfather and uncles have run an automotive dealership since 1958, and my mom used to race powder-puff dirt track in the ’70s,” he explained. Now, as the owner of Horsepower Direct, it’s his turn to take on the legacy.
His company specializes in demo car builds, parts sales, consultant work and product development. An award-winning show-car builder, he unveiled his first SEMA Show vehicle at age 20 and has since built several project cars for Ford and GM.
“I believe that the new trends are MPG and horsepower,”
He cites the Ford Focus ST, Ecoboost F-150, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Dodge Dart Turbo, Chevy Cruze Turbo Diesel and upcoming Ford Fiesta ST as evidence of these trends. “The Focus ST can make 300 hp and 385 lb.-ft. of torque,” he noted. “I also think that the market has moved to more streetable sport-compact cars with great power and excellent handling instead of just a non-daily-driven show car. I’d like to see more small turbocharged diesel motors.”
In his briefcase: “An iPhone, a braille battery Go Puck, vitamins, Oakley sunglasses and Horsepower Direct can koozies for sure.”
Greg Higgs, 34
Greg Higgs has been involved in the off-road, truck and SUV segment of the aftermarket for 10 years. He says that his company, Fab Fours, is about style and about being downright cool, and his biggest influence was Texas A&M Off-Road, a student-run organization dedicated to four-wheeling.
“Business and consumers have both been waiting and watching the economy, the landscape of natural resources domestically and the current administration to see if we were coming back to good times—all while trucks and SUVs were aging,” he said.
“The country is willing itself back into prosperity, and that brings with it a big itch—to get a new truck! We need more radical styling of truck fronts from the OEMs, including the use of different materials, integrated lighting and sensors. All of these changes provide opportunity and challenge in the development of new replacement bumpers. As a manufacturer that produces wholly in-house, rapid growth means big investments in people, equipment and process. It’s a challenge, indeed, but it’s one we are ready to take head on!
In his briefcase: If he could take only two things, Higgs would cheat and take his pen and his leadership team. “I have assembled a world-class leadership team that would rival any in this industry or others,” he said. “We are positioned for limitless growth.”
Brian Mabutas, 28
Brian Mabutas is a young entrepreneur who took street-inspired fashions first designed for his grassroots drag race team a decade ago and turned them into a leading international motorsports apparel brand. Throughout his venture, he has acted as company creative director, marketing guru and general manager.
However, Mabutas has not been content to confine his work to apparel. He recently took on the role of vice president of marketing for OGS, which is responsible for some of the largest sport-compact events in the United States, including Honda Day.
“The resurgence of sport-compact events has been creating more marketing opportunities for the industry,” he asserted. “In the social-media realm, popular apps such as Instagram and Vine are also creating more opportunities to increase brand exposure. We have a strong presence in the sport-compact market and will be working hard to organically expand into more segments in the near future.”
In his briefcase: Mabutas considers his iPhone and computer his most essential tools. “My iPhone allows me to be connected to our supporters at all times with social-media apps. As marketing and creative director, my business requires me to always have computer access to bring my ideas to fruition.”
Jeoffrey Maldonado, 31
Founder and CEO
A builder of multiple SEMA Show vehicles, Jeoffrey Maldonado is the founder and CEO of 742 Marketing, a full-service vehicle and brand-marketing management firm specializing in social media for the automotive, fashion and lifestyle scenes.
As a social-media marketer, Maldonado is at the forefront of an explosive trend that uses images and videos to brand companies and products in ways never before seen.
“With social media being so openly free, it brings out photographers from all levels, who in turn propel branding to a greater level,” he explained.
“Instagram, Facebook and YouTube have been very important in our own brand’s growth and recognition, and they have opened doors to our segment that we previously didn’t know existed.”
Maldonado actually got his start as an enthusiast sponsored by a detailing company that had a marketing job opening. “I took the job as a marketing assistant and went to my first SEMA Show in 2009, which opened many doors, friendships and partnerships in the industry.”
In his briefcase: “My buddies actually call it a ‘man purse’ because I carry it everywhere,” laughed Maldonado. “In it you will find my SEMA notepad, a binder with all current build proposals, and my laptop, which I call ‘my everything.’”
