35 Under 35
Young Talent on the Rise
Now in its fourth year, the SEMA News 35 Under 35 roster has become a much-anticipated annual feature. In the following pages, we are again pleased to present 35 young trendsetters who are bringing exciting new ideas and renewed enthusiasm to every segment of the automotive specialty-equipment industry.
In order to land on our 35 Under 35 list, honorees must first be nominated by one or more industry peers. Pouring through the nominations, SEMA News looks for candidates who are already making a significant industry impact through their leadership within their organization or business. Entrepreneurship, commitment, insight, innovation, integrity, responsibility, demonstrated skill, involvement and success within the marketplace weigh heavily in our decision-making.
The selection process is never easy, and this year we received a record number of nominations, making a final list that much tougher to compose. In one way or another, every nominee is a winner. In the end, however, only 35 can make our special feature.
We believe you’ll agree that the honorees we’ve selected for 2015 have bright futures ahead of them as they fix their gazes on new horizons that will continue to grow and change the aftermarket in fresh new ways. However, as different as their approaches may be at times, every “old schooler” is still likely recognize in these young people the same passion and innovation that has grounded our industry from the beginning. Yes, they’re going places, and the journey promises to be exciting for all of us.
Matt Beenen, 28
Vice President, Product and Marketing, GrimmSpeed
When Matt Beenen first joined rapidly growing GrimmSpeed, he was tasked with advancing the company’s high-quality product lines and branding. (GrimmSpeed has been a trendsetter in exhaust components for the sport-compact market.)
Before long, Beenen was leading the company toward pioneering new product-development methods in the fast-paced Subaru market, including crowd sourcing and otherwise involving the enthusiast community in the design process.
“A major trend that we’re seeing is the thirst for knowledge that enthusiasts have. They’re making well-educated purchases and pushing manufacturers to produce innovative, high-quality products,” observed Beenen. “With the trend toward premium craftsmanship and American manufacturing, I think we’ll see a host of new manufacturers pop up and challenge the larger, more well-established businesses. In the retail world, access to wholesale accounts, social media and e-commerce solutions has created a very low barrier to entry, so manufacturers face the challenge of finding a way to continue supporting brick-and-mortar businesses, shops and tuners who support their products.”
In his briefcase: “A Moleskine grid-paper notebook, Fisher space pen, MacBook Pro, 64GB thumb drive, granola bar, racquet ball, iPhone, and a folding knife in my pocket and coffee in my hand.”
Shiva Bhardwaj, 24
CEO, Ansik Inc.
As the CEO of Ansik, Shiva Bhardwaj has grown his company to seven employees with an average age of 22 in just one year. Ansik produces Pitstop, which uses Bluetooth technology to identify engine issues in real time, and ShockLock, which prevents injuries from failed gas struts found in vehicle hoods and trunks.
“With the emergence of Internet of Things devices, the shift in consumer behavior to mobile technology is pushing the automotive service industry to be more innovative,” Bhardwaj said. “Technology in automotive service lags because it is not attractive to young entrepreneurs. We are utilizing machine learning techniques on our data to implement predictive maintenance, basically notifying the driver of issues before they come up. Our challenge is to introduce our technology in a manner that subtly changes the service-center process but showcases significant return on investment.”
Bhardwaj’s experiences in his father’s shop motivated him to create his company and, as a result, begin developing his innovative products.
In his briefcase: “I always carry my laptop, a pen and paper, an OBD Bluetooth dongle and my tool bag. I spend a majority of my day communicating with my team, investors and mentors. When I get time to myself, I am often under the hood of a car, tinkering with the technology Ansik builds.”
Andrew Betz, 27
Operations Manager, Affordable Fuel Injection Inc.
Andrew Betz was among Affordable Fuel Injection’s (AFI) first hires, not long after the company’s founding in 1997. He hit the ground running from the very beginning, showing initiative, leadership, an appreciation of quality and an aptitude for design, keeping him at the forefront of AFI’s new-product development. In 2013 he was promoted to operations manager.
“When I was eight years old, I got hooked on the automotive bug when my dad and I pulled the motor from his numbers-matching Chevelle SS to rebuild it,” recalled Betz. “Car cruises on Friday and Saturday nights with the family for ice cream still take me back today.”
In regards to manufacturing, “we need to constantly push ourselves to learn more,” he continued. “The mold of the aftermarket is ever-changing, and new products and ideas assure its future. A big company or corporation already has a larger market hold. Moreover, small businesses like ourselves have relatively fewer resources for investment and therefore must rely heavily on knowledge and understanding to fight for share in the market.”
In his briefcase: “A basic pen and paper can go a long way. I’m constantly on my iPhone and tablet asking Siri to make me a reminder list for the day. Electronic sketchpads are handy tools when no pencil sharpeners are around.”
Jake Carnevale, 25
Web Developer/Lead Graphic Designer, UnderCover Truck Bed Covers
With only five years in the aftermarket truck accessories segment, Jake Carnevale has been instrumental in helping launch UnderCover Truck Bed Covers into the new age of technology. He created a 3D customizer program from scratch that the company’s retailers use every day to show customers what their trucks will look like with a tonneau in place.
