Talkin’ With Lou: Rus Michaelson, CEO/Owner, Premier Performance

Dec 2, 2009

Love the name, “Premier Performance” a jobber recently told me. You know immediately “what it stands for” he explains. Miss either the “Premier” or the “Performance” and you still get the point. You’re absolutely right, I tell him, “Some times it’s the simplest business names with the greatest impact.” Disposing of all generalities, what Rus Michaelson and his crew at Premier Performance have accomplished in the few short years they’ve been in business is simply astounding.

Ask any jobber specializing in diesel performance, as I did today, what they know of Premier and you’ll hear things like, “Great customer support, a classy operation, great training programs, a real relationship WD.”

In fact, type Premier Performance into Google and you’ll find 2,380,000 results with Rus’ company right at the top of page one. At a time when it’s easy, maybe even convenient, to complain about the economy, overseas competition and high gas prices, somewhere in the shadows of Yellowstone National Park, in the picturesque town of Rexburg, the crew at Premier Performance are hard at work continuing to build a solid business as the leading warehouse distributor in diesel performance.

And heck, how could you not love a guy who tells you his favorite car is, “Any Lamborghini?”

L.J.: Rus, thank you for taking some time to catch up with me today. Before we get started, tell me how Premier got its start in the picturesque town of Rexburg, Idaho, and while you’re at it, tell me more about Rexburg.

Rus: It is where I was living when I first heard about propane injection for diesel pickup trucks. I’ve always been a horsepower junkie, and so I bought a kit for my 1999 Ford Power Stroke, and I loved the power. Shortly thereafter, I negotiated with Bully Dog a sales territory to sell and distribute their system, and so I turned my garage into my warehouse and began selling out of my home. As far as Rexburg is concerned, it is a college town with a variety of nearby outdoor activities where family values are still important. With the small community environment, it is a great place to raise a family.

L.J.: From what I gather, Rexburg’s population is somewhere around 17,000 people. How’d you grow such a successful business in such a small town? Where do you find qualified people?

Rus: Well, I was fortunate. Soon after propane injection became available, other manufacturers started developing products for diesel trucks. Superchips introduced their gold chip for the Ford Power Stroke, and they were followed by van Aaken with their module for the Dodge Cummins. I was then introduced to Brett and Taylor Satterthwaite of Edge Products, who had developed their own module for the Cummins, and I became their exclusive distributor. These small items with a huge horsepower gain allowed me to easily distribute products nationwide and also into Canada. There are a lot of benefits to operating a business in a small town, such as taxes, insurance and having a great workforce available.

L.J.: I understand you work with your employees to help get them behind the wheel of their own diesel trucks. How exactly do you do that, and how does it pay off for the company?

Rus: I have always recognized the value of customer service. Having a qualified and trained sales staff with the technical expertise to help our customers with the products that we offer has been one of the keys to our success. To gain this knowledge, there is no better way than to have our employees personally installing, testing and using the products on their own diesel trucks. But let’s face it, these diesel trucks are expensive to purchase. So, we offer a program to motivate and assist our employees to drive a diesel truck. Because of these technically trained employees, we offer a level of service that no one else can. I feel that this is what separates us from the rest and has helped make us who we are today.

L.J.: A lot of WDs out there are second and third generation businesses. How did you convince so many jobbers and manufacturers to go with you?

Rus: We don’t convince them. We realize that there are many choices out there, and we try to be the better choice by helping them to see the value in doing business with Premier and seeing what we can do for them. We want to make the working experience together enjoyable. We try to make it so that our customers have an easy and positive experience every time they deal with Premier, and we have that same philosophy with our vendors. Life is too short to not enjoy what you do.

L.J.: I keep hearing of the imminent death of the traditional warehouse distributor, or perhaps more succinctly, the metamorphosis of the traditional WD into a warehouse/retailer blend. What are your thoughts on the role of the traditional WD in today’s fast-moving market?

Rus: There appears to be a trend where some traditional WDs are selling consumer direct via the Internet and/or retail outlets. However tempting this may be to sell product at a higher margin, I believe that supporting our customers and not competing head-to-head with them is the right thing to do. I still feel that there is an irreplaceable value in the traditional role that the WD plays in stocking and distributing product in a timely manner to retailers. I trust that the jobber/retailer will see the value in supporting the WD who does not compete with him in his market. However, for the traditional WD to remain healthy, he must have support from both the manufacturer and the jobber.

L.J.: You have more than one warehouse, correct? How does that help you serve your customers?

Rus: You are right. We do have more than one warehouse. We actually have warehouses in Rexburg, Idaho; Louisville, Ky.; Dallas and starting in July, we will have Fresno, Calif., along with imminent plans for other locations. Same-day shipping has always been one of our company policies in order to better satisfy our customer. The customer wants product the day that they order it and the more distribution centers that we offer, the sooner we can get product in their door.

L.J.: I saw the sport compact market come and go. In fact, The Fast The Furious seemed all too apropos in the end. How are you able to manage your growth in the diesel market, a segment whose growth is on par with the sport compact market?

Rus: The growth has been exciting and along with that has come the challenge of managing that growth within the company. In facing these types of challenges, it is important to surround yourself with good people, and I feel that I have been able to do just that by building a great team of employees and managers. The success of a company of this size and growth cannot be accomplished by one man alone.

L.J.: You refer to Premier Performance Products as the “invisible partner dedicated to your (the jobber/retailer’s) success.” Tell me more about what you mean here.

Rus: We are the “behind the scenes” facilitator of product for our customers. They cannot afford to inventory everything that the consumer may demand when they walk through their door. However, they need to be able to supply the demands of that customer in a timely manner. That is how we are the “invisible partner” by supplying our customer with the product that they need to satisfy the demands of the consumer. Frankly, the consumer doesn’t care where the jobber obtained his product, just that he was able to get it.

L.J.: Rus, in every issue I strive to come up with one good idea a retailer can implement today for immediate results-something to help them differentiate themselves, increase sales and grow their business. If you were a retailer, what would you be doing differently today?

Rus: I would have a good presence on the Internet as part of my marketing plan and have a sales staff with great product knowledge to be able to build confidence in the consumer when they walked through the door or emailed a question. The sales staff would need to be able to sell the product on features and benefits and not on price alone-the only smoke that I would promote would be that from the tires and not from the mouths of my sales people. All kidding aside, it is import to have a sales team that can build confidence in the consumer because of their in depth of knowledge about the product.

L.J.: Great, thanks for your time today. And incidentally, if anyone else is interested in seeing Rexburg, as I am, go to the Rexburg Chamber of Commerce at www.rexcc.com.

RUS MICHAELSON, CEO/Owner, Premier Performance, Inc.

Favorite Car:
Any Lamborghini

Last book read:
The Book of Mormon

Favorite place to drive:
Highway 1 in California. You can’t beat the scenic drive over-looking the ocean.