Lee McGuire, 32
Director of Marketing and Operations
In the decade that she has worked with Skyjacker, Lee McGuire has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments and awards. Plus, as a former chairman of SEMA’s Young Executives Network and an active member of the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network, she has never been hesitant to volunteer to advance the
“I didn’t grow up in racing or the automotive world, but I love marketing,” she said. “The aftermarket has given me an avenue to do advertising and marketing on a national level. “I think the important trends to look out for are certainly what’s new or up-and-coming in social media. Social media and all the new channels to reach consumers are changing the way people are searching and buying suspension products.”
On the other hand, McGuire believes that the industry’s greatest challenges lay in adapting to new vehicle technologies and marketing trends. “In the aftermarket, we are not always the first to embrace new trends, but that is becoming more important to reach the new consumers getting into the hobby.”
In her briefcase: An iPhone, a small stack of business cards, a pen and a yellow legal pad plus her favorite lipstick, which “a girl has to have wherever she goes.”
Kevin McCardle, 28
Kevin McCardle and his brother Chris shared a passion for anything with wheels, so Kevin earned a mechanical engineering degree and learned to design and build as well as compete with a race team in Formula SAE. He joined Mishimoto Automotive three years ago. The company produces heat exchangers and cooling products.
“Vehicle manufacturers are making radiators and intercoolers in increasingly tighter packaging, which means our design constraints increase with newer vehicles,” he said. “To combat the challenges of packaging and tolerances, we utilize coordinate measuring machines (CMM) with CAD software, allowing for accurate modeling of the part being created as well as its location in the vehicle. The OEMs are also making their components more highly engineered and technically integrated into the vehicle, so the days of ‘backyard engineering’ are disappearing. Consumers rely more heavily on the technical expertise and capabilities of aftermarket companies, so we test and write engineering reports on the parts we design and share that information with the public. We are also active on forums, where we answer specific questions and get feedback from consumers.”
In his briefcase: McCardle is inseparable from his iPhone. He also carries a PC laptop, a unit converter app, a TI calculator, a CMM, SolidWorks software, a 3-D printer and, most importantly, a legal pad and pencil. Yes, his briefcase is heavy!
Ben Menzor III, 30
Ben Menzor III was pretty much born into the industry. His grandfather, Benjamin Menzor Sr., founded Colorado Auto Trim Supply Co. three years before Ben was born, and the younger Menzor founded Autointeriorsupply.com in 2012. He has officially been part of the industry for 10 years and now serves as the president of both companies.
“Although the automotive interior industry has been around since cars were invented, it is still very much a niche portion of the industry,” he said.
“One of the big challenges I constantly face is the massive amount of information one must acquire and maintain to ensure the best possible inventory. One second I am helping a customer restore an early 1900s speedster, the next I’m helping with a tear on a 2013 pickup. The big advantage I feel we have is that, unlike most upholstery supply shops, we focus on only the automotive side. We feel very strongly about being fast and knowledgeable. It’s important to know exactly what customers need, not just what you can sell them.”
In his briefcase: “I can’t go anywhere without my smartphone, laptop, pen and notepad. I always make very detailed notes during every phone conversation I have with a customer so that I have a well-documented reference point.”
Joseph Moch, 34
President and CEO
Joseph Moch founded ACAT Global three years ago and then went on to acquire Oliver Racing Parts, maker of high-performance connecting rods. ACAT has developed new “herringbone” technology that lightens catalytic converters by up to 30%, making them more efficient while garnering significant savings in material expenses.
ACAT is also nurturing new talent through research-and-development partnerships with the University of California, Davis; California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo; and the University of Michigan. In fact, Moch has recently been instrumental in establishing a new national center of excellence for CNC manufacturing through a partnership with the Charlevoix (Michigan) Public Schools, Baker College of Cadillac and the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District.
“The younger generation of workers hasn’t had the long apprenticeship training of older generations,” he said. “Luckily the old guard is open to teaching and mentoring the younger generation so that their skills are not lost,” he said.
In his briefcase: Two Gold Fiber writing pads, an iPad, a MacBook Air, business cards, pens and an old-school physical check register. (“Counting money never really changes.”)
Chris Morris, 34
Regional Sales Manager
Chris Morris developed his interest in the automotive world from watching car shows and races on TV with his father, and that interest was further developed under the tutelage of Dave Wells, president of Undercover, as well as the company’s national sales manager, Sally Goldberg.
“Dave took a chance on me years ago and has always believed in me and given me the tools to succeed, and Sally taught me so much along the way that I wouldn’t be where I am today without her,” Morris said.