“Consumers now have the ability to research and customize products before they buy, and they also have numerous ways to purchase products through either online sites or in brick-and-mortar stores,” he said. “Companies must provide easily accessible information about their products. The Internet and social media have helped companies stay relevant and gain that competitive edge.”
Carnevale counts UnderCover President David Wells and former Marketing Director Jason Hutchens (now director of R&D) among his greatest influences.
“Dave gave me the opportunity to join UnderCover before I even graduated from college, and I’m so grateful for everything he has done for me,” Carnevale said. “I also couldn’t have been happier to work under Jason Hutchens’s tutelage and have the ability to tag-team all of the marketing for the company.”
In his briefcase: “My computers, programs and G2 black pens. I also wear Beats By Dre headphones while I work.”
Keith Charvonia, 32
Industrial Designer, Airaid Filter Co.
As an industrial designer, Keith Charvonia has redesigned the entire look and feel of Airaid’s intake line, contributing to record sales. A technical editor at Speedhunters.com and a true enthusiast, his car builds have also been featured in numerous print and online publications worldwide.
“Generally speaking, the enthusiast’s ability to research parts and connect with one another online has created a lot of transparency within the industry,” he observed. “Aftermarket manufacturers need to be keenly aware of how the consumer is using their products and then be able to adapt to their users’ needs during product development.”
The challenge, said Charvonia, “[is that] engine bays are becoming more cramped and complex every year. In addition, the OEMs are squeezing every last bit of efficiency from their engines, leaving less on the table for the aftermarket to improve on. It takes a very refined approach to create power gains while ensuring that today’s vehicles run correctly once modified.”
In his briefcase: “Since vehicles are growing more complex, we require equally advanced equipment. I use a 3D laser scanner, a 3D printer, a laser cutter, reverse engineering and solid modeling software, OE vehicle scanners, a flow bench and a dyno to do my job.”
BJ Elmore, 34
General Manager, RideTech
For the better part of his youth, BJ Elmore’s summers from school were spent learning drivability and service with his dad, an automotive technician.
“He gave me a clear understanding of the importance of doing quality work and the value of being able to fix whatever’s broken,” Elmore said. “We frequently touched on ‘good enough really isn’t,’ which in many cases equated to replacing broken, faulty or worn OE parts with performance parts from the aftermarket.”
Elmore moved from entry-level jobs through parts sales and vehicle sales before joining Ridetech as its event manager in 2004. His resume at the company took him from positions in inventory management to new-business development to IT and financial management—just in time for the economic downturn in 2008-2009. He was working on his degree in finance during that period, and his leadership skills eventually allowed him and the company to emerge stronger coming out than going in. A consummate car guy, Elmore has the ability to navigate financial and marketplace challenges with positive outcomes.
In his briefcase: “Although there’s plenty of lighter-weight technology available, I still travel with my laptop because I think connection is key in running a business today. Aside from that, my iPhone keeps me married, my schedule straight and my car pointed in the right direction.”
Chris Clark, 27
Director of Sales and Marketing, Kooks Headers and Exhaust
A 2012 SEMA Gen III Innovator of the Year award winner and a member of SEMA’s MPMC and ETTN councils, Chris Clark is already making his mark in service to the industry. At Kooks, he has created and managed a worldwide TV advertising campaign while increasing global marketing share by 75%. Add to that Kooks’ new Green Revolution product offering, utilizing EPA-verified technologies, which he also created, launched and currently maintains.
It seems that no job is too big or too small for Clark, who speaks to large crowds on industry topics as adeptly as he conducts classroom trainings, as well as working small events for jobbers to help them better engage consumers.
“Growing up, I always had a love for fast cars,” he said. “This stemmed from my grandfather, Papa Kooks, who has been in the racing and performance industry since 1956. He brought me into the family business. As the third generation, I’m proud to help steer this company through emerging technology trends and into the future of the performance aftermarket.”
In his briefcase: A laptop, an iPhone, a spiral notebook, pens, a mobile charger, six different USB cords and about 40 lbs. of text books to help complete his bachelor’s degree. “If I could figure out a way to get running water and my espresso machine into my bag, I’d have everything I need.”
Tanner Gould, 28
President, Blackworks Racing and Fast Track Distributing LLC
Tanner Gould started his aftermarket career as a successful warehouse distributor, quickly learning the inner workings of the aftermarket. In 2008, he founded Blackworks Racing and soon built an 800-plus-item product line. Currently, his Phoenix, Arizona-based company boasts more than 20 employees and an impressive array of CNC machines to manufacture 95% of its products in house.
“Here at Blackworks Racing, we operate as a small family and have built one of the fastest-growing brands in the U.S.,” he explained. “With design, fabrication, manufacturing and warehousing all under one roof, we’re able to control our entire supply chain function from start to finish. Bringing all our products back from overseas and manufacturing them in our Phoenix facility allows us to eliminate defects, respond to customer input, give top-notch technical support and develop new and innovative product lines in very little time.”
“I think the biggest challenge facing our business segment is protecting our intellectual property as well as staying ahead of the curve in coming out with new products,” added Gould, who credits his father as his greatest influence. “He encouraged me to proceed with my dream of working in the aftermarket industry.”
