IN BUSINESS AND RACING, JEGS IS “PC”
People & Caring, Passion & Curiosity, Perseverance & Competitiveness
PEOPLE AND CARING, PASSION AND CURIOSITY, PERSEVERANCE AND COMPETITIVENESS
PLEASE NOTE THAT JEGS HAS A FRUITFUL, MULTI-FACETED RACING HISTORY, COMPETING IN A PLETHORA OF CLASSES FROM TOP FUEL TO STOCK. ALL OF THE VEHICLES PICTURED HAVE BEEN PILOTED BY THE COUGHLIN FAMILY, SOME BY SEVERAL FAMILY MEMBERS.
Some of the signage in the early days of the JEGS corporation was blue and white, others silver, which weighed on Jeg Coughlin Sr.’s mind. He knew a consistent color scheme would facilitate brand recognition. But with every shade on the color wheel flashing through his brain like some advertising aurora borealis, he wasn’t sure which scheme to choose.
Which one is the most legible at 250 miles an hour? Yellow and black, the study showed. Naturally, he wanted the most prominent combination, so he adopted a yellow-and-black motif for his brand that still stands out more than 40 years later.
Troy Coughlin wasn’t the least bit amazed his father turned to the University for Inspiration. “He’s a smart guy. He just is. That’s just my dad. He’s a problem-solver, entrepreneur, you-name-it. He’s got a lot of hats,” his second oldest of four sons said.
The ’70s proved to be a hotbed of innovation. That was when Coughlin Sr. vaulted JEGS light years ahead of most businesses and into the automated age. “We were one of the first two [businesses] in Ohio who had a computer. I think that’s the reason JEGS has grown the way it has. I bought an
IBM System/3 computer back in the ’70s, might have been earlier, and I think that was another reason why we grew fast, because we had an opportunity to keep track of payrolls, sales, buying, and payables and receivables. We could do it so much faster than anybody else because of this IBM System/3. Lazarus [department store, where his father was vice president] didn’t have a computer when we did. My dad said, ‘This is not going to work.’ I said, ‘It has to work. I’ve seen it work.’ ”
He had, indeed. Once he became curious about this technology, he took IBM up on its offer to attend a two-day seminar in New York. There he learned that the computer “should be a duplicate of my brain,” and he struck a bargain with IBM. He hired a programmer who fashioned a JEGS-specific system in exchange for the use of some of IBM’s equipment. “That took about six months. They made it and shipped it to us. We just plugged it in and it worked right off the bat fairly well.”
I wanted something for my grandchildren to drive. I wanted them to have an electric motor car that’s easy to maintain and tune. We’ve done that with what we have going now.//
—Jeg Coughlin Sr.
He also traveled to Chicago to look at Motorola’s packing system when JEGS built its current mail-order facility.
JEGS was the first dragracing team to employ a full-time chef and equip him with a state-of-the-art mobile kitchen. Ian Rough came from the Culinary Institute of America, then Nicky Morse followed before becoming a celebrity TV culinary personality.
Coughlin Sr.’s latest successful project has been a reliable electric motor combination for Jr. Dragsters. For a baseline, he turned to engineers at Tesla Motors, the electriccar pioneers.
“I wanted something for my grandchildren to drive,” Coughlin said. “I wanted them to have an electric motor car that’s easy to maintain and tune. We’ve done that with what we have going now.” It’s a turnkey conversion kit that project manager Dave
Ruark said has extended shelf life, “This motor can move from class to class with a few simple adjustments of voltage and amps. There is no need to get a different motor for each class, and that alone is going to save people a lot of money in the long run. Plus, we’ve taken away the cost of fuel. To refuel, you just have to plug it in between rounds.”
“I wasn’t looking for fastest,” Coughlin said. “We needed a consistent and reliable combination, but it also needed to be economical. Racing at any level can be very expensive. Maintaining parts and pieces can be a big financial
burden. We wanted to try to alleviate some of that worry and cost.”
