Pickup Outfitters. Easy enough, right? They probably outfit pickups for people who reeeally care about the way their truck looks (and sounds).
If those ^ are your assumptions when you hear the name Pickup Outfitters, the truth may surprise you! We had a quick conversation with Jay Ehret, owner of the outfit, and got clear on how this business is making a deeper-than-surface mark on Waco’s workforce and economy. Enjoy!
How’d you started Pickup Outfitters?
Here’s the story. In 2009, I was hired as a marketing consultant by The Perry Company to put a marketing plan together for Pickup Outfitters and help them rebrand.
I told my wife at the time, ‘If we ever buy a business, let’s look at that one because I think it's a great business.’
In 2014, I decided to stop consulting and worked for the Dwyer Company as the Brand Manager for Rainbow International over there.
In 2016, I decided to go back into business ownership. I loved the Dwyer Group, great company, but I didn’t see the future for me retiring there. At the time I was 54 years old.
I just happened to run into Jeff Weaver who was the owner of The Perry Company and his wife at a wine event and in passing he said, ‘Hey, I'm thinking of selling Pickup Outfitters. Are you interested in buying?’
And I said, ‘Well, yes I am!’
It was just about the time that my wife and I were discussing buying a business. So, we started talking.
It took us about three months. And we worked out the deal. We closed on October 1, 2016.
What was it that drew you to this business in particular? What made it awesome?
I just thought it was an interesting business. It really is fun to outfit trucks and change them and make them work-ready and dress them up and do all the things they can that we’ve done to them. It moves pretty fast and sometimes things just attract you. I also thought that the marketing plan was a good plan and that we could have a successful business.
Does your success have to do with location – that people in Waco love trucks? Would it work anywhere?
It would work to a degree anywhere. Texas has the highest concentration of pickup truck ownership in the United States so, Texas is a good place to specialize in trucks. We also do vans, SUVs, and Jeeps, but it's mostly trucks.
What kinds of things do you do to trucks?
We don’t do a lot of “trickin’ out my truck”, or whatever. A lot of what we do is functional stuff.
The number one thing we put on trucks are step bars, so people can get up in their trucks because trucks usually are a little too high off the ground for people to get in and out of easily. It puts a strain on your shoulders or your knees as you pull yourself in. So, we can install step bars to help them do that.
We do a lot of hitches,we do a lot of tool boxes, wiring, bedcovers, and things like that. A lot of this is functional. That doesn't mean that people don't want their truck to look good but it’s stuff that every truck needs.
We do a lot of work trucks. When you're a contractor or a plumber or anything else where you do a lot of work, you have a truck. We install functional things for work trucks too.
What's your favorite project you’ve ever done?
Gosh we do so many, I mean we work on probably about 2,500 trucks a year. So, probably close to 5,000 trucks since I've been here.
There was there was one truck; it was for a commercial account, a big name that you would know. We just made that truck work-ready. (He laughs remembering…) We had to put everything on that truck. Including winches and bumpers...so, I'd like to say that it was this cool light system that we put on it-- we’ve put in some pretty cool light systems. But, I think that's probably the truck that we're most proud of that came in here one truck and left a different truck.
What kind of do you drive and do you love it?
Yeah, we have a shop truck, which we purchased after we bought the business so that we could put stuff on it and show it off to customers. It's a Ford F-150, nicknamed “Diablo.” We’ve probably put between $17 to $20 thousand dollars worth of accessories on it. You might see it driving around town; it says Pickup Outfitters on the side.
Do you have any more stats you'd like to share?
SEMA’s a wonderful industry association that’s really all automotive related. One interesting piece of information that they’ve reported is that truck ownership just about equally spans the three main brands: Ford, Chevy, and RAM-- a slightly older crowd buys RAM.
What Else do you like to do, Jay?
My wife and I are raising two of our grandkids. That's a major part of our lives. We travel a lot and I like to go trail riding a Cameron Park.
I love reading. We’re involved with our church, First Methodist. For the past four or five years, I’ve gotten into fishing down in the bay on the Texas coast.
Port O’Connor. It's a very small-- the only reason people go there is to fish. It's one of the best fishing spots. Out in the Bay Port Lavaca. 45 minutes south of Victoria.
Do you and your wife travel for fun?
We do travel for fun; I travel for business, too.
I'm always trying to educate myself and always trying to learn and grow because one of my things is if you're not growing you're contracting. Because everybody else is growing. Will Rogers used to say; I think I'm paraphrasing, ‘If you're standing still it’s a good way to get run over.’