In his briefcase: A MacBook, two iPhones, three backup battery chargers, chewing gum, a pad of paper and two pens.
Jeremiah Graham, 34
Owner, Jeremiah’s Carstar Collision
Jeremiah Graham started in the collision-repair business at 18 when a neighbor noticed his work ethic and offered him a job. By 25, he was the shop’s general manager. When the owner retired, Graham bought the shop’s assets and opened Oklahoma’s first Carstar location, hitting the ground with an aggressive marketing campaign that included direct mail, TV and successful advertising on a smartphone weather app. He also threw sponsorship behind numerous local school, community and charity events. In 2015 CNN Money recognized him as a top blue-collar entrepreneur.
“New vehicle technology has been a struggle to keep up with for most vehicle repairers,” he said. “Sure, there are many resources out there for obtaining needed information, but with the many advancements and number of vehicles affected, it’s a struggle to keep up. I also worry that we may not be doing the best job at recruiting young people into our industry. The ones who do attend vocational school may not always be provided the best line-ready training. I hate seeing the techs we do have in our industry leaving to other industries and segments.”
In his briefcase: “For years, I wrote estimates on a clipboard. Now, with the advent of the tablet, I can’t imagine using pen and paper. My coworkers also know me for my Bluetooth headset, which I couldn’t survive very long without.”
Mitch Hines, 28
Fabricator, Painter, Builder, Kustom Automotive
The grandson of famed leadslinger Bill Hines, Mitch Hines is a partner with John Paul Oates in a shop called Kustom Automotive in Long Beach, California. Hines completed a winning ’51 custom Pontiac build for Ink N Iron and also co-built a Hirohata clone as well as John D’Agostino’s ’61 Olds convertible and others. He’s completed numerous motorcycle paint jobs, top chops and other projects for clients interested in maintaining the old-school tradition of car customizing, and he’s featured in ongoing tech-article coverage in Ol’ Skool Rodz magazine.
Hines apprenticed under his grandfather (who, at age 93, is still working on cars), so he’s worked on notable custom vehicles since he was a young teen. He’s dedicated to traditional customization that also incorporates modern industry components such as air-ride suspensions and electrical innovations, but he sees challenges afoot from increasing regulations on solvent-based paints. His greatest influences came from grandfather Bill, dad Mike Hines and cousin Teddy Z, as well as famed customizers Ed Barris, Eddie Martinez, Larry Watson and Keith Dean.
In his briefcase: “Deﬁnitely my iPhone. I use social media to show my work—it’s almost free advertising for yourself. I’ve gotten a lot of business through different networks, such as Instagram and Facebook.”
Tiffanie Hartenstein, 30
Director of Operations, Oracle Lighting
Tiffanie Hartenstein directly manages the day-to-day operations of Oracle Lighting, overseeing a staff of 25 employees. During Hartenstein’s 10 years at the helm, Oracle has more than doubled its annual revenue and offers more than 8,000 product SKUs, ranging from LED replacement bulbs and halo kits to LED off-road lighting.
“We are seeing large growth in our market segment,” she said. “The truck accessory market and the Jeep accessory market are growing rapidly, and both have high demand for quality lighting products. The economy has rebounded, and we have seen a sharp increase in sales over the past few years. The only challenge we can foresee is the possibility of additional regulations or restrictions on automotive aftermarket parts.”
Hartenstein was drawn to the industry after visiting her first SEMA Show 10 years ago.
“Seeing the Show for the first time was a great experience and made me want to be involved in the automotive aftermarket,” she said. “Being at Oracle allows me to work in a fun and creative environment with an amazing team.”
In her briefcase: “Although I use my iPhone for most things, I still carry a pen and paper. I can take notes much quicker that way. I also always have business cards and the newest Oracle catalog.”
Steven Jessup, 29
Senior Design Engineer, JRi Shocks
Through experiences in NASCAR with the Wood Brothers as well as street performance and the off-road market with JRi Shocks, Steven Jessup has become highly proficient in the design of suspension-damping products. If something doesn’t work, he won’t rest until he finds a way to make it better, faster and stronger.
“In this age of high-tech devices, everyone wants to have control at the push of a button,” he said. “At JRi, we want to offer complete and affordable suspension solutions that are adjustable at the customers’ fingertips. We believe that advancements in aftermarket suspension are the first steps in transitioning from a completely passive to a completely active yet affordable suspension solution that will set a new trend for years to come. The biggest challenge is to offer a competitively priced shock while also educating customers about the different types of shock absorbers and then show them why they will benefit from a product like ours.”
In his briefcase: “I always carry a notebook with me, and I also have an app on my phone for unit conversion, because some of our markets speak in metric while others use standard. I always like to have a pair of calipers and a tape measure handy. People are always asking me to spec out a shock for a new product offering.”
Jonathan Klinger, 33
Vice President, Public Relations, Hagerty Insurance
A 2004 graduate of the McPherson College automotive restoration program and currently sitting on the school’s board of trustees, Jonathan Klinger is an unabashed collector-car enthusiast. In October 2010, he challenged himself to adopt a stock ’30 Ford Model A as his sole personal transportation. Maintaining a daily blog, his goal was to inspire other young classic-car fans.
“During my lifetime, I’ve witnessed this industry rapidly mature from primarily a regionalized, DIY hobby to now include demand from all parts of the globe for all types of collector vehicles,” observed Klinger. “The biggest near-term challenge facing the classic-car industry is the threat of lost skills and the number of specialty-type jobs that will become available as seasoned experts retire from the workforce. This includes very niche skills that support the restoration industry. What I find most exciting, however, is that new collector vehicles are minted every day as time goes on. Cars from the ’80s and ’90s are transitioning from used to collector vehicles, and this also brings in a new generation of collectors who will continue to grow and evolve this industry.”
In his briefcase: A MacBook, an iPhone, Moleskine journals and a handmade, lathe-turned wooden pen given to him at graduation by his grandfather. “I’m still old school when it comes to notes and my daily schedule.”
Jason Kencevski, 33
A Millennial innovator, Jason Kencevski officially took Speedmaster’s reins in 2005, implementing a business model that made the company Australia’s number-one online reseller of automotive spare parts within a year. Strong teamwork and delivery of innovative products also led to the opening of a U.S. operation, which today boasts a 75,000-sq.-ft. facility and 400-plus staff.
Jason credits his father Peter, an Australian engine builder, for the inspiration to try his own hand in the aftermarket.
“If the brand is on point, it will speak volumes greater than any image,” he said. “We want our customers to recognize a Speedmaster product on every social-media outlet or sales channel there is through our consistent tactics.
“The automotive industry has been a slow bloomer in the e-commerce environment, yet it classes year on year as one of the strongest categories in sales and growth. Statistics show that sales for automotive parts and accessory sales online on this year’s Cyber Monday brought in $6.5 billion, a 24% increase from 2013. I’m not stating that you should run out and sell online but expressing the importance of delivering a product or service that will facilitate interaction in this environment.”
In his briefcase: “I can’t do business without my iPhone, Green Apple app and a hot cup of coffee.”
Bradley Kline, 31
Director of Sales, Gateway Classic Cars
Gateway Classic Cars had one showroom when Bradley Kline took over as sales manager in late 2008. It now has nine, with three to be added in 2015 and plans for a total of 35 in the United States. Kline relocates to open each new outlet, train staff and ensure success. He has moved to St. Louis, Louisville, Chicago, Detroit and Tampa in the past four years, helping gain Gateway international recognition as one of the world’s largest classic-car companies.
Kline’s father runs his own shop, which restores interiors as well as vinyl and convertible tops, and Kline grew up watching his dad work on everything from Model Ts to airplanes. That is where Kline got his first look at cars and developed his appreciation for them as pieces of rolling art.
“The biggest challenge in this segment is keeping up with the changing market,” Kline said. “As older cars become worth less and become harder to move, new generations of cars go up in value. A big trend right now is to use modern drivelines in classic cars. People want the reliability, comfort, fuel economy and improved emissions of a late model while retaining the killer looks of a ’60s or ’70s musclecar or earlier street rod.”
In his briefcase: Kline relies on his laptop, business cards, pen, paper, gum and a green highlighter for crossing things off his to-do list as he gets them done.
Aston Liyanarchi, 32
Wheel Designer/Director of Product Development, SB Wheel Manufacturing
As head of design at SB Wheel Manufacturing, a U.S.-based manufacturer, Aston Liyanarchi designs and develops products that will help bring production of wheels back to the United States. During his career, he has designed more than 700 different wheels currently on the road and being marketed.
“The wheel industry is continuously changing, much like fashion or music trends,” he said. “Consumers push the limits with ever-changing personal tastes, and wheel designs, diameters, widths, offsets and fitments are becoming more aggressive. As a manufacturer, we are continually pushing the envelope of design and production. We have to create wheels that are lighter and stronger while using innovative designs and advanced materials so that our products stand out.”
Liyanarchi has always loved the design and engineering of cars, and his parents encouraged him to follow a career in something he was passionate about. That’s what influenced him to pursue a career in the automotive design industry.
In his briefcase: “I keep a sketchbook and pens with me for when I get an inspiration to sketch something or just to doodle. For business, I always have my iPhone to keep in touch and my laptop to work on design ideas when I am inspired by something or if a client needs a file right away.”
Vini Madrigal, 28
Owner/Builder, Vini’s Hot Rods
An entrepreneur who first set up shop at 21, Vini Madrigal’s skill and dedication have made him an award-winning builder. In 2013, one of his builds made Street Rodder’s top five street rods of the year, and he has also received multiple industry honors for his work with paint, undercarriages, motors and more.
“My earliest recollection of being interested in the automotive field is my mother bribing me with Hot Wheels so I’d go to kindergarten,” he recalled. “Although very supportive of my trade, no one in my family was interested in cars. It was just something I developed on my own. Eventually, I found a neighbor with a vintage Porsche and another with a Buick. I spent as much time as I could learning from these builders and progressing from there.”
Madrigal said that drivability is one of the biggest trends at the moment.
“Cars are now being built as nice as they are dependable—to perform and to show at the same time,” he said. “I personally like this trend because it makes the build and the end result more enjoyable for both the customer and the builder. A big challenge is finding skilled help with a good work ethic, however.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone, notebooks, day planners, Sharpie pens and safety glasses that he treats like gold—along with an XM radio and his dog Titan to keep him company in the shop.
