Q&A With Donnie Eatherly
SEMA News: Why are you running for chair-elect of the SEMA Board of Directors (BOD)?
Donnie Eatherly: I am very passionate about this industry and channels of distribution. I think my perspective would be good on all distribution-channel issues as well as how industry changes, policies and legislation affect how our products make it to consumers.
I began my automotive career as a teenager, and my expertise would fall in most areas of running a small business: sales; inventory management; marketing; and managing capital, resources and people. My unique skills include the ability to distill complex issues and explain them in terms that anyone can understand.
My broad perspective allows me to examine issues from all points of view—whether it favors distribution, manufacturers, jobbers, reps or consumers—and consider all perspectives before reaching conclusions intended to benefit everyone involved.
I am qualified to fulfill this position because of my industry tenure and contacts and my previous hands-on participation with the Performance Warehouse Association BOD and the SEMA BOD. I bring a unique perspective from the distribution channel that has been missing from this position over the last 30 years.
Although I might be in the distribution channel, I do know that the SEMA BOD represents all segments of the aftermarket. I am confident that I can do the job and bring my no-nonsense leadership to the BOD and staff, hold to agendas, and uphold the past chairman’s legacy and commitment to getting the job done for our industry.
SN: Recruiting young people to work in the specialty-equipment industry continues to be an important initiative at SEMA. As chairman, what would you hope to accomplish on this issue during your term, and what opportunities should the association pursue?
DE: This question, which I affectionately call “the fountain of youth question,” comes up at every turn in all forms of industry except the electronics and technology sectors.
We have a council in the Young Executives Network (YEN) that we can obviously tap for ideas and initiatives (and I would, if elected), but I think it boils down to the cost of vehicles, vehicle complexity, the cool factor and wages.
When most of us older folks were coming up in the industry, we didn’t have distracting technology to spend our money on. Cars were simpler to work on and more affordable (the hot-rod parts were, too!). Opportunities to engage younger people could include looking into the interests of Monster Energy Supercross and X Games consumer groups, then generating some ideas from that information.
Chairman-Elect Category—Donnie Eatherly
SEMA is the center of the most exciting automotive marketplace in the world with an incredible diversity of products, people and passions. That core strength, however, is also one of our industry’s greatest challenges. Successful leadership is contingent on the ability to weigh, balance and act upon the interests of all our many players. As chair-elect, I will leverage my more than 30 years’ experience in our industry to evaluate issues from multiple perspectives—distribution, manufacturing, retail, consumer, enthusiast—to make decisions that will benefit each of us now and into the future.
In my role as president of P&E Distributors Inc., a two-time SEMA Warehouse Distributor of the Year, I have managed capital, resources and people in areas of sales, inventory and marketing. In 2014, PWA honored me with its Pioneer Award for outstanding contributions to the specialty-equipment industry. My long-standing involvement with SEMA (28 years) and PWA (25 years) has put me in direct contact with issues crucial to our growth in the following leadership capacities:
As your SEMA chair-elect, I will bring a common sense approach to our industry.
If elected I would:
Thank you in advance for your support in making this industry we love the very best it can be.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/electeatherly.
I would look into creating a SEMA non-trade member category, centered on high-school students and technical-school students (e.g., Wyotech and other automotive trade schools) to get them familiar with the industry through SEMA publications. I would charge YEN with these tasks and see what they came back with.
The wage issue is an industry-wide problem because of over distribution and the Internet marketplace. Frankly, it’s a far more daunting task that will involve a lot more input and thought from all councils and industry leaders to see if we can put not only the cool factor into attracting young people to our industry but also being able to afford a cool car or truck and our products to go with it.
SN: What do you see on the legislative and/or regulatory front that poses the greatest concern for SEMA members?
DE: Armies of lawmakers churn out legislation by the day—so much, in fact, that SEMA had the foresight years ago to open an office and staff it in Washington, D.C., to keep up with the bills that pose the most harm to our industry. The ones we must stay on top of are those that affect vehicle emissions and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, intellectual property rights and importing/exporting, business tax reform and health-care costs, and labor laws such as card check and wage and hour.
The list is long, but if I’m elected, I would work with the SEMA D.C. office to help identify and prioritize the most harmful issues that are closest to passing.
SN: What kind of impact can the industry expect from the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC), and what should be the association’s goals for the program for the next five years?
DE: The SDC is the largest and most industrious benefits project ever taken on by SEMA. I was on the Board during its formation, and I lobbied for it from the position of someone directly involved. Our company, P&E Distributors, has seen firsthand the benefits this program has brought to the industry. P&E was able to tap into SDC data to participate in marketplaces and do business with customers we would not have had the opportunity to prior to its creation, mostly due to technical and cost limitations. SDC has immense potential, including more data-exchange opportunities—for example, sales-by-part-number data shared between distribution channel partners and vendors as well as shared orders and inventory feeds among participants.
When it comes to data, there seems to be an endless list of wants, but I think SDC is off to a very good start. Under good Board and staff leadership, SDC can yield member benefits for years to come.
SN: The 2014 SEMA Show concluded with a first-ever afterparty open to the pubic—SEMA Ignited—as a way to create enhanced value for exhibitors. What are your thoughts on this new consumer awareness initiative, and what goals should the association pursue as we move forward?
DE: As an attendee, I was very impressed at the participation and activity from both consumers and manufacturers. SEMA has been toying with the idea of a consumer day for years, and from what I saw from this first event, the public turned out pretty favorably for a Friday-night get-together headlined by the coolest rides on the planet!
The members-at-large that I’ve talked to over the years have always mentioned that SEMA should do more to market to consumers about our industry and products. If you step back and think about the TV shows and networks devoted to the automotive aftermarket, I would say that the industry is doing pretty well at getting the word out to the choir. But how can we do even better?
We could look at moving the event from Friday to Saturday, which would allow more participation from the public. Looking ahead two or three years, we could even make it a Saturday–Sunday event that we might call “SEMA Finals.” This type of event could include “regionals” held around the country, through which you could earn your ticket to the SEMA Finals to display alongside the SEMA Show vehicles.
I think it has a very good foundation, and I would challenge the councils, in particular HRIA and ARMO to help us with ideas like I mentioned above moving forward.
SN: In 2014, SEMA officially opened the doors of the SEMA Garage. What opportunities do you see to further expand or enhance the capabilities of the SEMA Garage?
DE: Since I last served on the BOD, SEMA has made large investments on behalf of the membership in the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar. This program, if leveraged fully, would allow our manufacturing members to bring technology, creativity and innovation back to their companies at a more economical cost. Done correctly, this will allow our members to keep up with changing vehicle complexities and technologies—and to bring more products to the marketplace.
If elected, I will challenge the councils and staff on how we can enhance the benefits, and I will use my sales and marketing leadership experience to help staff and councils promote these programs to the members in order to generate more use and a greater return on investment.
SN: What would you say about the importance of the role of the Board in the SEMA organization and why SEMA members need to vote in this year’s BOD election?
DE: The Board is so important because it represents the voice of all voting members. Board members are responsible for directing the association’s resources, including determining how those resources will be allocated and used on behalf of the members.
A good Board must be visionary but pragmatic—good leaders and consensus builders who are willing to vote on behalf of the entire membership, even if it might not be ideal for them or the companies they work for.
It’s important to vote in SEMA’s BOD elections just as it is important to vote in general federal and state elections; the people who win set the direction and tone for the years to come. For example, over the last eight years or so, SEMA has taken on some ambitious benefit projects for its members because of the previous BOD’s leadership ability and strategic planning.
It’s important to vote because SEMA is hitting its stride on some of those ambitious projects—and it’s decision time on whether or how we continue investing in those and get our membership to take full advantage of them.
Make your voice heard and vote in this year’s SEMA Board election when the ballots are available. I’m running for the chair-elect position—and I’m counting on your support!