I try to go to three to five industry or business-related conferences, shows a year. My wife and I probably travel about four times a year. She retired earlier this year.
One of my goals every year is to go somewhere I've never been before do something I've never done before.
What’s the next level for Pickup Outfitters?
I'll be careful what I say here. I'm pretty sure that when we went into the business our intention was to build a chain of these stores in other markets. I'm going to retire eventually, so we want to have a salable asset.
We've worked very hard since we purchased this business to upgrade it, to implement systems, and to make sure we do everything by the book. I mean, we do everything by the book here. We don't not report income. We report all our cash. We pay all our employees the correct way so we pay employment taxes. We do everything the right way so our books will be great. We do that because we want to sell an excellent business someday.
But we've changed our plan because opening up a new store in another market would require me to be gone a lot. And I don't want to do that. So, I think what you'll see here is an expansion of our services, maybe acquiring other assets that will be complementary to Pickup Outfitters.
No. (He laughs.) Probably not boats.
Jay can’t yet tell us what he’s thinking so we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for what they’re dreaming up!
My wife and I decided we wanted to build a business that we could be proud of. That's one of the reasons we do everything right.
I've been living here for 34 years. My wife has been here her entire life. And so, it's not like we're hidden from public view. We know a lot of people here and Waco is our family. We try very hard to run the business the right way and treat our people right and treat our customers right. So, we don't have to hide or make excuses or anything like that.
What does it mean to you when someone buys local?
You can buy almost anything we sell online. It's not like we manufacture our own special part here. It's probably going to be cheaper on the internet because you're not paying for our employees, you're not paying for this location. A lot of times you're not paying for the real part.
You've got to be careful with which what you purchase online. When someone purchases locally, I don't have the statistics in front of me, but a much larger percentage of what you spend stays right here in Waco so people think they're saving money online but they're not because they're sending a lot of the money that should be in this economy away. Outside. And the only thing the stays here is the sales tax.
But when you buy locally, you're paying people who work here, pay taxes here, who volunteer here, go to church here. You are actually contributing more to the economy, so you're really not saving money by buying online. It's hidden.
It's hidden because you think you're only paying “this much” for a part vs. what you might pay us. So it's a little bit hidden, the money that you lose by buying online, because you're not considering all the money that's not staying in the economy here, the money that's leaving the economy here, which raises your taxes, which makes it more difficult for things to get built. And online, sometimes you're getting a knockoff product, you may be getting a returned product, a second-quality product. Not always but sometimes – you never really know exactly what you're getting.
So, it's always going to be more when you purchase locally. But what you get in return is a stronger city, a stronger economy, more jobs in your city, and you're not sending that profit to some of the largest corporations in the world or to somebody who has a phone and a computer sitting in an office in New Jersey or sometimes overseas and taking that profit.
Those people, they don't volunteer. They don't volunteer for the Humane Society or the Heart Association or for your local church. And they also don't pay local taxes like we pay local taxes.
I pay seven taxes to pay for the privilege of opening up this business. They don't pay that, they don't pay the insurance that I pay; I'm fully insured liability insurance and, as I said, we will do health insurance for our employees. So, you've got all of these things to think about.
If price is the only thing that matters to you, that's fine, go ahead, buy your part online. Buy your stuff online if that's the only thing that matters to you. But if your city means more to you or if having the peace of mind knowing that you've got the right part matters to you, buy locally.
One of the things we do for whatever you purchase and install with us, we give a free warranty assistance and a lifetime installation guarantee. So if you're ever having any warranty issues, you bring it back to us; we take care of it. If something gets installed and comes loose or needs re-adjusting, bring it back to us. We’ll take care of it. No questions asked, no charge on any of that.
So, you pay a price for the lower price when you buy something online. You pay a price where you are taking full responsibility for everything. And that's ok. If you say, 'Yep, I'm taking full responsibility for everything and the most important factor to me is the lowest price,' then you're going to buy online and that's fine.
Is there anything else you want to mention, Jay?
I have to mention the contributing factor of our marketing to the success of our business. I don't know if you've been to our website, seen our video, or if you've heard our radio commercials.
Watch our video. We decided when we purchased the business that we had to stand out from the crowd. As I mentioned to you earlier put stuff on trucks is fun, so we decided to have fun with our marketing. And sometimes the best marketing is just to be distinctive but in a funny way or a different way. So, before we opened up we decided that we were going to have fun with our marketing, so we created a campaign to end truck nudity in Central Texas and we've been working and I’m telling you, we've got a special announcement coming very, very soon.