Joel McKay, 30
Vice President, Engineering and R&D, APR LLC
In very little time, Joel McKay has built a big list of accomplishments at APR, an aftermarket engineering company based in Opelika, Alabama. In just three years he grew the engineering department from six to 20 staffers, managed the development of more than 70 products and led cost-reduction strategies that increased the company’s gross margin by 14%.
“While studying mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama, I was a part of the school’s Formula SAE team,” he said. “I was already an automotive enthusiast before joining, but being associated with a group of guys as passionate about fast cars as I was made me realize that I wanted to be part of this industry.”
McKay noted that environmental concerns have forced manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions, and that trend will continue.
“Many new Volkswagens are partial zero emissions vehicles, currently the strictest emissions requirement any automotive gasoline engine must adhere to,” he said. “As a result, improving performance can become challenging. Higher-end upgrades, such as turbochargers, may no longer be an option, especially if replacing the catalytic convertor isn’t allowed, even with a CARB-certified unit. Much of our R&D is being spent accordingly.”
In his briefcase: A laptop with MS Excel and engine calibration tools, an iPad with calendar and a Sudoku app, a TI89 calculator, and APR Mobile for engine diagnosis.
Ernie B. Manansala Jr.
Ernie B. Manansala Jr., 33
Founder, Kolab Interactive Agency
Since entering the industry at the age of 19, Ernie Manansala Jr. has played key roles in the marketing of companies such as NOS Energy Drink, Garrett Turbos, Konig Wheels, Fujita Brake, K1 Speed and many more through his Kolab Interactive Agency. His number-one influence has been tuner pioneer RJ De Vera, who has been providing guidance both professionally and personally for more than a decade.
“Technology is always trending in some form,” Manansala said. “We all have to adapt to the changes or be left behind. I am currently getting elbow-deep into video and anything mobile. Our customers’ challenge is that the middleman is being cut out more and more due to the Internet and its constant advances. Understanding and accepting the importance of a fan-base following and converting that into a business is going to be the key to staying relevant.”
In his briefcase: “I can’t go anywhere without my iPhone—communication is everything—and I can’t live without Google, which houses our store’s e-mails, chats, screen sharing and everything we need on a daily basis. My Macbook Pro and Photoshop are like my ammo in battle. I can also go on and on about LiquidPlanner, Join.Me and camera equipment, but to be honest, I am nothing without my staff! I may be the heart and soul, but Bob and Marty Apodaca are definitely the backbone, and the rest of the team is the mind of Kolab.”
Chris Milne, 33
Export Manager, Turbosmart
Since 2001, Chris Milne has honed numerous aftermarket skills, including sales and management, marketing, engine tuning and supplier negotiation. Upon taking over the Turbosmart export channel in 2012, he posted 35% year-to-year growth for the company and then recently moved to the United Kingdom to launch Turbosmart UK, a wholly owned subsidiary that he is building from scratch.
“Retail is changing and changing fast,” asserted Milne. “As a manufacturer, we need to work with channel partners to continue developing the market. Being creative and imaginative is critical, as the old days are gone, and adding value through storefronts, customer service and support is not as simple as it once was. Taking a look at all the links in the distribution chain from the minute the products leave the door all the way to being fitted on a car is essential. We need to look at who is doing what, and ask ourselves how the consumers are truly being serviced.”
Milne also believes in getting out and exploring markets firsthand.
“I’m lucky enough to travel a lot in my work,” he said. “Skype is great, but a handshake is by far more important. The world is a small place these days.”
In his briefcase: A passport, an iPhone and earphones. “Music quite literally helps me solve problems, can improve a mood, aid productivity and create some solitude in a busy environment.”
Tim Palazzolo, 34
Owner, Gap Racing Inc.
A 2014 Ridler contender and winner of a Great 8 Award at the Detroit Autorama, car builder Tim Palazzolo also won an award for the outstanding street machine at the Houston Autorama, along with a host of other awards. Every car he builds is different from the last, and each is designed to fit the customer while mixing in Palazzolo’s personal touches.
“The car-building process is not like what you see on television,” he said. “It takes time, money and patience. Every customer is unique in his wants and goals for his vehicle. It is important to me that the customer becomes a friend, because he is trusting me with his investment.”
“I started in the business alongside my father,” he continued. “He got me started with this obsession, and I was fortunate enough to turn it into a career. I took the core of what he taught me and ran with it.”
In his briefcase: “My computer, phone and notepads. If I see something I like, I snap a picture and save it for future use. I may see something that I think might work on one of my projects or something that inspires me, so I keep pictures, notes and even sketches. I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas, so I write them down.”
Consumer Brand Specialist/Custom Vehicle Builder, Westin Automotive
Many of Cris Payne’s vehicles have toured show circuits and received Best in Show recognition, and he has successfully managed SEMA Show vehicle builds for the last five years through his own initiative and networking. What started as a hobby and a passion for trucks developed into a career that he loves with help from Roland Trudell, the founder of Rolling Big Power, who kept Payne striving to create bigger and better projects, and his newest mentor and close friend Alicia Castillo, who provided guidance in his new field of employment.
