On the Rise: Laura Richards
Category Manager - Tires | Icahn Automotive Group LLC — Pep Boys | Age: 30
What was your first job in the industry?
When I was 12, I learned that I needed to look out for myself and if I wanted something, I needed to figure out how I could make the money to get it. I was too young for “working papers” so I had to get creative. Near where I grew up, there is a lake where upper class citizens from the city visit during the spring/summer/fall months. I watched these groups of people schlep their families, suitcases and pets to and from the lake in their Suburbans and Escalades and also took notice that the closest car wash was 30 minutes from the lake. What I really saw was opportunity. I went home and made colored posters and left one in every mailbox and on their windshields providing the details and pricing for Laura’s Detailing Service. I would walk to the lake, schedule multiple vehicles a day and walk from each lake house to the next. My dad had given me buckets of detail accessories and an old shop vac to get started, so everything I made was pure profit. I did this until I was old enough to get working papers. The residents were thrilled each time they came up to the lake, that they were able to effortlessly get their car fully detailed and I ended up making decent money for myself.
What attracted you to the industry?
My current role- being the tire buyer for Pep Boys, Auto Plus, select Mathis, Precision Tune, Elliott, Just Brakes, AAMCO, etc. (all under Icahn Automotive Group). One of the most attractive attributes is that we provide something the internet cannot offer (as of today) which is service. 93% of tire consumers need to have their tires installed at a store and this is something that the internet has not completely taken over yet, so I’d like to believe that it puts my position at an advantage, in a world where more and more retail stores close every day, as the up and coming customer base utilizes the internet, specifically Amazon in particular, and online ordering for everything from groceries to furniture. I see this as an integral time for businesses to “sink or swim”. There are so many factors that can either grow or hinder the growth of a company today; it’s extremely important that we have all of our ‘stars’ aligned in order to secure our position in the market for the future. I love researching buying trends, following the industry news and shake-ups and always brainstorming on how we can be better tomorrow than we are today.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
As a woman, buying tires, I often feel like I have to prove myself that much more than a man would, but I don’t think of this as a negative thing. It pushes me to always be better, smarter, faster and more knowledgeable than the person questioning me. I came into this role knowing nearly nothing about tires and through endless education of the industry, studying our consumers and learning from those above me, I have been able to really shine in my role.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
Scott Grable. He is the director or senior category manager for tires and is astonishing. Scott knows every single year, make and model’s tire specs and what they came with OE (size, spec, brand and tire line). Every year we receive the updated ‘Tire Guide’ which is a 5 year old OE tire guide. Scott actually has edited this guide for the publishing company and author many times, finding errors in the data that no one else, including the author, could have picked up on. I, like him, love numbers and data and have a knack for memorizing this data. He is remarkable in his knowledge of tires, and it keeps me on my toes, always striving to learn more, so hopefully I can be as good as him one day.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the industry?
Proving myself in my current role. I went from being a buyer for the retail front room accessories (floor mats, sunshades, etc.) to tires, which before me, was completely unheard of. Tires had the same group of buyers for the last 15 years because everyone was intimidated to work with this category. Most people at our corporate office are parts-minded individuals, so no one had ever asked if they could interview for a position buying on the tire team, especially not a girl and especially not someone from the retail accessories buying group. There were many people that doubted my ability to be great in this role and every single day I prove them wrong time and time again.
How do you spend your work day?
As associate category manager of tires at Pep Boys, I am directly responsible for TPMS, wheel weights, valve stems, tire repair, mini air compressors and lug nuts. The majority of my time is dedicated to the main rubber categories: passenger, performance and light truck and SUV tires, because when those categories do well, my categories do well.
What keeps you up at night?
I am the type of person that is always ‘on.’. My mind races with innovative thoughts of ways we can improve the business, ways we can differ from industry standards and ways we can attract new customers.
Early bird or night owl?
Night owl. I get my best work done at night.
Messy or neat freak?
Neat freak. I am probably the only person that would need to ‘dust’ a tire off before I could interact with it.
Growing up, what was your dream job?
I always wanted to be a sniper or an astronaut. Both very powerful positions that require intense focus and training.
Tell us about your family.
My family is the reason I had any interest at all in automotive. Growing up, I always wanted to be close to my older brother, and as he grew older, we grew apart. The one thing that kept us connected was cars. I also have a middle sister who is extremely disciplined and analytically talented. My mom and dad divorced when I was pretty young, but remained close and I remain close with both parents to this day.
Describe your first car and what you loved most about it.
It was 1998 tan Jeep Grand Cherokee. While all my friends had smaller, passenger type cars for their first vehicles, I loved how rough and tough my Jeep was. I would take that thing anywhere. In fact, in the first year I had it, I had to replace the front bumper on three different occasions.
What advice would you give your high school self?
Stay true to yourself and don’t follow the path that others create for you. I went through cosmetology school after high school because that was what my family wanted for me, but that wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I ended up going to college and getting my bachelor’s in merchandising afterwards and always regretted that I didn’t go to college right after high school.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
My Pop. He would be so proud of me today if he was still alive. He was a buyer for one of the largest food corporations in America and prior to him passing, I was in college for merchandising and the thought of me following in his footsteps meant the world to him, so I know if he was alive and we could share stories today, he would be overjoyed.
Best way to spend a Saturday night:
I live in Center City in Philadelphia and over the last few years Center City has really become a mini New York City. There are so many great, unique places. My favorite is Vernick on 21st and Walnut. They make an egg-white martini that is to die for! As much as I love going out and trying new places, I also enjoy a Saturday night home, taking a bubble bath and painting my toe nails!
What song do you crank up loud and always sing along to?
Any Alanis Morrissette or No Doubt song! A true 90’s child!
What habit do you wish you could break?
Stressing out over things where I can’t control the outcome.
What’s your secret superpower?
I am one of the most determined individuals I know. My drive is relentless. I also have super-strong instincts and when I don’t trust them, I am often proven wrong.
What game show would you most likely win?
If we gave you $1,000 and one hour, how would you spend the money?
How should the tire industry attract and retain more young talent?
By looking and learning from other industries. I feel often we look to other tire retailers for innovative ideas, when we should be looking at industries like grocery that are farther along in the trend cycle. By opening it up to be more less-intimating sectors, it will attract and retain more young talent.
What do you expect to be doing 20 years from now?
I’d love to be in a more powerful role, possibly the president or vice president of a company.
What’s the biggest issue facing the tire industry?
The industry has really changed this past year. From retailers running distribution to mergers that no one would have previously seen coming. To retain market share, everyone in the industry needs to learn how to advance themselves while being aware of the ever-changing environment we now reside in. My own personal issue with the tire industry is innovation is tough when you are dealing with tires, which are commonly purchased in sets of four and are typically a dreaded purchase for a consumer. It’s hard to try to develop a technique or idea that will change that dread for customers and get them excited about a tire purchase.
If you could spend a day supporting a charity, what would you do?
I would love to spend a day with shelter/rescue dogs — without getting attached and wanting to take every dog home with me.
If you could start a new career tomorrow, what would it be?
I would love to follow my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut.