Quitting the band

Al Mothersbaugh describes his modus operandi through the words of John Coltrane: “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn.”

“You’ve got to live it,” says Mothersbaugh. It right now refers to his business, Akron Glass Tinting, although three years ago, it referred to his band, The TwistOffs, which achieved a rare level of regional success in its 10 years of touring, recording and playing to a loyal local audience.

Mothersbaugh left the band in 1998 to take over his family’s business. But if you think this musician isn’t putting the same heart and soul into his business that he did into his art, think again. Coltrane’s principle applies as much to the way Mothersbaugh runs Akron Glass Tinting as it does to his role as a musician.

I cared about the band so much,” he recalls. “I had to teach myself how to become an accountant, how to manage merchandise, how to design merchandise, how to pick from different pieces of art, how to get the most impact from a mailer, how to be timely with a mailer, how to keep the Web site current and how to shuffle in new members and keep our gigs.”

Just as he was self-taught at managing tour schedules and maintaining a fan base, he has taught himself over the last three years how to turn a kitchen table-based family business into a full-time, strategic business.

“Within the last three years, I’ve totally changed the business,” he says. “I’ve changed it from a ma and pop, unorganized, hope-we-get-the-leads type of thing to a proactive, strategic plan that I’ve bounced off a million people, and they say, ‘Yeah Al, you’re doing the right thing, but keep in mind it takes a long time.”

While Mothersbaugh knows success won’t happen overnight, even for a 40-year-old business, he does have an ambitious goal for the next year: to double his revenue. He says that’s realistic, considering he’s boosted sales 50 percent a year since taking over as a full-time manager.

Previously, the company was run by his father, Gene, who founded it in 1958 by applying a messy tinted liquid to glass windows. As mylar and polyester films became increasingly popular, he became a distributors for the films, selling to other installers.

Growing up, Mothersbaugh and his brother were dragged out of bed on Saturdays to help their father, and he says he learned to be a great salesman by watching his father sell thousands of jobs in the field.

While his sales skills were sharpened through observation, experience and a naturally gregarious personality, Mothersbaugh realized he had a lot to learn about marketing the business.

“My dad’s idea of marketing was two things: Paying the Yellow Pages bill and picking up the phone and scheduling an estimate,” he says.

He says his eyes opened in 1998 when, after he came home from a band tour, he watched the company’s only local competitor steal a job.

“It made my stomach turn,” he recalls.

He felt as if that competitor had been “undermining” his family’s business for the last 20 years by basically “doing what your supposed to do when you own a business.”

At that point, the phone number listed for Akron Glass Tinting would ring at Mothersbaugh’s parents’ house, and the call normally would be answered from the kitchen.

“We’d be sitting there drinking coffee, and all our family and friends all knew that the phone would get answered, ‘Hello, Akron Glass Tinting,'” Mothersbaugh says. “It was the forerunner to a home office. We never had and office and we never needed one.”

Until that time in 1998.

I couldn’t take it anymore,” Mothersbaugh says. “I’d come home from tours, and my dad would say, ‘We’ve got a job.’ So I’d go down there to sell it and I’d be up against this competitor every time — and I was going down there in a pair of shorts and a Ramones T-shirt. It just wasn’t panning out.”

The decision to leave the band broke his heart.

“As cool as it is to make your living doing your art, I just got married, my wife was pregnant, so I took the conservative approach,” he says. “I went with something that had a 40-year track record and little competition.”

He soon realized that he didn’t have any idea what it took to bring a business to its full potential.

“You tackle one goal, and you get that under your belt. You turn into a corporation, you get the proper insurance, you do all that, and then you say, ‘We’ve got to get installers [because we’re doing all the installations].’ And once you figure that out, you have to go to the next level and the next level and it never seemed like it ended.”

But his commitment was validated when, around that time, Welty Building Co. called for a measurement of the BFGoodrich Building that GoJo Industries was moving into.

“We measured it, and I set up a proposal [with the help of] a design company,” says Mothersbaugh. “That’s how bad I wanted it, I did everything right. It was crazy.

“My dad said, ‘I’ve been in this for 35 years and I didn’t get one landing in my lap like that,” he says. “I told him, ‘You kept your place in the community upstanding and honest.’ How many people can say that they’ve got a guy that’s been out there in the trenches for 30 years setting it up for you to take over?”

Mothersbaugh says he’s finally at the end of the road with his marketing plan, and he’s joined several professional organizations, including the North Akron Board of Trade, American Society of Interior Design, International Window Film Association and Home Builders Association to help broaden his network. He’s even traded his band garb for a wardrobe of shirts and ties.

But his most valuable asset might still be the sales techniques he learned from his father.

“I’m not the type of salesman who sits there and does some type of voodoo closing ritual on them [customers],” he says. “I just tell them like it is.

“I try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, because that’s how I want to be treated.” How to reach: Akron Glass Tinting, (330) 928-8792 or www.akronglasstinting.com

Connie Swenson ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine.