Restyler of the Year’s mission is to ‘upgrade’ the industry and respect staff and suppliers.
It was 36 years ago when Ken Morris started what began as a modest vehicle accessories shop named Auto Additions Inc. in Westerville, Ohio. Through the years Morris grew his business and at one point took a high-school kid named Josh Poulson under his wing to teach him the aftermarket trade.
Today, Poulson, who now holds the reins of the once-modest operation, is PRO Council’s 2012 Restyler of the Year, and he has learned a lot in his 20-year tenure in the aftermarket business. PRO is the SEMA-based Professional Restylers Organization.
He credits Ken Morris for teaching him about the business and the opportunity to grow within the company.
“I started working at Auto Additions when I was 16 years old and while attending college,” Poulson recalls. Before joining Morris at the shop, “I worked at a grocery store bagging groceries and made $4.35 an hour,” says Poulson. “My friend later gave me a job at Auto Additions and I started making $5.50 an hour.” That was 20 years ago. “Back then I installed running boards and pin striping.”
After working for Morris a while Poulson was offered a management position and decided to stay. “I have worked in every aspect of the business from the ground up – from install to sales and managing to later becoming general manager,” he says.
And those experiences have served Poulson well, giving him the insight to run a business and the appreciation he has for his staff.
A restyling shop for today
Today, Poulson is the principal of Auto Additions and is excited to see his company continue its growth. This restyling business – and Poulson – have come a long way from their running board and pin striping days.
“We do a lot of leather interior, heated seats (especially during the winter months), remote starts, DVD players, backup cameras, 12-volt and electric powered sunroofs, ground effects, spoilers, wheels, tires, graphics, wraps and truck accessories,” Poulson notes.
Having his shop near a big city such as Columbus keeps him completely in tune with the latest trends to hit the market. “We see new models and trends just as soon as one would see them in New York or California,” he says.
The biggest trends Poulson has seen and believes will continue to grow are the advances in electronics. “Trends go up and down, so we stay ahead of the curve by knowing the upcoming trends. 12-volt and electronics are going to continue to grow, especially now that there is more integration [when it comes to installing these products] specifically for factory systems,” he says.
There are many things that Poulson tries to stay ahead of the curve in, one of which is his personal belief in the importance of thinking outside of the box.
“I’m not a factory worker type of guy. I like doing so many different things,” he says. “I like the diversification of how our business constantly changes and evolves. The hardest part though can be keeping up with the latest.”
His creative streak helped Auto Additions to continue to succeed during tough economic times and continue to grow today. “During the economic downturn we trimmed some fat by re-thinking the way we did things,” he says. “Restructuring and reorganizing were key, and we also put more attention into selling wholesale and developing our relationships with car dealers (90% of Auto Additions’ business is with dealerships, and each sale averages $500). Our overall business plan didn’t change too much; we just had to do some streamlining. Looking back on that time, the economic problem didn’t hurt us near as badly [as it could have] because we got very proactive.”
A respectful, family-oriented atmosphere
Auto Additions is still thinking outside of the box, and today does more than just upholster vehicle seating.
“We don’t just do upholstery on cars but for restaurant booths and exam tables in doctors’ offices,” he notes. “It’s a lot less expensive to re-upholster an exam table as opposed to buying a new table, which costs $1,000.”
Poulson also has negotiated deals with sports programs and teams, one of which is with Ohio State University. “In our area, that’s a big deal because there are a lot of crazy Buckeye fans,” he laughs. “So we have Ohio State themed restyling packages so we can capitalize on that market.”
Ohio State acquires royalty fees, and Auto Additions obtains very happy customers, some of whom have even requested that their car be modified to look like a Buckeye’s helmet.
Being able to provide his customers what they want, and thriving within the competitive aftermarket industry, has taught Poulson and his crew the keys to success -” growing in relationship with people – not only with his customers but starting within the shop bays of his organization.
“I was an employee, and I still believe in working with my guys,” says Poulson. “They don’t work for me; they work with me. I will still occasionally install something on a car, and I remember what was important to me [when I was an installer and employee]. Good communication and getting paid well for what you do are very important. So I keep them in the loop. We also take care of them with employee benefits, compensation packages and getting time off. We are a small family-type-owned business (Poulson himself is a family man with two young children) and I want my guys to spend time with their family – I don’t want this (working at the shop) to be their life.
“I also try to give them a good work environment, and make sure that they have the tools they need. If they enjoy what they do then it works out well.”
It’s always about service
Poulson believes in the importance of treating others with respect. His clients, manufacturers and those within SEMA, of which he has been a member of for four years, have experienced Auto Additions’ positive attitude first hand.
“The one thing that sets us apart from other restylers is also the No. 1 thing we focus on as a company: service.
“Everything is about service,” Poulson says. “The way we pick up, deliver, install and work with our customers. You can ask our customers [why they like us] and they will overwhelmingly say it’s because of our service.”
High-quality service and face-to-face relationships also have been a good form of advertising for Auto Additions. “There are 145 car dealers in our area and we work with about 100 of them” notes Poulson. “It’s not about putting an advertisement in the paper; it’s about building the relationship.”
Poulson’s work ethic was noticed and voted on by other restylers and manufacturers from around the country, earning him PRO’s 2012 Restyler of the Year award.
“Anyone who belongs to PRO (300 members) votes, and I believe [we won] because of our business practices with our manufacturers and customers,” Poulson says. “We are very fair with our manufacturers, and our reputation is known with other restylers from around the country. I like to think we are a very honest business because we are very upfront, which has always come back to help us. There is nothing wrong with having honest business practices in this day and age.”
Poulson says he appreciates being a SEMA member. “There are many benefits to being a SEMA member: You get to network, share ideas, and it’s good to have someone there to help watch the industry, kind of like a watchdog,” he notes. “We get so busy in our everyday business they (SEMA) help give us a chance to get a listening ear within the industry, and it’s good to have that combined power.”
Growing, upgrading the restyling world
Another powerful aspect of achieving success is by fiscal and physical growth. Through the years Auto Additions has grown by leaps and bounds, and today has a brand new 11,400-sq.-ft. facility. The new physical site consists of 2,400 sq. ft. of showroom and offices, 7,000 sq. ft. of shop (including 9 vehicle bays), and 2,000 sq. ft. of storage.
But don’t ever ask Poulson to use his shop to install “aftermarket” products. “I don’t use the term “aftermarket.” What we do for our customers is ‘upgrade’ their vehicles. Because they already have a nice car, we will upgrade it for them,” Poulson explains. “I am trying to get that term out more within the industry.”
With his can-do and positive attitude there is no doubt Poulson can make many large-scale and positive changes within our restyling community. That is, his professional life is all about upgrading the industry.