There are two things that are immediately clear upon meeting Bill Tichenor, Holley Performance Products’ director of marketing. First, he’s a Kentucky boy with a thick accent, a warm way of communicating and a love for people, and second, he knows and loves Holley Performance Products probably like no one else.
Tichenor’s first and only job after college has been at Holley Performance Products, Bowling Green, Ky., which has been manufacturing carburetors, EFI and fuel systems of all shapes and sizes since 1903. He’s been at it now for 19 years.
Though he describes his days as “madness,” the love affair between Tichenor and his work at Holley is apparent. We talked with Tichenor when he squeezed in our interview between trade show travel and office duties.
PB: Hi Bill. Thanks for speaking with us. So, what got you interested in the automotive aftermarket?
BT: As a kid, I always liked anything with engines-go-karts and dirt bikes. I got my first hot rod at 17. I’ve always liked cars.
Coming from a small town, we played sports, hunted, fished, and we had a car. That’s all there was. We’d go to the racetrack on Saturday nights, cruise around on the weekends, that was part of life.
I always liked anything motorsports related. Today, kids are more distracted with electronics than we were.
PB: Tell us about your company and its place in the performance aftermarket.
BT: Holley is the winningest race carburetor manufacturer of all time. We’ve powered every NASCAR team since the 1960s. More races have been won with Holley than all others combined.
And now fuel injection is becoming stronger for us all the time. We supplied throttle bodies to NASCAR teams as they transitioned to fuel injection in 2012, and we just secured supplying our ECUs to all the GM COPO Camaros for 2013.
We have a lot of other leading brands, as well, like Hooker Headers, Earl’s Plumbing, NOS Nitrous, Weiand Superchargers and FlowTech exhaust, but we’re mostly known for carburetors. And we gained that status over time.
The modular carburetor is easy to work on and easy to tune for power. Our carburetors were on the baddest factory muscle cars back in the day. The best of the best comes from Holley.
Then they became available in the aftermarket. As performance enthusiasts started making more power, they needed bigger carburetors to go along with the engines getting more powerful.
Holley began as a family business. 2013 is Holley’s 110-year anniversary. It’s been around since the invention of the automobile. However, Holley’s been corporate-owned for a long time. The Holley family sold it decades ago. It is a wonderful brand; an American icon.
PB: What’s a typical day like for you?
BT: Madness. We have a lot of brands and I handle the marketing for all of them, so needless to say there is a lot to do. My team handles our website, advertising buying, ad creation, packaging, photography, video work, editorial coverage, catalogs, social media, product releases, trade shows, electronic data, events and motorsports.
We do all of our marketing and creative work in-house. We do everything, which saves money and time. I do the majority of the writing, but our graphics guys and the rest of the team make me look good.
PB: What’s the best thing about your job?
BT: Getting to fool with hot rods every day-and good people. I just went to the PRI show last week and we all talk about our kids together and keep up like we’re friends. We are friends.
After 19 years, I’ve got a lot of people in the industry and at Holley that are my friends. You spend so much time at work that they actually become like family. I like doing business with good people.
PB: What’s the biggest challenge?
BT: Handling all of our brands and giving them their just due. It’s important to not let daily distractions get in the way of the big picture, the vision.
PB: How do you see the current state of the performance aftermarket?
BT: I think it’s surprisingly good in light of the economy. That’s because it is an addiction for people. It’s how they get away from their daily worries.
When a guy goes to the racetrack or works on his car, that’s his hobby. Our market seems to tough it out through good and bad times because it’s such a powerful addiction. Once hot rodding is in your DNA, it’s hard to get rid of it.
P.B.: Where do you think the industry will be in 10 years?
BT: It’ll be here. We may be making some other form or type of vehicle more powerful or faster, but we’ll be doing something.
Since the beginning of time we’ve been racing something-on feet, on horses, in carriages or in vehicles. We’ll be making our cars look better, perform better and go faster.
PB: Which professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
BT: Being at Holley nearly two decades through all of the ups and downs, the good and the bad. Staying true to brands and wanting them to succeed. Hopefully, I’ve had a part in that.
PB: What’s your next big goal to achieve?
BT: We need to get younger people to know the Holley brand, to know our fuel injection. We’re known for our carburetors and that’s great, but being known for just that can be bad sometimes.
We have really great fuel injection products, and we’re also making a lot of products for GM’s LS engine, for example.
Also, three years ago, we launched an event I’m proud of: The Holley LS Fest. It instantly associated us with the LS engine market, a fuel-injected engine, and a younger crowd. That’s the beginnings of it.
I watch my little boys as they ride their dirt bikes and go-karts and play automotive video games to try to understand what makes them tick as a gearhead. I want Holley to be known by the next generation. We’ve started marketing toward younger generations and it’s not a small task. We need to talk their talk and walk their walk. I want more kids to get excited about it.
We’re fighting for their mind-share and what they’re going to do with their discretionary time and dollars. I know how much fun I’ve had. All of us as an industry must make sure it’s all passed on to future generations.
PB: As a final question, what’s your advice for speed shops seeking long-term success in the performance aftermarket?
BT: They need to find a niche they’re good at and then sell on what they have, which is service and knowledge.
A guy can buy parts in a lot of places, but if you’re the expert he leans on, he’ll spend his money with you because he needs your advice. This is a hobby and no one’s required to know anything-and there’s a lot to know about making a car and engine perform better.
Make your business a place where people want to hang out and make it a fun place to be. Have the coolest stuff on the walls; have a hot rod hangout in your area.
Also, get involved in the industry, have your own project vehicle and know that it’s your job to know what’s new. Anyone successful in this business has their own cars. Organize cruises or car shows in your area. Support your local race tracks. Give the locals something to do with their cars to keep them excited. When their cars are sitting in their garage under a car cover, they aren’t spending money on them.
More with Bill Tichenor
What was your first car?
Strangely enough, it was a large, 1975 Oldsmobile Delta.
What’s your dream ride?
I don’t really have a dream ride, because something of that nature is unobtainable for me, so I don’t think about it. I like anything with a great power-to-weight ratio and the ability to put the power to the ground. I really like my 1969 AMX. I got it when I was 17 and still have it. According to my 11-year-old son, a Bugatti Veyron is what I should dream about.
What’s on your computer/phone wallpaper?
Person you’d most like to meet.
I don’t yearn to meet anyone, to be honest. I’m not awestruck by anyone. Jesus Christ himself someday. But I don’t seek autographs; I just like good, honest, hardworking people. I get to meet a lot of neat people through work and my community.
If I wasn’t in the performance aftermarket, I’d probably be…
I’ve done this for 19 years and it’s the only job I’ve ever had. I got out of college and came here to Holley. I’ve had so much fun I haven’t had any other aspirations to do anything else, but service work would be good. When I retire, I’d like to give my time to charities and things like that to help people. I could see myself at a non-profit, with my energy going to a good cause.