This curiosity, followthrough and collaboration with experts are what has built and maintained JEGS throughout nearly six decades. That’s why the company will continue to grow with the involvement of the third generation of Coughlins. Super Street racer Meghan and Top Fuel rookie T.J. are Troy Coughlin’s children. John Coughlin’s son, Cody, is a rising NASCAR star as a Joe Gibbs Racing development driver. He will be competing with THORSPORT Racing in 2017 in the NASCAR Camping World Series. The Gen3 Coughlins—the “grandfamily,” as Sr. calls them—are willing and even eager students of their grandfather, parents and uncle.
“I think when you’re 78, you realize the kids heard you say more things than you thought they did,” Coughlin Sr. said. “For that reason I probably would say the leadership of the family is phenomenal and necessary. All 11 of the grandkids are interesting in a different way. They focus well. They can take a project and keep dissecting it and working on it. I think that’s absolutely phenomenal. I’m impressed.” With Meghan’s nearly-1-yearold son, the fourth generation is on the horizon.
Troy Coughlin Jr. said he talks to his “Pappy” once or twice a week about a variety of subjects. “He’s a big teacher. For business, it’s amazing what he taught me. It’s all common sense. He says common sense and problem-solving is what business is—and people. You live to your word and you deliver. You have to put the customer’s shoe on your foot and go about business that way. It’s all about people; how we treat our associates is how they treat our customers. So it’s really important to be respectful, polite and understanding. Our people make this possible. That’s something that Pappy told me, and that really geared my mind toward the people side of things. And to use common sense, that’s his greatest weapon.”
“We’ve always had the theory that if you have what the customer wants, when they want it, at the price they want to pay, and follow that up with service, you can’t fail. That’s been kind of our motto for 53 years, since the day I started,” Coughlin Sr. said.
Foremost, though, he said, “It has always been a ‘we’ situation. I think if you were to ask, ‘What’s the most fortunate thing you’ve done in business?’ it’s that I chose the right people. I didn’t always try to hire somebody to fit a job. I tried to hire somebody who was better than I am at that job ...”
Troy said, “We agree with Dad’s philosophy, and we try not to screw it up.” He has that same inquisitiveness, “You have to think, ‘What makes the industry rock?’ That’s the question; you have to go find out what the answers are ...”
His brother John said the corporate culture “is that of passion, really. The majority of the people who work here at JEGS are very passionate about what the company does. They’re enthusiasts ... They’re into cars or they’re into motorcycles. They’re passionate about the business, which makes it a lot more fun for them and for us ... We’re not ‘corporate’ at all … It makes for a lot of enjoyable days.
“I think the key to success is people and being competitive in price and servicing the customer ... And the way to profit is you buy as good as you can buy, and you watch your expenses. It is more competitive now than it has ever been, but business is still growing and profits are still doing well. Our biggest thing is customer service ... If the customer’s got something they just don’t want, or they want to send it back, or they want to trade it, 99.9 percent of the time we’re going to take care of them, because that’s just who we are.”
Who they are is reflected in a number of ways, including the literal upward spiral of success. Mike said that at the main facility in Delaware, Ohio, “where the associates come in, there’s a stairway, a steel structure. It’s a spiral. A lot of the trophies are lined up as you go up the stairs. They’re right by your feet. You’re looking up at ’em
//Today, the JEGS operation has spread to a 250,000-squarefoot warehouse in Delaware, Ohio; two mail-order locations; a retail store and the Team JEGS race shop.//
when you walk in. It’s pretty neat. It’s kind of a reminder of how blessed we’ve been. We’ve been blessed, and we’ve worked hard to get to where we are today. It’s a good reminder for us to see them. Hopefully, it’s an incentive for the associates, as well.”
It’s clear JEGS has no problem with employee loyalty. Years ago, Coughlin Sr. established a 20-, 30and even 40-year program to reward longtime employees.
“If a person worked for us for 20 years, we gave them whatever they wanted, just come up with something you’d like to have. Then we started a 30-year club.
Then we started a 40-year club. Today we have as many as nine or 10 people in the 40-year club, and the company’s only 53 years old. It’s wonderful,”
Coughlin Sr. said.
John lights up when he talks about the unique benefit: “At Christmastime, we’ll get hold of their spouses and say, ‘What would you guys like to do?’ or ‘What would you like to have as a gift from us?’ It might be a trip to Disney in Europe or a trip to San Francisco. It might be a washer and dryer or a Rolex. It might be a color TV or a bicycle. But we like to give gifts and honor the folks with what they want to make it that much more personal and exciting.” He said they try to stay within what they think is a reasonable budget, “but if it goes a little over or a little under what we have in mind, that’s OK ... We’ll put it together and have a big ol’ celebration at Christmastime.”
Coughlin Sr., genuinely delighted to grant any wish from a $500 price tag to as much as $5,000 for these steadfast workers, said, “One of the guys wanted to take a trip to Alaska and do some salmon fishing. We said fine and figured out what it was going to cost, and we did that. Some people really enjoyed things for their homes. Some
people liked things for their kids, maybe their kids were going to go to college at that point and they thought maybe a donation to that would be great ...”
The past couple of years, JEGS has closed the company for two or three hours so everybody from all three ’round-the-clock shifts can attend the holiday celebration together. “That was a huge hit,” John said, “so we’re going to do that again ...”
The Coughlins’ attitude is that nobody loses when they give something away to their longtime employees.
WHERE DID THE NAME “JEG” COME FROM? MYSTERY SOLVED
The name “Jeg” is distinctive. The racing Coughlin family from Central Ohio just might boast the only individuals in the world with that name.
So how did it come about? How did the family arrive at that name?
Patriarch Jeg Coughlin Sr., whose given name is not Jeg, explained how he got his unique name.
“My dad’s name was Ed Coughlin. My mom was Genevieve. So it was Ed and Genny,” he said. “My name is Edward James, and they called me Jimmy.
“My mother was Irish, and when I was born, I had red hair. She said, ‘I don’t want him to be called Red. So that’s where they got Jeg from: ‘J’ for James, ‘E’ for Ed, and ‘G’ for Genevieve. That’s how they named me Jeg ... They wanted something different so people would not call me Red.”
His fourth son “definitely is a Jeg,” he said. “Actually, my son is Jeg Anthony. And his son, Jeggie III, is Jeg Anthony. Jeg is the first, and his son would be Junior. But it got so confusing that we decided that I would be a Senior and Jeg would be Junior and Jeggie would be the Third. That just cleaned everything up ...”
FROM ENTREPRENEUR TO EMPIRE-BUILDER
Coughlin Sr.’s story of growing up in Columbus, Ohio, isn’t a rags-to-riches one. His father was a vice president of one of America’s most prominent department stores. “Dad was the first vice president of Lazarus, without the name Lazarus,” he said. “He was proud, and we were proud of him, that’s for sure.” However, Coughlin Sr.’s rise to the top of the competitive mail-order speed-equipment industry is a journey from passionate to prosperous.
“I was really excited about racing when I was about 16,” he said. “I started racing, and people started coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, I’d like for my car to run like yours.’ I started to work on other people’s cars at my dad and mom’s house. Finally, they said, ‘Oh, this just isn’t going to work. You’re going to have to do something.’ So I ended up renting another building.
“I had paper routes and I worked,” Coughlin said. “I had saved $5,000, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll take $3,500 and try this, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll still have $1,500 left.’ So I started with $3,500. You go to a bank and tell them you want to borrow $10,000 to start a speed shop in 1958. I learned what ‘swivel neck’
//we’ve all kind of taken on a role in the day-to-day stuff. Years ago, I worked in our service center, our fabrication shop and our engine-building shop we had and did a little bit with the race teams: maintaining rigs, maintaining cars.//—Mike Coughlin
meant.” He settled into his first building and specialized in engine conversions.