“Since I started working at Undercover a little over eight years ago, we have added many products to our line, and we are proud of the fact that all of them are made right here in the U.S.A. I believe that not being complacent and staying on top of the trends in the market are very important. Undercover has released a hard-folding cover called the Flex, and its sleek, low-profile design has become a huge success for us.”
In his briefcase: “I can’t live without my iPhone, iPad, laptop, Map Point software, GPS, and pen and paper. The most important tool of all is my relationships with my customers. They are the ones who drive our business, and if I don’t take care of them, someone else will.”
Michael Morita, 34
Auto Sales Manager
In his 15 years of industry work, Michael Morita has held executive sales and marketing positions in several companies; helped to produce Import Showoff, the nation’s first import performance-centric automotive event; and created Motion Magazine, a trade publication dedicated exclusively to the sport-compact market, along with its related Motion Auto Show and Expo. He believes that technology is the industry’s number-one trend.
“Information now happens in real time,” he said. “It’s great to be able to utilize technology to offer higher levels of customer service to both end-users and customers. As we all embrace the digital world that we live in, data has become paramount. It’s critical to easily and effectively work with customers to populate their ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems and eCommerce channels with correct product information and images. It’s imperative that we as an industry move toward an industry standard.”
Morita credits his parents and wife with his career path. “They always supported me and encouraged me to follow my passion for the automotive industry.”
In his briefcase: Morita remains ever ready to explore new business opportunities via an iPhone, a backup battery charging station, pictures of Bobby, Bambi and Scruffy, an Alpinestars catalog and related materials, and Bose QC15 noise-canceling headphones.
Travis J. Mundy, 31
Director of Fulfillment
As the director of fulfillment for Meyer Distributing, Travis Mundy points out that Meyer has established itself as one of the last, true two-step distributors in the automotive aftermarket, where many others are selling retail online and are competing with their primary customers. “We have not crossed that retail bridge,” he said. “We remain committed to our customer base.”
Mundy cites Meyer CFO Jeff Braun as his greatest influence and said that his biggest challenge is vendors, suppliers or manufacturers who are concerned less with margin and more with top-line revenue.
“With no sustainable pricing measures in place, the cost of goods and transportation will overcome many businesses that are trying to establish themselves in a competitive market,” he said.
Mundy’s military background has greatly shaped his work ethic. He is among the first staff into Meyer Distributing each day and among the last to leave, seeing each project through to completion.
In his briefcase: “I carry with me daily prayer and the Holy Spirit,” Mundy said. “Suffice to say, if God is with you, who can stand against you?”
Alan Ngo, 28
Senior Staff Engineer
When Alan Ngo was offered the chance to join Nitto five years ago, he jumped at it. “I’ve always had an interest in the automotive field,” he said, adding that he enjoys his work-related travels to unique places as well as meeting interesting industry people and, most of all, playing a key role in product innovation.
“Consumers no longer want to compromise when it comes to tires,” Ngo said.
“And this no-compromise attitude is pushing tire manufacturers to keep innovating and expanding research and development to create tires that really satisfy all of the consumer’s demands. I believe that the biggest challenge facing Nitto and most aftermarket companies in the near term is keeping the younger generation interested in the automotive segment. With new mobile technologies and social networks available, the younger generation does not rely on cars and trucks to connect with their friends like past generations once did. Companies need to try new and different approaches to interest and excite this new generation.”
In his briefcase: A laptop, an iPhone, an Android phone, a wireless hotspot, a Moleskin journal, a tire-tread depth gauge, a Kindle, chargers, an assortment of office supplies, a wireless mouse, a wallet, car keys and sometimes a few neckties.
John Pangilinan, 33
PR and Marketing Specialist
John Pangilinan caught the automotive bug by watching his friends modify their cars in high school. He’d built a show vehicle by the time he was in college, and then he went to work in the shop where he purchased his parts. He eventually pursued a career in marketing and ventured out on his own after working at an agency for several years. He now specializes in youth marketing, PR and photography.
“The rise of social media has changed the landscape for marketing to the young generation,” he said. “The immediacy of social media can serve as a valuable tool to market products and events.
Twitter and Instagram feeds have become sources for news as well as barometers for what’s hot and where the trends are. Brands need to focus on creating original content that is relevant to reach the youth market, and the quality of the creative determines the success of each digital piece.”
