Forty-four years ago, Jeg Coughlin launched the automotive parts business that would eventually become known the world over as Jeg’s Mail Order. Working from a 40x40’ foot building, in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Coughlin was able to combine his mechanical and business acumen with his love of automobiles, casting the die for one of the most successful companies in American automotive history.
“From the time I was a small child, I enjoyed tinkering with things,” explained Coughlin. “When I was 10, I started building radios and then eventually moved on to boats, bikes and eventually to cars. I never had anything new, it was all fixed. Obviously at that point, I didn’t know what I’d eventually be doing to make a living, but I was pretty sure it would be mechanical in nature.”
When he turned 16, Coughlin bought his first car, a 1936 Ford. He paid $50 for it and it wasn’t long before he found his way to the race track. After some early success, Coughlin built a reputation as someone who was handy with a wrench and soon had fellow racers wanting him to help them modify their cars.
“I was doing engine swaps, building rear-end assemblies and things like that,” Coughlin recalled. I gradually started getting more and more customers and once I started doing all that work, I obviously needed parts. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that most times, you could buy three for the price of one. That’s when I started to think that an aftermarket parts company would be a good idea.
No one else was doing it at the time; In fact, I’d never been to a shop that sold speed equipment until I opened the first Jeg’s store.”
The first Jeg’s High Performance outlet opened in 1958. The rent on the 40’x40’ foot building was $40 a month. Coughlin got the name Jeg’s by taking the first letter of his real name, which is James, and the first letters of his parents names, Edward and Gueneviere.
Opening a retail store for high performance parts might have seemed like a natural for Coughlin, but his father, Edward, who worked as a successful executive for Lazarus Department Stores, wasn’t so easily convinced. Informed of Jeg’s plans, his only query was, “When will it make money?”
The elder Coughlin went so far as to tell his son that he wouldn’t step foot in the business until it was on solid ground financially. Ultimately, that wasn’t an issue as the company enjoyed tremendous success in its first year of operation. In fact, Coughlin’s father temporarily ran the business while Jeg served a stint in the military.
“By that time, I looked at business and racing as a 50-50 proposition,” said Coughlin. “The key was that I enjoyed both. Running the business was fun and I found it really enjoyable to see others run fast with my parts.”
The early success of Jeg’s Automotive allowed Coughlin to expand to a total of three locations within a few years. The success of those franchises ultimately led to the formation of an additional company, Buckeye Sales in 1972.
“By the early 1970s, we began to concentrate more on speed parts as opposed to general automotive repair,” said Coughlin. Once we started Buckeye Sales, we grew from $4 to $16 million in sales from 1972 to 1988. From the early days, I had envisioned Jeg’s as a large company and that was starting to become a reality.”
As is often the case in any successful endeavor, the rapid expansion of Jeg’s meant that Coughlin was often forced to make critical decisions. Expansion beyond the mid-Ohio region would have required a huge investment in real estate, staffing, and most importantly, inventory. To Coughlin, that appeared to be not only a huge undertaking, but also an outdated way of doing business. To Coughlin, a mail order service, where customers anywhere in the world could order parts via a catalog and have them delivered directly to their door, in most cases within 24 hours, seemed like a much better alternative.
“Once we got into the mail order business, that’s when Jeg’s really took off,” said Coughlin. “We already had everything in place. We just needed to produce a catalog, and figure out the logistics of getting the parts delivered as quickly as possible.
“When people want parts, they want them yesterday because by the time they call us, they’ve already been thinking about what they want. That’s why our goal has always been to have every order out the door by 7 p.m. the day it is received. There were people who said that couldn’t be done, but we’ve proved them wrong.”
Even while he was building the business, Coughlin remained serious about racing. Competing in just about every NHRA eliminator including Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Comp, and Super Eliminator, Coughlin compiled a record that included 11 NHRA divisional event victories, and four final round appearances at national events including the 1975 U.S. Nationals at Indy.
“From day one, drag racing has played a big part in the success of our company,” said Coughlin. “Not just because of me or my sons, but because of all the people who race with our name on their cars. It’s those racer who have made Jeg’s what it is today.”
In 1988, Coughlin sold the business to his four sons, John, Troy, Mike, and Jeg. Having been raised at the track, all four shared their father’s love of drag racing, and all made a conscious decision to involve themselves in the family business.
Proving that there is strength in numbers, the Coughlin brothers guided Jeg’s Mail Order through another period of unprecedented growth. By the turn of the century, the company had moved into a state-of-the-art 185,000 square-foot facility that includes a robotic system for selecting parts and 14 truck bays. With 400 employees, Jeg’s Mail Order is currently one of the largest employers in Delaware County [Ohio].
“Thankfully, my four sons were all interested in working at the business,” said Coughlin. “They were working for me and I thought what more of an incentive can I give them than to sell them the business and let them run it.
“Thankfully, all of my sons have different strengths and that allowed them to grow into their roles with the company. John is a natural born salesman and he oversees all aspects of sales and purchasing. Troy is very organized and he supervises the upkeep and maintenance of our building and equipment.
“Mike is mechanically inclined and can fix anything. One of his responsibilities is to get rid of obsolete parts, and keep up with new technology and Jeg has great people skills and he handles everything non-sales related. He is involved in accounts receivables and payable and with shipping and receiving. I could never have imagined selling the company to anyone else. Years ago, I thanked Wally Parks for creating NHRA because it gave me a tool to help me raise my kids. Racing is the one thing we’ve always had in common.”
The success of Jeg’s Mail Order has gone hand-in-hand with the success of the Coughlin brothers on the race track. Racing in every class from Super Gas to Pro Stock, the brothers have collectively won more than 60 NHRA national event titles with Jeg claiming a pair of NHRA POWERade Pro Stock championships. According to the elder Coughlin, balancing the demands of business and racing is easy because the company has so many dedicated employees.
“We have excellent leadership,” said Coughlin. “Most of our people have been with us for a long time. We’ve got a number of people on our workforce that have been with us for 20-years or more. And, when the race team does well, it helps build morale throughout the company.”
With Jeg’s Mail Order already making plans for a 50th anniversary celebration in 2010, Jeg’s Coughlin Sr. maintains that he had few regrets. In fact, his only disappointment is that his father didn’t live long enough to see the completion of the current facility that has given the company the capability to surpass 500-million in annual sales.
“My father died ten years ago at age 87, so he never got to see our warehouse, but I’m sure he wold have been very impressed,” Coughlin noted. “After all, he’s the one that always used to tell me that as long as there are two automobiles in the world, there will be a race.”
Media Note: Additional information is available at the following locations:
Scott "Woody" Woodruff
JEGS, Director of Media & Motorsports
Office: 800-345-4545 (ext. 1412)