James A. Wrobleski, Sr., was laid to rest on Nov. 22 in Michigan City, Indiana, just four days after he died. He was 86 years old.
Friends of Wrobleski remember him as a titan in the performance and racing market.
“He had a big heart and he treated everybody really well in the industry,” said Mark Bogucki, communications director for Motor State Distributing. “He was one of the best guys and one of the best reps that I ever knew.”
Wrobleski went to work for Exide Battery after graduating from Indiana University School of Business in 1958. His salesman chops were evident early on, as he won the company's top sales award at least once in his four years there.
Wrobleski then went to work for one of the first performance warehouse distributors when he was hired by CB Sales in Chicago. During his five years serving as a sales manager for CB Sales, he convinced owner Chuck Bobbins to carry a new line of individually packaged gaskets from a line called Mr. Gasket.
“He had bigger fish to fry than that,” said Fred Van Senus, a friend of Wrobleski.
In 1967 Wrobleski started his own rep firm—Jim Wrobleski & Co., Inc.—specializing only in performance and accessory lines.
“Jim (Wrobleski) was the first manufacturers rep in the performance automotive aftermarket in the country. He was the first manufacturer rep that sold solid performance,” said Van Senus, who founded Vehicle Specialties Inc. (VSI) in 1979 but was longtime family friends with Wrobleski, who used to make sales stops at Van Senus’ parents’ auto parts store in the 1960s selling for Exide. Van Senus would go on to sell VSI to Meyer Distributing in 2014.
“(Wrobleski) went to some manufacturers and asked to rep their lines. That’s how he got started with his rep firm,” Van Senus said. “He landed some major performance lines, like Earl’s Fittings, Isky Cams and Doug’s Headers.”
Van Senus was close enough to Wrobleski over the years to attend football games of Wrobleski's beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He also accompanied Wrobleski on some sales trips.
“With Jim (Wrobleski), It wasn’t go to the bar, or going out late—it was exercising, going out and having a light meal and that was it. He was up early in the morning and all his appointments were all set up perfectly,” Van Senus said.
Wrobleski was a perfectionist, too, Van Senus added.
“He was a very complete person. That’s why he had so many of the better product lines,” he said. “If he told you he was going to do something, you could count on it. In my 50 years in the industry I can say there was not a rep as complete as Jim, and never as much of a perfectionist. His follow through was impeccable.”
The awards and recognition for Wrobleski prove as much. He was an early member of SEMA and over the years his company received over 100 top sales, sales growth and individual sales awards. His company was honored with the SEMA Manufacturers Rep of the Year award in 2001 and he was inducted into SEMA's Manufacturers Rep Council Hall of Fame in 2007.
Jim Wrobleski & Co., Inc. is now operated by Jim and Dave Wrobleski, Wrobleski’s sons. Wrobleski is also survived by his wife Geraldine "Jeri" Ference, three grandchildren, his sister and brother in law.
Wrobleski was born July 11, 1931, in Michigan City to the late Anthony and Violet (Stawowy) Wroblewski. He later U.S. Army and enjoyed traveling to Northern Wisconsin where he could fish and enjoy the local community.
Contributions in Wrobleski’s honor can be made to St. Jude's Children Research Hospital at 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105. To sign a guest book and leave condolences online visit otthaverstock.com.