“Strong truck sales and forecasts suggest that truck enthusiasts are willing to spend money on their new vehicles,” Payne said. “From a manufacturing and new-product standpoint, this is the green light. In the next 12 months, Westin will bring more than 20 new products to market, many of which are within the truck and off-road segment. I’m excited to get my hands on them and start building some trucks!”
In his briefcase: “Briefcase? People still carry those things?
I am more of a cell phone kind of guy [iPhone 6 Plus]. I don’t go anywhere without my phone. It’s my lifeline to this great industry, with a vast network of contacts ranging from business owners to the company who’s who. It also helps me stay fresh on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and my favorite—Instagram!”
Kevin Patrick, 33
Founder and President, Exomotive
After seeing a rising interest in Stuart Mills’ Mills Extreme Vehicles (MEV) kit-car line, Kevin Patrick sealed a deal with Mills in 2011 to found and make Exomotive the exclusive U.S. provider of MEV Exocet kits, completely redeveloping the kit for the U.S. market. Manufacturing all components in Atlanta and marketing mostly by Internet,
Exomotive is now one of America’s fastest-growing kit/component vehicle manufacturers.
“From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been passionate about vehicles, technology and driving,” said Patrick. “I grew up in a family of hard-working small-business owners who loved to work with their hands.
“As the availability of lower-cost, on-demand manufacturing technologies continues to grow, small manufacturers have a variety of new tools to create better products while lowering production costs. Whether a business is using a traditional subtractive or a newer additive production process, the expanding availability of both in-house and outsourced options continues to lower the barrier of entry for small manufacturers to come into the market and shake things up.”
In his briefcase: Patrick’s Timbuk2 bag is packed with an iPhone, a laptop, business cards, Exocet fliers, a DSLR camera, a GoPro and the company checkbook.
Tommy Perkins, 29
Owner/Upholsterer, Seams Ridiculous Upholstery
An award-winning upholsterer, Tommy Perkins brings new ideas, creative details and socially connected design to an old-school trade. He loves to push the envelope with color combinations and intricate embellishments throughout each car, possessing an ease in understanding his customers’ desires to bring their cars alive from inside out.
“The most important trends affecting my segment of the industry are the advances in vinyls to be more like leather,” he said. “These new materials allow for lower costs, which let me spend more time in the design and execution of award-winning interiors at affordable prices.”
Perkins’s father taught him about hot rods and musclecars, and the two travel to car shows together.
“At an early age, I decided I wanted to be one of the guys who built what I had been looking at,” he said. “I’ve busted my butt to get to where I am, but I always had family support, especially from my dad!”
In his briefcase: “I don’t carry a briefcase, but I do keep important business info, notes, estimates and invoices in a really awesome backpack/bookbag. But the main business tool that I cannot live without is my iPhone. It stores all of my customers’ information, estimates, invoices and receipts. I have full e-mail access, and I use Square for credit transactions. I basically run my whole business from my pocket!”
Lucas Priamo, 25
Creative Director, Theory Communication & Design
A consummate car enthusiast, Lucas Priamo has worked on a variety of creative projects for major companies, such as
ExxonMobil, Chevrolet, Vortech Superchargers, NASCAR, Formula D and more.
“Our market is an incredibly personal one,” he said. “The consumer relationship to our industry is not linear, calculated, organized and right-brained. It’s creative, impulsive, emotional and left-brained. The love of cars and the journey of personalizing vehicles is something that brings joy to people. The most important trend currently affecting my segment is generating loyal customers through the use of emerging communication platforms to tell the stories behind the brands and their people. Identifying the next trend and helping to create a voice that stands out is the most important challenge we face as marketers.”
In his briefcase: “First and foremost is my camera, followed by my laptop. My Pelican cases and laptop are covered in stickers that are memories of my work within the industry—stickers such as completing the ‘Tail of the Dragon’ drive along US 129 and exclusive feature-car stickers that are awarded to the cars that I shoot and that appear on Chevrolet’s news website, theblock.com. They each carry meaning and are reminders that when I’m working on a design or doing a photo shoot, I am doing it for myself—because I love it!”
Jesse J. Rohr
Jesse J. Rohr, 32
U.S. Sales & Marketing Director, MBRP Inc.
Jesse Rohr handles corporate branding and business-to-business sales in North America for performance exhaust company MBRP. He also holds the distinction of being the youngest sales and marketing executive in the history of two major companies in the past decade—MBRP currently and Truckaddons.com previously—and he is intimately involved in several racing organizations, both professionally and recreationally.
As Rohr grew up, his weekend routine included drooling over the Summit Racing catalog and flipping through every page of Hot Rod and Car Craft magazines. Reading about cars that were blazing the quarter-mile in record time made him want to turn his dreams into a career. Yet he also worries about the industry.
“Government regulations encroach and threaten our thriving segment every day, and I am afraid that testing and certifications could cause hyper-inflation for many of the goods retail consumers are interested in buying,” he said. “While I’m hopeful that new strategies in the works will help alleviate this concern, the challenge still presents itself on a daily basis.”
