As the news came out in late August that automotive distribution giant Turn 14 was purchasing Tucker Powersports, we contacted company leaders for an interview.
Jon Pulli co-founded Turn 14 Distribution with partner Chris Candido. These college friends shared a love for sport compact cars and technology, and with that, they started an e-commerce store in 2002.
“We did retail e-commerce auto parts for five years,” says Pulli, “and then we sold that off to one of the employees who joined us early on and started Turn 14 Distribution to go into wholesale. And we were 100% wholesale. That was always our goal.”
Pulli explains that they came from being dealers and understood the world of selling auto parts. “That’s always just been our lifeblood,” he says, “understanding being a reseller and how a distributor plays a role in that on the automotive side. It was a struggle at first to sell Japanese sport compact parts. There was a stigma around that at the time. But that’s how we started.”
Turn 14 branched into the late-model domestic market, followed by European and truck parts. “We’ve always grown by carrying a full breadth of inventory of the brands we represent,” Pulli says. “We’ll always have a smaller line card than everybody else. But we have a higher level of focus. We have more people trying to grow vendors and customers. So, a sales rep at Turn 14 may have fewer customers than a sales rep at another organization. We’re hyper-focused on growing businesses with us.”
We asked Pulli the essential question: Why did you buy Tucker? “I don’t think it’s a surprise that Tucker has been struggling,” he remarks, noting that Tucker has been in trouble for some time. “That kind of hit home to me because I am a champion of what the wholesale distributor does.”
Pulli told us about Turn 14’s mission statement and how manufacturers and dealers can access the company’s seamless supply chain that connects and supports entrepreneurs. Pulli says Turn 14 is fully committed to helping small businesses through coaching, education, or other solutions that encourage growth in a modern (i.e., rapidly changing) economy.
“My family was all entrepreneurs,” says Pulli. “My grandfather had a couple of people working for him, building homes. My father was a restauranteur for 30 years and had a karate school. He always worked for himself. My mom owned a retail store location. My sister owns restaurants. We’ve always been an entrepreneurial family. And I saw the struggles; I’ve lived it – where everybody works 90 hours a week and kills themselves just to get by.”
Pulli says, in part, that Turn 14 was created to help the little guy compete against the big guys. “We support people by not allowing them to get killed by the big guy. I think that a reseller should be able to have a storefront and should be able to have a website that lists products and not get blown out of the water. They should be able to be relevant because they’re the experts in the industry. But they can only do that with an incredibly advanced backbone.”
Pulli also says they are shutting down all of Tucker’s direct-to-consumer sales. “There will be no direct-to-consumer for our brands. That isn’t just to support the dealers; our whole business model is wholesale, and we will not compete with our partners.”
“Not every decision we make is based on a dollar sign,” says Pulli. “Everyone in these industries knows companies like this, but this is my legacy. It is what Chris and I do, and we want to be partners with our customers.”
We asked Pulli about difficult relationships Tucker had with vendors, relationships that were harmed or even ended in the last couple of months. How would Turn 14 act on that?
“We’re acquiring a majority of the debt, 80-plus percent, of the supplier contracts,” Pulli admits. “We’re not acquiring every single one of them, but all the ones we are, I would say that we have a track record of always paying people; we honor them, respect them, and take care of our suppliers. As long as the suppliers currently doing business continue working with us, then we plan to ensure that they get taken care of legally. That’s as much as I can say, but I understand there’s a lot of pain in the supplier community. And they need to allow me to win them over.”
We also asked Pulli if Turn 14 would use the Tucker brand name.
“We are going to sunset the Tucker name regarding distribution,” says Pulli. “Distribution is going to be handled by Turn 14. But Tucker will remain as a brand conglomerate. Tucker will take on those owned brands as they are manufacturer-owned brands. And then Tucker will work with us from an arm’s length, and Turn 14 will be the exclusive distributor.”
But Pulli notes that they view house brands differently than others do. “We never had house brands in automotive. If we do what [these brands] are currently, it will be at arm’s length with Turn 14. They shouldn’t get preferential treatment from us; we treat every one of our partners the same.”
Pulli says that running a good business takes good people with a crystal clear mission and goal. “The people at Turn 14 Distribution need everybody to be treated equally and fairly. And we need to do the same for all suppliers and customers. We view ourselves as Switzerland in the middle. We give everybody an excellent backbone to do business. And then, if you’re growing a brand conglomerate, you need to focus 100% on that. That is your goal.”
One of the problems Pulli sees with operating multiple sales channels in one organization is they tend to favor one. “You go direct to the consumer to get the highest margins and cut everybody out. That’s the antithesis of what we do. I want to include more people in the market, and that is eliminating more people from the market.”
We also asked if Turn 14 would have separate sales departments for automotive and powersports. And will it keep the current Tucker team?
“We’re very segmented in the automotive aftermarket,” says Pulli. “Customers don’t cover European and truck, for example. Or they don’t do Japanese sport compact cars. They’re completely different segments with completely different structures. These segments operate like miniature distributors; they have their own team, reporting structure, and discounts.”
“We intend to retain as many of the Tucker people as possible, Pulli explains. “The Tucker people will turn into Turn 14 reps, but they will be the same people.
But for market-specific knowledge, Pulli says that the marketing staff are on the team for their segment. “That’s why we acquired Tucker. We didn’t try to launch into powersports because we need all of the people that market for Tucker. We need all the salespeople that sell for those powersports people. I’m not egotistical enough to think I can do what they do. Their leaders get the right people to do the job. I can’t do those jobs. I can’t expect any of our automotive people to do those jobs. And I don’t want them to stop doing their automotive job to take on powersports. We will repurpose as many people in the Tucker organization as possible and put them in roles where they can succeed.”
Pulli stresses that Turn14’s automotive and powersports pricing will not be mixed among dealers. He says that automotive dealers will not get powersports pricing and vice versa. “They’re going to be completely walled off from each other. If a dealer does both (powersports and automotive), they could apply to become a dealer for both. But there’s no way some Jeep store that wants to carry powersports parts gets the deal. They have to be a legitimate powersports dealer.”
What can you personally bring to the powersports industry?
“My experience is running organizations and being focused, long-term focused,” says Pulli. “I look at about a 20-year horizon, not a 1-, 3-, or 5-year horizon. And making tools to make small businesses operate like a big business. We give them the tools, and they do it. That’s what I’m good at. That’s what I’ll bring.”
Will the warehouses intermingle powersports products in one of your automotive warehouses? How is warehousing and logistics going to work?
“We’re good at moving products,” Pulli adds. “We have heavily updated facilities with lots of conveyance, and we can get the product from a shelf into a packed order in minutes… We want to fill orders and have no segregation between automotive products and powersports products. It will all be blended so they’re done to the best of our ability and as close to the dealer as possible.”
With some dealers less technology-focused than others, how will Turn 14 tools and technologies help bring success to these powersports dealers?
“I think this is an advantage for us,” Pulli reiterates. “What we found on the automotive side about 20 years ago was that people who decide to work with us heavily and are willing to use our tools will outgrow other dealers. We are committed to making our dealers grow faster than anybody else’s. And that’s all we do. We build tools to make them grow faster than anybody else. If people give us a chance to help them grow their business, they’ll be pleasantly surprised. There’s only so much I can say; now we just need to go do it.”
We, and most of the industry, will be watching.