“I put Chevy engines in MGs, Cadillacs and Fords— with help. I had two guys who worked for me, both named Bill. That went on until about 1961-62. Then I bought a building big enough to put a retail store in. So then I had the service department and the retail store,” he said. “Later on, maybe 10-12 years later, I started a company called Buckeye Sales. Buckeye Sales was a wholesale division of JEGS where I could sell to other speed shops. In about 1985, we decided to start the mailorder business, which was JEGS Mail Order. About 10 years later, we went to a combination of mail-order and Internet business.”
Today, the JEGS operation has spread to a 250,000square-foot warehouse in Delaware, Ohio; two mailorder locations; a retail store and the Team JEGS race shop.
Moreover, second-oldest son Troy Coughlin said, “We’ve got some office buildings, strip centers, a trailer park, just ‘stuff.’” Managing it has been one of Troy’s duties. “My dad used to take some of the profits from the company and if he found a good deal on an office building or a strip center or something, he’d go out and get it and say, ‘Here, add this to the portfolio of the stuff we got. And here’s the rent rule to the project: Don’t ever let it get empty.’ We’ve had success with that.”
Perhaps the next new adventure for JEGS will be a departure from the automotive industry. Maybe not, but that’s a topic
Coughlin Sr. banters about with grandson Jeggie III.
Said his grandfather, “Jeggie III—I really enjoy him because he enjoys golf and I enjoy golf, and that’s totally different from our company. We’ll sit and talk about different businesses that we could be in. For example, because we have a mailorder department, maybe we can sell other things than that.”
Whether JEGS decides to diversify or stay with its current mission, its founder said he expects to continue growing because the racing urge perpetuates itself.
“As I see the company moving forward, I see growth. We’ve had growth every year that we’ve ever been in business ...” Coughlin Sr. said. “And I think the thing I really like the most, which the kids have all done, is they’ve given such valuable service to the customer. We feel like the customer’s always right. We also feel like if you order something from us today, as of 11 o’clock at night, that part will be picked up by FEDEX at our company, and if you’re in Zone 1—the closest zone to us— you’ll have it tomorrow ...”
Besides, he said, “As long as there’s two people in the world, you’re going to have racing ... At this time, cars obviously, are the favorite vehicles. As long as there’s two people in the world, they’re going to be racing something.”
WHO DOES WHAT AT JEGS?
“We gave [the company] to the kids back in 1986, the four of them,” Coughlin Sr. said. “What I decided then was that I would work for them. Since that time I’ve seldom, probably never, had a meeting with the management team of the company without one of the four—or two of the four or three of the four or all four—but I’m still president and CEO of the company. The boys are vice presidents, and that’s the way they wanted it back then, and they haven’t changed it since.”
Just as the four brothers gravitated to different classes in the racing world, each chose his niche in the company business.
“They actually all four go in different directions with the company,” Coughlin Sr. said. “John works a lot in sales and buying. Troy works a lot in similar areas, and he’s handled a lot of our real estate over the
years. Mike runs the racing team and still works in the company with the other three. And Jeg handles everything that is nonsales, which is what my dad had at Lazarus. I’d say all four of them work together on all kinds of different projects. They get along really well, and they talk with each other. It’s working. I can see it.”
Although Coughlin Sr. lives for most of the year in South Florida, he maintains considerable influence in Ohio. “I still work 15-20 hours a week, talking to the family or the grandfamily or the company about different things that would be interesting to consider. I don’t go to as many races as I used to, but I do discuss the different racing with all of the kids and grandkids as to what they’re doing and how they’re going about it.”
Mike Coughlin said, “Nothing’s perfect, but it works, and we do get along good. We work at it. That’s what it takes ... Our whole family were adamant when we were growing up that if you have issues with each other, try and get it worked out as quickly as possible and move on ... That’s what we’ve tried to do over the years. It works pretty well, and that’s probably a tribute to my dad.”