In his briefcase: “My iPhone is my mobile office. With nearly 150 travel days a year as the norm for my position, it’s hard to picture doing my job without it. I’ve always got to have the newest, largest memory and the most up-to-date version of the device, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Jon Pulli, 33
Chief Executive Officer, Turn 14 Distribution Inc.
Jon Pulli co-founded Turn 14 Distribution with Chris Candido. It’s a self-funded, wholesale-only distribution company with facilities in Pennsylvania and Nevada employing nearly 100 people, almost all of whom are hands-on enthusiasts. Proprietary technology development and integration laid the foundation for an efficient operation where employees, suppliers and customers all benefit.
“Data and content have a profound impact on product sales,” Pulli said. “There is a direct correlation between the amount of information that can be easily disseminated about a product and the product’s sales. The quality and relevance of data and content are the most important battlegrounds, from my perspective. As a wholesale distributor, our biggest challenge is continuing to add more value to the supply chain in new ways year after year.
In his briefcase: “I’m a strong believer in work/life balance. Especially in today’s age of constant connectivity, I’m a big proponent of ‘unplugging’ while away from the office. I believe that you should have enough faith in your team for them to handle adversity without you. In doing so, others are given opportunities to grow and handle more responsibility. Disconnecting also affords the opportunity to recharge your batteries and return to work with a fresh perspective. Some of my best ideas have come to me after extended periods away from the office.”
Morgan Schultz, 28
Sales and Marketing Manager, Silent Running
As the sales and marketing manager for coatings manufacturer Silent Running, Morgan Schultz developed a company marketing campaign that broadened a sound-insulation product from the industrial and marine industries into the automotive realm. Her success in the male-dominated marketplace has grown from her grasp of innovations such as social media.
“Facebook and Instagram have positively impacted sales and marketing,” she said. “Having customers engage with others about their experiences allows a product to gain more trust than something like a print ad developed internally by a company. Social media also make it easier for companies to receive direct feedback from their customers and learn how they can continue to improve their products. Being prominent within social media allows companies to become more ‘humanized,’ as customers see companies almost as personalities rather than as faceless entities.”
Schultz said that keeping products fresh in people’s minds is the greatest challenge in sales. “What makes this job fun is being surrounded by people who are so passionate about their cars and then learning that I helped them construct their final build.”
In her briefcase: “Since I travel for work, having my phone on me is critical to access email at all times. I also keep a few pictures of my two dogs, and I have about eight ChapSticks—six of which are unopened.”
Torry Skurski, 34
Content Developer, Motovicity Distribution
Torry Skurski is responsible for promoting and creating content for more than 160 brands at Motovicity Distribution. His greatest influence was his father, who worked for Nissan North America and inspired Skurski to earn a degree in automotive engineering technology. For more than 14 years, he also has been an active administrator on the industry forum Nicoclub.com, where he has written some of the forum’s most popular articles. His degree and experience enable him to communicate on both a technical and a general level.
“As a performance parts distributor, educating younger car enthusiasts about performance and functionality is critical for Motovicity,” he said. “Radical suspension geometry, incredible engine modifications and aerodynamic developments have played an integral part on the components enthusiasts choose for their cars. The biggest challenge I see is keeping imitation brands off the market... As sales of these parts increase, sales of genuine parts decrease. That hurts the market by not funding the R&D that goes into the design of the name-brand parts.”
In his briefcase: “I typically carry a laptop and a phone with a data connection. As fast as content spreads on the Internet and social media these days, I want to make sure I’m on top of it.”
Troy Spackman, 31
Owner/Fabricator, Legacy Innovations
With 10 employees aged 26 to 40, Troy Spackman specializes in custom vehicles at Legacy Innovations. His one-stop shop builds cars that compete at the highest levels, with honors including a Goodguys’ Gold Bar, a Detroit Autorama first place award, finalist for Street Machine of the Year and a SEMA Best GM Vehicle award, to name a few. People who know Troy say he displays excellent leadership abilities in project planning and business evolution, and he has proven his ability to manage all facets of the business.
“A quality job done correctly the first time is worth the initial perceived increased investment,” he said, “and fewer high-quality modifications hold more value than higher-quantity alterations with lower quality. Performance and quality are key components to success in today’s aftermarket industries. Technology, trends and tastes will all change, but the feeling you get when a show-goer or stranger does a double-take while you’re passing by—that will never change. The challenge, then, is to provide that experience for customers in a mutually beneficial and realistic manner.”
In his briefcase: “I have come to the realization that a handheld with Internet is a necessity. Remote email access, searching the Internet and GPS are excellent resources. I still find that I tend to use pen and paper when I’m at my facility or, more importantly, my good ideas end up on the side of a box in Sharpie.”
Raymond Smega, 30
Vice President, General Manager, ACCEL Performance Group
At age 30, Raymond Smega holds both a mechanical engineering degree and an MBA, and he is an active participant in karting, motorcycling and drag racing. At ACCEL Performance Group, he has risen from product manager to business unit manager to vice president and general manager in less than a year.
“I grew up around cars, thanks to my dad,” he recalled. “At two years old, I was covered in grease from a small-block Chevy, and I guess that was the start.”