In his briefcase: While he doesn’t actually carry a briefcase, Pangilinan’s business essentials consist of a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 4S with an Incipio OffGrid back-up battery case, Scosche earphones, a Pilot G-2 pen, a Moleskine notebook, a Verizon MIFI card, a Canon 5D MKIII DSLR, an Incase DSLR Pro Pack, a Western Digital 2TB portable hard drive, Adobe Creative Suite, Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, a loaded Starbucks gold card and Instagram.
Michael Noonan, 32
Michael Noonan has been involved in the automotive industry for 11 years, following the completion of a bachelor’s degree in management information systems at Penn State University. He began as a software developer and then established EFI Connection, where he and his team create GM fuel-management products.
“The Internet has created a huge online marketplace for performance automotive products,” he said. “New online stores are created frequently, often by enthusiasts who have little to no operating costs. I stay competitive in this online marketplace through innovation, high-quality production and excellent customer support. Continued success also requires trust in the work my employees do and partnerships with other performance automotive businesses that specialize in areas we do not.
“Enthusiasts will keep interest in fuel injection as more and more tuning support for newer GM engine-control modules becomes available through powerful tuning software. Even the aftermarket offers easy-to-use engine-control modules bundled with advanced software that simplify the tuning process.”
In his briefcase: Whether through his iPhone, iPad or laptop, the Internet is Noonan’s briefcase. Fast access to online resources is important, and he relies on the Internet to maintain communication with customers and perform business tasks.
Lev Peker, 31
Vice President, General Manager
Lev Peker has been working in the industry only a short time yet is already recognized as an innovative leader who thoroughly researches aftermarket trends and forecasts the market’s future. As vice president and general manager of online marketplaces at US Auto Parts, he has helped to grow the company into the largest seller of aftermarket parts on eBay.
“I actually stumbled into this industry by accident about five years ago and have loved it ever since,” said Peker.
“The industry is growing, has a ton of extremely smart and talented people and is primed to undergo major changes over the next five years. The number-one trend affecting online retailing is the rise in popularity of mobile devices, which is really changing how people look at and shop for things.”
Peker noted that a car’s ability to diagnose itself and the ease with which users today can diagnose their own vehicles and determine what’s wrong before going to the shop are also important changes. “At US Auto Parts, we’ve created an initiative called AutoMD to help consumers bring visibility to what a repair should cost,” he said.
In his briefcase: An iPhone, a laptop, a pen, a notebook and Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon and eBay apps.
Ben Pope, 32
With a mere three years in the industry, Ben Pope is already making his mark managing social-media efforts for ACT. And that’s in addition to his responsibilities designing print and online advertising and handling on- and off-site photography and video production for the company.
In Pope’s mind, today’s digital age has completely upended marketing: What consumers say about a product greatly outweighs what sales representatives and manufacturers say about it.
“Relevance is the biggest challenge I think we will see in the next five years,” he observed. “What was effective yesterday will fall on deaf ears tomorrow. When it comes to advertising and social engagement, our industry hasn’t been cutting edge for a while. The old bag of tricks that so many depended on could have little to no effect on today’s younger generation. The challenge will be to keep up with this extremely visual age by engaging the masses on a personal level, without alienating any one group and not breaking the bank in the process.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone and an iPad, complete with apps such as Evernote, Lumosity, Adobe Photoshop Touch and Snapseed, along with a sketchpad/notebook, a Rockstar and Orbit Bubblemint gum.
Kathryn Reinhardt, 30
Marketing Communications Manager
The sport-compact segment of the industry drove Kathryn Reinhardt’s passion to work on vehicles, and she started making styling and performance modifications to cars when she was 16. She has now been involved in the industry for 12 years. She is a member of the Light Truck Accessory Alliance Select Committee and has twice been named Member of the Month by the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network.
“Performance on smaller engines has become a popular trend,” she said.
“Technology has changed in the last decade, and our ability to improve exhaust products and extend our applications is now better than ever before. Doing more with less has become a necessity, and so has education. There are so many new vehicles and new technologies and so much new governmental legislation happening every day that most automotive industry people are missing key information. Having industry people involved in SEMA councils and participating in industry events can help educate individuals, teams and companies. I hope more people see these advantages and use them for greater opportunities.”
In her briefcase: An iPhone 5, an iPad, business cards, red pens, her passport, a United Club card, lip gloss and a red solo cup.
Matt Reasoner, 34
Regional Sales Manager
Matt Reasoner has distinguished himself in his work at BedRug not simply by expanding sales in his territory, but by playing an intricate role in the development of new products to introduce the light-truck accessory company into new and expanding markets.
