Dan Mermelstein and his partner Rob Rohn never really expected things to turn out this way. In fact, at the age of 19, they hadn’t even considered selling cell phones and accessories out of their fraternity dorm room at Arizona State University. However, one thing led to another, which somehow led to another, and now, at the age of 27, Mermelstein and Rohn run Vivid Racing, a very successful performance auto parts distributor located in Chandler, Arizona.
“Yeah, we didn’t even plan the cell phone thing. We were just working for somebody doing that, and we did that for only a year and a half,” Mermelstein said. Mermelstein and Rohn have known each other since high school. The two of them were always car enthusiasts, but not that truly devoted. However, things began to change for the guys after Mermelstein bought a Subaru WRX when it first came to the U.S. in 2001.
Jay Bryan, a customer who became a friend, told the guys that if they wanted people to take them seriously, they needed to have an awesome project car. So they worked on the WRX, turning it into the first JDM-built Subaru in the U.S. Mermelstein and Rohn attended many California car shows with the WRX, which increased its reputation. Then, they took it road racing and To top it all off, the car competed in the 2003 Gumball 3000 from San Francisco to Miami, and was one of the cars on the race’s movie poster. By the time the guys ended up selling the WRX, it had earned them a great deal of recognition.
“From there, it kind of has gotten to this level,” Mermelstein said. “We’re just more than people who enjoy cars; we’re focused business people.” Mermelstein isn’t kidding when he says that. The guys became a couple of the first to supply parts for the car from Australia and Japan, buying parts from there and bringing them here. They built a modest website and got their first building, a 1,200-square-foot facility, and began taking phone orders and selling stuff.
“When we first started, there weren’t many shops in the [Phoenix] area,” he said. “As we’ve grown, the market has grown. We have a heavy focus on lifestyle and automotive culture, but we always want to go against the norm. We try to do stuff that is not endemic to the tuner culture, such as cross-promoting with DC Shoes. Working with different companies exposed us to different demographics. Also, while our focus is on the retail and wholesale district, we bring in brands so it’s not just another Internet store.”
The guys’ strategy worked, and from beginning at $10,000 a month in 2001, they went to about $700,000 per month in 2007. “We have expanded our distribution, both national and international,” Mermelstein said.
Business was good. Then, on a flight back from New York, the guys opened up a laptop and began crunching numbers. To get to the next level, the guys decided to focus more on the local market, 70-80 percent, while distributing nationally. Meanwhile, people like Jarod DeAnda (Formula-D announcer) were spreading the word about Vivid and introducing the guys to other people in the industry. They wanted a place to back up their national image, and that’s when they opened up their present 10,000-square foot facility.