Originally established as a start-up company in Barbados by two young friends 25-years ago, Automotive Art has today grown into a highly regarded global organization, specializing in the manufacture, distribution and retail of high quality automotive paints. Managed from its home base in Barbados, Automotive Art operates a distribution centre in the USA and a production facility in Poland, and is currently actively trading in 65 countries around the world.
Hugh Blades Co-Founder, Director of Inventory Control & Warehousing, Automotive Art International Inc.
When Dereck shared his vision with me and asked if I wanted to be his business partner, I didn’t hesitate. We both knew it meant leaving the financial security of an established job, but we were young and willing to take the risk. One of the smartest decisions we made was to partner with two very successful Barbadian businessmen, Ralph Johnson and Andrew Philips of Harris Paints. It was comforting to have experienced mentors like them to give us the right kind of guidance. Another key early decision was when we committed to investing in the best technology available at the time, which had just been introduced by Glasurit. It was an expensive and risky move to make, but that bold step rapidly spearheaded Automotive Art to the top of the ladder in the automotive paints retail market.
We just rolled up our sleeves and worked even harder to regain our position.
While selling Glasurit products throughout the Caribbean, we also developed our own private label paints, diversified into other related automotive categories and opened an Automotive Art store. As a result of the success of our retail outlet, plus the tremendous interest it was generating amongst our regional distributors, we then launched an Automotive Art franchise model. We started by converting some of our existing distributors into franchisees and within a relatively short period we had covered just about the whole English-speaking Caribbean. At that point we recognized that further expansion would have taken on a new level of complex challenges, plus it became more and more obvious that our main potential for future growth outside the Caribbean was in the field of automotive paints, so we chose to refocus on our original core business.
We used to produce our own paint in Barbados and then ship it to our customers around the region, but that eventually became increasingly challenging from a logistics perspective as well as being cost prohibitive. To overcome those hurdles, we opened our own distribution centre in Miami and sourced our private label paints from a major European manufacturer, complete with a contract that allowed us to sell our products in the USA. We were soon reaping the rewards of that big step, as sales figures soared and the company grew rapidly. Unfortunately, the bubble burst when a major US multi-national company bought out our European supplier and cancelled the distribution contract. That was a huge blow to our strategic development plan, but everybody remained determined and focused. We just rolled up our sleeves and worked even harder to regain our position.
Dereck Foster Executive Chairman, Automotive Art Group
When Hugh and I founded the company we knew that we wanted to dramatically change the automotive paint business in Barbados; not only by introducing state of the art paint products, because to be honest anyone could do that, but also by implementing revolutionary changes in how we sold the products, the way we treated our customers and, more importantly, the investment we made in our team and how we valued them. We are extremely fortunate to be surrounded by so many talented people who have allowed us to ‘dream big’; people who truly believe that we can achieve any goal that we set ourselves. So, when we suffered that serious setback with the cancelling of our US contract, nobody on our team ever doubted that we would bounce back.
We can run a global business efficiently from this location and still enjoy a very happy and healthy life.
It took a bit longer than anticipated to find a suitable, international standard paint manufacturing plant with the right fit for us, but in the end we tracked down an excellent company in Poland, called Multichem. Furthermore, we successfully acquired a significant shareholding in Multichem, which effectively meant that we were now manufacturing our own products and no longer needed to depend on any third-party suppliers. That critical factor not only freed up Automotive Art in North America, it also empowered us to really start targeting global markets. And that is exactly what we have done ever since.
We are currently trading in 65 countries and we are expanding into more new markets each year. We have huge potential ahead of us at Automotive Art and I am convinced that we are going to continue growing into that potential; and it will all be built around a high quality, world-class brand. From a strategic perspective, we want to see our paint brands everywhere, literally in as many countries around the planet as possible. That is my objective and I want to achieve it in my lifetime.
Barbados has been good for Automotive Art and having our headquarters here still offers a number of advantages, such as good access to well-educated people, a convenient geographic location, a great climate and a wonderful lifestyle. My senior colleagues and I could live anywhere in the world, but we choose to live here in Barbados; not because of any tax advantages or anything like that, but simply because we can run a global business efficiently from this location and still enjoy a very happy and healthy life. I look forward to the day when a Fortune 500 company moves its headquarters to Barbados, because I am sure it would be a big success for them, for that same very important reason.