“Vehicles are coming from the factory with more and more options every year,” he said. “Many of these options used to be dealer add-ons or aftermarket only. Constant innovation and fresh ideas are key. OEs forcing aftermarket companies to think outside the box is not a bad thing at all.”
Reasoner believes that the greatest challenge over the next one to five years will continue to be the fluctuating economy. “The light-truck segment is so closely tied to markets that have seen uncertainty recently—construction and oil, to name a couple,” he said. “There have definitely been signs of improvement over the past three to six months, but I think that the general public is still a little unsettled and not quite ready to let its guard down. I am hopefully optimistic, to say the least.”
In his briefcase: Gum, business cards, hand sanitizer, ibuprofen, Tums, earbuds, a toothbrush, change, pens, paperclips, a flash drive and a protein bar.
Ryan Sage, 33
Co-Founder, Vice President
Ryan Sage is the co-founder of the Formula Drift Series, one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, with a hold on the highly sought-after 18-to-34-year-old demographic. In fact, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the series, which has grown tremendously over the years, in large part due to Sage’s marketing vision.
“The most important trend affecting the drifting segment right now is social media and new media, such as online broadcasting,” he said. “The biggest challenge we see facing our business is acceptance from non-endemic brands due to the lack of knowledge of the marketing power of Formula Drift events. We aim to fix this.”
As for his career path, Sage credits the first Import Tuner magazine with sparking his automotive aftermarket interests. “My current biggest influence is my Formula Drift partner, Jim Liaw, and our great staff,” he said. “I am reminded by them that making work fun and creating happiness are things we should strive for.”
In his briefcase: “It goes without saying that my iPhone is a necessity, but I must have inspiration. I still have a romantic connection to printed books, so you’ll always find at least one in my bag, along with music, running shoes and a jump rope so I can blow off some steam anywhere I go.”
Melissa Scoles, 32
Since joining QA1’s management in 2011, Melissa Scoles has helped to advance the company’s position in the high-
“There’s a manufacturing revolution going on, with new materials being developed especially for use in the automotive aftermarket,” she said. “This progression in materials will turn the industry over, in that the use of steel and aluminum will gradually decrease, to be replaced by a variety of composites, leading to weight and dollar savings. Items made with CNC lathes and mills, forgings, castings, etc., are all trending to more items manufactured via compression forgings.”
“Quality, innovation and affordability will matter more and more in this new climate, which puts QA1 in an excellent position for future growth,” she said.
Scoles credits her father, Jim Jordan, with her interest in the aftermarket. “When he started QA1 20 years ago, I enjoyed learning about everything he did,” she explained. “He has been an incredible influence for me.”
In her briefcase: Post-It notes, a Samsung Galaxy, an iPad, the OfficeSuite app and a Diet Dew.
Clayton Tomasino, 34
In 2008, Clayton Tomasino took the helm of struggling Scorpion Coatings. In just a few years, he transformed it into a real player in both the truck accessory and window film industries.
“The truck accessories segment has been in transition since 2008 when it reached its apex,” Tomasino said.
“One has to accept that it will most likely never reach this level again. In order for companies in this sector to succeed, they must learn to do more, and be more. In the restyling segment, there has been a large amount of consolidation over the past several years, which creates a tremendous opportunity for smaller companies that focus more on customers than on the bottom line to really make a dent in the industry.
“As a company, we only accept the highest standards across the board. It is feasible that we could grow even faster if we lowered our standards, but these are not compromises that we are willing to make.”
In his briefcase: “I get mocked for my HP12C financial calculator, but I couldn’t live without it. Along with that, I’m a pen-and-paper sort of guy, complemented by Microsoft Excel.”
Dylan Sievers, 19
Dylan Sievers was always into cars. He and his dad worked on many things together, especially vehicles, which greatly influenced his passion for the automotive industry. They got involved in off-road racing with Reinertson Racing.
That experience convinced Sievers that a brighter and more-affordable light was needed in the sport, and his parents helped him start his company to build the product he envisioned. But he sees the large number of imported light bars as a challenge for a U.S. company.
“People want to buy American goods but can’t afford to pay four times the cost of an imported product,” he said.
“We go out of our way to make sure that our customers get a great product, but we also see imported LED light bars that claim to be made in the U.S.A. There is no certification to prove it or to help protect companies whose products actually are. Even so, we at Bulldog LED Lighting are always up for a challenge!”