Mike also said that in the past 10 years or so, “we’ve all kind of taken on a role in the day-to-day stuff. Years ago, I worked in our service center, our fabrication shop and our engine-building shop we had and did a little bit with the race teams: maintaining rigs, maintaining cars. I do have hands on in the administrative stuff, but they probably do more than I do. I probably do a little more on the race-team side. We have so many programs. I pretty much take care of the NHRA sportsman stuff. We have several cars in that. Troy takes care of his Pro Mod team. John takes care of his son’s [Cody’s] team [in NASCAR competition]. We have a little bit of everything.”
Eldest sibling John said, “I’d say my passion is buying and advertising. I probably work the most day to day on that kind of stuff. But I’ll sit in on different meetings throughout the day. All the brothers do, as well. But if I had to narrow it down, I probably would pick purchasing and marketing. T.J. works with the web team. Cody helps on and off in the purchasing department. He races quite a bit, too.
He’s in and out of here, but he works in the purchasing.”
Accounts payable, accounts receivable, bookkeeping and real-estate property management have kept Troy busy. “I’m just one of the brothers,” he said, downplaying his roles.
The corporation established the JEGS Foundation in 2004, and youngest son Jeg Jr. has immersed himself in administering it aside from his daily chores. This has been no small undertaking, once the family planned, he said, “to narrow the majority of our philanthropic efforts toward a cause, to raise funds from corporate and race earnings, and to use the racing industry as a platform from which to promote screening, self-exams, and early detection in the fight against cancer.” They decided that “our family would absorb all the administrative costs, and any dollar we put to or received would 100-percent go to cancer research.
“We elected to partner with The Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital in both general and pediatric cancer advancements,” he said.
With its multicolored ribbon emphasizing the
various forms of the disease, the foundation seeks to encourage everyone that “early detection cure rates are much, much greater than if gone undetected for longer periods of time,” Jeg Jr. said. “So routine physicals and check-ups are very important.”
For Jeg Jr., the opportunities to spread the word are vast: Jegs.com, the performance aftermarket industry, and the racing industry. “All can provide information to customers and fans on how to find information about cancer as a patient, caregiver or a friend,” he said.
“The monies he has had to oversee have exceeded his expectations,” Jeg Jr. said.
“We started the JEGS Foundation with the thought of funding primarily coming from our family through corporate and race earnings. I believe we took for granted the interest that could come from our industry and racing efforts. Shortly after starting the foundation, we had several racers and race teams that wanted to get involved and have had several contribute time and monies,” he said. “Most notably, Don Schumacher and many of his DSR partners like Whit Bazemore, Lee Beard, and MATCO Tools. Racers from the community, like Roger Stull, where the Young Life Organization benefited, the late Roger Gustin and the Super Chevy organization, the Ohio chapter of SCCA, the Hirata family, NHRA and National Trail Raceway, The Ultimate 64 race and local racer Mike ‘Mr. Aruba’ DeChicco, to name a few. I must stress, though, that 100% of our customers and JEGS associates over the past 57-plus years have contributed by buying from or working at JEGS.”
However, his involvement doesn’t always revolve around money.
“We have had a lot of fun visiting patients over the years,” Jeg Jr. said. “We have done events at The James
//We have accomplished all of our goals thus far and hope to have lifetimes of service in the years to come! There has not been a race that has gone by since Gainesville 2004 that I haven’t had at least one fan tell me about their experience as a cancer survivor or caregiver … very cool!//—Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Cancer Hospital, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Rainbow Babies & Children’s in Cleveland. When the NHRA event was near Columbus, we always had patients and staff from both The James and Nationwide
Children’s. We have also done a couple of ridealongs using our Chevy II bracket car that have not only been a ton of fun, but drawn a lot of emotion and support from racers and fans attending those events.
“We have accomplished all of our goals thus far and hope to have lifetimes of service in the years to come!” he said. For now he knows the foundation is making an impact: “There has not been a race that has gone by since Gainesville 2004 that I haven't had at least one fan tell me about their experience as a cancer survivor or caregiver … very cool!”
/ The Coughlin family, through their JEGS Foundation, is very active in charitable projects, including the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
/ The Coughlin clan shares a meal.