Smega sees the growing technological complexities, power and efficiencies of OEM offerings as continued challenges to the specialty-equipment market.
“Staying on top of the data necessary to navigate the ever-increasing nuances between model-year and even mid-year changes by the OEMs will be essential,” he asserted. “Without the proper data, our customers wouldn’t be able to confidently recommend the right products to end consumers. Those same complexities also make aftermarket product development more difficult, as one gasket or coil no longer works on every Chevrolet or Chrysler like it did 20 years ago. But these challenges keep things exciting.”
In his briefcase: A laptop for crunching numbers, an Android smartphone for constant connectivity, and a pen and notepad to help tackle his latest to-do list.
Jason Starkey, 27
President, Owner, Starkey Products
Jason Starkey began his aftermarket career with VMP Tuning at a mere 13 years of age before joining Superchips in an entry-level capacity. Eventually, the encouragement of his Superchips manager Laurel Dasher and his older brother Justin led Jason to launch Starkey Products, which has grown from manufacturing a single wiring harness into a fully staffed company producing 50 different wiring assemblies.
“The aftermarket is rapidly evolving, and it’s difficult for small companies like us to keep up with changes,” observed Starkey. “Specifically, OEMs are adopting complex technology and making frequent adjustments to their vehicles, making the design of safe and effective aftermarket products more challenging than in the past. On the flip side, we can now leverage technology like never before, allowing us to cut down significantly on our administrative and support costs and reach customers in new ways.”
“Part of our business model in the past was to support niche markets,” he continued. “This involved listening more to what customers desired than creating products we hoped they would buy. Amid the adversity of rising costs for designing, engineering and manufacturing products also comes opportunity.”
In his briefcase: Starkey carries a backpack with an always-open, 17-in., ProWorkFlow-equipped laptop for project management as well as an iPhone and a flash drive with all his business files constantly backed up.
Adam Stevens, 33
Owner, A2i Wheel and Tire
In 2009 Adam Stevens started A2i Wheel and Tire from his garage to deliver hard-to-find products to consumers. By 2014, he had grown his single-man operation into a company of seven employees generating just under $2 million in sales and a becoming a 2014 Corp! magazine Michigan’s Economic Bright Spot award winner.
“When I first arrived in the wheel industry, I had no clue what I was getting myself into,” admitted Stevens, who credits Chad Blood, formerly of American Racing, for the inspiration to pursue an aftermarket career. “Chad first hired me at American Racing and gave me the chance to learn wheels, tires and all the other products out there.”
Stevens acknowledged that the Internet has become a huge part of the automotive industry.
“We find many of our products online, and we sell a lot of products online,” he said. “One of the most important trends in wheels and tires would have to be the explosion of truck wheels. Everyone wants that off-road look with on-road performance. Customization and new products have always been desirable and will remain an ever-changing aspect of the industry.”
In his briefcase: “My iPhone, iPad and laptop are major tools, and my keyboard is the one tool I wouldn’t be able to survive without.”
Martin Trinh, 34
President and CEO, R1 Concepts Inc.
At 23, Martin Trinh launched R1 Concepts. In the early days, he, his brother Thang and cousin Dan worked 15-hour days machining, packing and shipping brake rotors. Today the company has 50 employees and a full catalog of award-winning brake components covering virtually every foreign and domestic application.
“We have taken our marketing to a whole other level using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and are proud of our impressive following,” said Trinh, pointing out that it can be difficult to come up with new, innovative and cost-effective brake products.
“We must carefully consider the resulting retail price,” he said. “With more car enthusiasts purchasing their own parts online or in stores and installing them themselves, we take pride in the quality of our products. We’re currently working on environmentally friendly brake pads with reduced levels of copper to comply with new laws.”
Trinh always had an interest in cars as a kid.
“My fascination grew during high-school years when the car scene started to grow in Southern California,” he said. “Having a family with machinist and fabrication backgrounds encouraged me to create a product that would help me get my foot into the automotive aftermarket.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone, an iPad, business cards, breath mints, calipers and a Clash of Clans app for stress relief.
Justin Tomney, 23
Co-Founder, Royal Automotive Accessories
Justin Tomney studied accounting in college, but had already started Ultra Bright Lightz—one of Long Island’s leading emergency-vehicle light suppliers and installers—at the age of 16. He co-founded Royal Automotive Accessories at the age of 22 with Michael Bizzaro and developed the Hose Slide, a simple accessory that prevents water hoses and electrical cords from being trapped under a tire while a vehicle is being worked on.
“Technology is not only changing the way we use products, but it’s also changing the way we market and produce them,” Tomney said. “Just a few short years ago, YouTube and Facebook were largely unknown. Today, they’ve become great channels of exposure for us.”
Tomney sees outsourcing as a growing industry challenge.
“We vowed to manufacture our flagship product, the Hose Slide, entirely in the U.S.A.,” he said. “However, we regularly face pressure from suppliers and bargain sellers who want to maximize profits. While it may be easy now to ward off outsourcing, as our product line grows—and so does the complexity of the products we produce—our efforts to stay in the USA will become increasingly difficult.”
In his briefcase: “I can’t go anywhere without my Burt’s Bees lip balm and iPhone.”
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 www.sema.org/35-under-35.