In his briefcase: At 19 years of age, Sievers doesn’t carry a briefcase. He works completely off of his computer and his iPhone. When he and his crew go to shows, the light bars that they manufacture and sell go on the vehicles they drive, so they are constantly testing and using them.
Darron Shubin, 33
National Sales Director
“I was influenced to work in the industry because of my overwhelming passion for modifying vehicles in high school,” said Darron Shubin. Now, as MagnaFlow’s national sales director, he says he and his team are constantly on their toes in a rapidly changing marketplace.
“Our business supports so many buckets of revenue, including retail, undercar, traditional, performance, eCommerce, co-manufacturing and exporting,” he explained. “One of the most important goals we have is to support WDs in finding ways to embrace the Internet—finding creative ways to utilize its infinite uses to grow business. Our sales team is supported by some serious technology that allows us to stay on top of e-mails, phone calls, sales force entries, texts and social media.”
As for the market itself, Shubin sees increasing complexities and integration of OE exhaust systems as a challenge to product development and engineering. Add to that a tangle of new state and county emissions regulations from New York to California. Still, he’s convinced that MagnaFlow’s team of all-star engineers will continue to rise to such challenges.
In his briefcase: A 4G iPad, an iPhone, a laptop and Salesforce.com, a web-based solution that allows his sales people to centralize communications and track their progress together.
Mark Swain, 34
Co-Owner and Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Nearly five years ago, in the midst of the banking crisis, Mark Swain helped establish a viable and productive TMI AutoTech, successfully introducing the Ariel Atom 3 Supercar to North America.
“My dad is very active in Canadian amateur motorsports. I grew up in garages and around the racetrack, car events and shows. This business is all I really know, and so it seems natural to be making cars and parts for the motorsports industry,” Swain said.
“Within the niche of motorsports manufacturing, the main trend has been at work for many years—clients want and need a quality product is a short time span. This could involve engineering, prototyping and ultimately finished parts in a compressed time frame,” continued Swain. “The challenge for TMI is to continue to expand the business in a controlled manner while at the same time building products that meet client expectations. We must take advantage of manufacturing opportunities as they arise to meet such expectations, whether for a complete car or
In his briefcase: A smartphone, a laptop, a paper notebook for scribbling notes and to-do lists, and a constant flow of caffeine in the form of Tim Horton’s coffee.
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 future35 Under 35 recognition, visit www.sema.org/35-under-35.
Vincent Wong, 32
Like so many in the industry, Vincent Wong has had a passion for cars since he was a child. He started his first company in his college dorm room, selling car parts online. A chance meeting with Stan Chen of DTM Autohaus brought him into the custom wheel industry, and he learned more from Victor Moreno of Intro Wheels. He started his own company shortly afterward and was encouraged by James Chen of Axis Wheels. He has now been developing new wheel ideas and technology for more than 12 years.
“As consumers become more tech and research savvy, we must concentrate on creating higher-quality, lightweight yet strong, heavily optioned custom wheels that cater to their every desire at the best price point,” he said. “As innovators in the custom, rotary-forged, flow-formed wheel line, our business model and technology are starting to be copied by many other companies. We are therefore investing huge amounts of capital on technology and engineering to be able to produce the next big thing in the wheel industry.”
In his briefcase: iPhone, iPad, Asus Ultrabook and Google business apps. His company’s cloud network allows Wong to be connected anywhere in the world and still be able to check production, run reports and sales.
Spencer Vliegen, 27
Four years ago, Spencer Vliegen founded Bean Garage, an online retailing venture specializing in the sport compact segment. In that short time, he has already served thousands of customers throughout the United States, Canada, Japan and Sweden.
Vliegen promotes the sport compact segment because he believes that the future depends on innovative, spacious yet gas-friendly and dependable cars.
“An exciting new direction in the sport compact world is one involving more fuel-efficient technology,” he noted. “While many car enthusiasts see hybrid vehicles and alternative fuel sources as killing what we love about being loud and fast, I believe it’s more about embracing this change. It might not be as sexy as a rumbling V8 or turbocharged inline four, but I’m sure people will think differently one day when that silent electric car blows past them on the track. This isn’t the case right now, but it’s an important trend I especially look forward to.”
Vliegen credits his father for both his love of cars and his entrepreneurial spirit. “Why not be successful with something I love?” he said.
In his briefcase: “A MacBook Pro laptop, a pen and paper are essential to my daily work life, but they are worthless without copious amounts of espresso, Snickers and a loud audio system.”