Leading the way in the auto parts e-commerce marketplace
Steve Voudouris the the founding shareholder and president of Turn5, Inc. Turn5 operates two retail sites, AmericanMuscle.com and ExtremeTerrain.com, that specialize in the sale of aftermarket auto parts. Steve founded the company’s forebear, Xoxide, in 2001 with his brother Andrew; eight years later, after spinning the operation into multiple successful e-commerce sites, they sold the Xoxide to focus on Turn5. The company has won numerous industry recognitions, such as Entrepreneur Magazine‘s “Hot 500 Award,” Inc. Magazine‘s “Top 100 Retail Companies,” and Bizrate.com’s Platinum Award for Customer Service Excellence.” In 2009, Steve and Andrew also received the Small Business Administration’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Steve spoke with Offit Kurman managing partner Herb Fineburg for this interview.
HERB FINEBURG: What do you consider the greatest challenge facing Turn5?
STEVE VOUDOURIS: We face a lot of technology challenges. You know, things are constantly changing. I can say this is probably one of the things that’s gotten a little bit easier in my job because I used to really feel like I needed to stay on top of everything, and you know, as the team’s grown—we’re about 250 people now—we have an amazing team. Our guys and girls are really experts in their fields. They’re out at conferences, they’re out networking, and they’re staying in tune with what’s going on. It’s actually taken a little bit of pressure off of me.
How do you maintain that level of expertise across all employees?
I think what we do very uniquely is that we really want to know the vehicles that we’re selling product for. We compete with guys that sell parts for every make, model, year, and that’s great but it’s a difficult road to take. By limiting our business to just a few key vehicles, we really hire people that understand those vehicles, that drive those vehicles. We train our guys on those vehicles, and we’re able to shoot video and photography and create a great experience for the customer because we’re very focused.
Do you have any plans to seek investors?
We want to grow the business. The business is growing quickly—not going to count anything out, but right now we’re very focused on what we’re doing. We’ve grown very quickly. We’re not at a point where we need outside capital for anything, and if we don’t need it, my brother and I both enjoy what we’re doing and are happy running and owning the business, so we’re not looking to add any investors at this time.
What’s Andrew’s role in the business?
My brother, Andrew, is a brilliant marketer. It’s nice any time you have a group of partners that have complementary skill sets. I’m very much a product guy. I like the operations side of the business, and Andrew’s a marketer, and it works out really well. We really take our culture seriously and really want to create a place that’s both fun to work at but also very productive. We’re accomplishing a lot together, and there’s a couple of really cool things that we do. One of them that I’m really proud of is we have a program that’s open to every single employee in the business—whether you’re the maintenance guy, you’re in the finance department—where we’ll give you a $1000 every other year to buy a Mustang or a Jeep. Some of these people have used the money to buy their first Jeep, some guys have used the money to buy their seventh Jeep, but it’s a cool thing that keeps employees at all levels of the business engaged with our customer and our product, and it’s just a fun thing that we do.
How do you keep your team engaged and motivated?
It’s a lot of positive feedback, but I think more than anything, what keeps it a fun place to work, is, you know, we’ve all been around people that clock in and count down the minutes and can’t wait to clock out. Those people don’t succeed in our business and we look for people who aren’t about that. We are looking for people that are smart and ambitious and really enjoy what they do and want to make a difference. There’s something very energizing being around people that are doing something they want to do, and that they enjoy, and that they’re having success at. I think that’s what really creates the culture at Turn5.
What have been some of the big turning points in your career?
I like to think that I’m not old enough to have that many turning points in my life and career but that’s probably not entirely true anymore. I would say one of the big turning points in my life obviously was dropping out of college. I did art school and quickly decided not to pursue it. I’m not an advocate for not going to school by any means, but in my particular situation I do think it sort of lit a fire. I didn’t have much of a choice. Once I had made that decision, I needed to make things work. That was a big turning point.
Another turning point for me was after the first four or five years of the business. I really put my head down and just focused on what I was doing and focused entirely on what was in front of me and what I was doing. It wasn’t until we were a few years into the business that I did start to network a bit. I joined an organization, TAB, The Alternative Board, which is a CEO group. Through networking there, I got to know a lot of business owners in the area. What I quickly realized is that things that were taking three months, six months, for us to figure out, a lot of times there were people in the area that they had already figured it out and I could pick up the phone, make a couple of phone calls and get answers to things, and talk to people that have been through the same situations. What you learn quickly when you start talking to other business owners is the problems that you think are really unique are not unique at all, and that was something that I really felt like propelled the business quickly: just starting to connect with people in the area that had faced similar situations and be able to bounce ideas off of them.
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