Toy Story

Feb 1, 2011

Basketball fans will recall 1989 as the year that Kareem Abdul-Jabar became the first NBA player to score 38,000 points. The year was also marked by a decline in light-duty truck sales. Though it would take time before truck sales would rebound – eventually outpacing car sales – Jesse and Barbara Rawls felt confident in the industry’s future to open an accessory business that would become a standout in the North Carolina market.

The idea didn’t just spring out of thin air. Jesse Rawls had worked in the truck-accessory industry for more than a dozen years. He knew and understood the market, and saw its potential.

“Barbara and Jesse saw a need for a business to sell truck and automobile accessories – a place for customers to buy their aftermarket products and not have to purchase them through an OEM,” recalls their daughter, Ginger Glover, who along with her husband, Bob, now runs Truckers Toy Store.

In the years since the doors opened in a 10,000-sq.-ft. building in Morehead City, N.C., the company has grown. There are now three stores and 20 employees.

The first satellite operation opened in 1996. Located in Jacksonville – home to the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune – it’s housed in a 5,000-sq.-ft. building. The second satellite store sits on eight acres in the Raleigh suburb of Wilson. It occupies a 12,000-sq.-ft. building built in 2006 and also includes a 4,000-sq.-ft. structure used primarily for spray-in bedliners.

The company’s product mix and focus have evolved, as well. Yet, Truckers Toy Store has stayed true to its roots as a purveyor of all things automotive to a mostly retail customer base as well as dealerships, fleet accounts and government agencies. “The name is a bit of a misnomer,” says Glover. “We do just about everything for cars as well as trucks.”

Keeping it in the family

For many years, the business primarily focused on core products. That changed in 2001. Glover’s parents decided to retire and asked her to come on board. She saw it as both a challenge and an opportunity.

An experienced corporate manager, who had spent 15 years in the restaurant business primarily as a district trainer for managers, Glover had a sharp learning curve. But undaunted by her lack of industry experience, she quickly embraced the task at hand.

“When Barbara and Jesse asked if I was interested in coming into the family business so it could remain a family business, I had to learn real fast,” says Glover. Yet being new to the business also gave her a fresh perspective.

“The industry was beginning to change,” she notes. “Electronics was becoming big, spray-in liners were a growing part of our industry, and some of the older accessories were beginning to fade in popularity. So I convinced them there was a need to stay on top of the market and move with the trends. That was hard to do, but we did it.”

In the decade since, the Glovers have embraced a range of electronics products as well as leather interiors, spray-in bedliners, suspension systems, performance upgrades, offroad gear, fifth-wheel hitches, and wheels and tires.

The company also extended its reach to include nontraditional revenue streams. There are now government contracts to provide camper shells for state-owned vehicles and a local county contract to install commercial window film for the city schools.

Truckers Toy Store also hitched its wagon to InstallerNet, a service provider that coordinates electronics installation services through a nationwide network of professional installers. More recently, Glover incorporated U-Haul rentals into the mix.

These efforts, she says, have significantly helped maintain a steady course and generate new business. “We’re always looking for new opportunities, to look at things with fresh eyes. We can’t single out any one item that consumes a large part of our business. They’re all important segments of our business,” Glover says.

The InstallerNet connection, for example, has sharply improved fleet sales, opening the door to a statewide contract to install GPS systems in 200 vehicles. U-Haul rentals have paved the way for add-on sales.

“My thinking when we added U-Hauls was not to make a lot of money from the rentals, but that it would help drive in consumers for hitches, wiring and everything else they need. If you can get them in the door, you can sell them something,” she says. “It has paid big dividends.”

Understanding the clientele

But running three stores is not always a piece of cake. Each store caters to a different customer base with distinct product preferences. Knowing which products will sell best in each market isn’t easy, Glover says: “None of the stores is alike. For me as an owner, that’s a big challenge.”

The Jacksonville operation primarily serves a military clientele keen on lift kits, offroad gear, performance upgrades and wheel and tire packages. At the Morehead City store, more traditional items such as hitches do well.

The Wilson store is a different story altogether. Contrary to Glover’s expectation that hitches would be fast movers, the hot items are custom wheels, tires, leather interiors, window tint and leveling kits.

“What we thought would be big sellers in Wilson turned out not to be,” she notes. “But having three stores gives us the luxury of rotating our inventory. The key is picking the right product for a particular store, knowing what’s going to catch the consumers’ eye when they walk in the door.”

Having skilled and knowledgeable staff is another key consideration and a challenge, says Glover. Her solution is training. Operating on the principle that each one teaches one, all new employees are teamed with a more experienced co-worker.

“Whether it’s installing something or working the sales counter, they’ll shadow another employee and work side by side, hand in hand. They’re going to learn by watching, and then they’re going to do,” she says.

But simply mastering a specific skill isn’t enough. It’s all about cross-training. And it applies across the board.

“I’ve tried to convince everybody of the importance of cross-training,” Glover notes. “It helps to have an installer who can sell product or vice versa. Even my bookkeeper does leather. If somebody leaves, the next man can step in. He might not be quite as proficient, but he knows enough and is able to grow. That way, we never get caught with our pants down.”

3rd generation a charm

The dictionary defines legacy as something handed down from a previous generation or time. It aptly applies to Truckers Toy Store. “We attribute a lot of our success to the solid foundation that Barbara and Jesse laid,” says Glover “We just picked up the ball and continue to carry the load.”

Now that the Glover children, Chris and Ashley, and their spouses, Wendy Glover and Keith Pritchard, are on board, the company’s future as a family business seems assured. But their jobs were not handed out on a silver platter. “We gave them the opportunity to be part of the family business,” Glover says. “But if they wanted to be part of it, they had to come up through the ranks.”

Case in point: Pritchard and Chris Glover started out as technicians. Along the way, they earned credentials as ASE- and SEMA-certified installers and honed their business skills. Both are now managers, responsible for running their respective stores.

“The biggest thing I learned in management school was to let people manage and be supportive of whatever decision they make,” she says. “Bob and I give our managers the freedom to order the products, train the staff and negotiate the sale. They are 100% in charge.”

As Glover looks ahead, she is confident and optimistic, noting they’ve stayed upbeat, motivated and consumer oriented. In recalling her father’s legacy, she says his knowledge, people skills and attention to customer service have served as important guide posts.

“My philosophy is to make consumers feel comfortable knowing we are proficient and trained. That’s why we stepped up early to support certification,” she says. “It’s all about image and credibility. Having good people who are knowledgeable and committed to customer service is key to our success. I try to instill in my managers that if they give customers the utmost attention, they’ll keep coming back.

“We’ve been in all of the markets for an extended period of time,” she continues. “People recognize the name. Most of them know when they buy their new vehicle, or have an older vehicle, if they want to add something to it, they can trust us to guide them in the right direction, get the right product and the right fit, whether it’s a truck, car, SUV, work truck or travel trailer.