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July Issue Feature: Real World Retail - Blvd Customs of Lakeland

July Issue Feature, 7/27/2016 -- It takes a lot of leg work to craft the perfect team. Some teams are assembled from a group of professionals who are also strangers. Other times, groups materialize naturally, from former colleagues searching for a place where they fit in.

The film "Ocean's Eleven" tells the story of Danny Ocean, a natural leader who is planning the perfect casino heist. To achieve his goal he needs a top-notch team. First, he finds his number one, Rusty. Then he pursues role players for each part of the heist. Finding these players for someone new to the game might be tricky. Luckily, Ocean had something strong on his side: past connections.

Jon Lackey  began his interest in 12-volt in middle school. After bouncing around to different companies over the years, Lackey became the Danny Ocean of 12-volt, acquiring allies without realizing he would one day call upon them as the A-team of his shop.

"In eighth grade, my friend's brother had a stereo system inside the house. We were listening to it, he gave it to his brother, my best friend and we started  listening to it in his closet. That's when I first got interested in audio," Lackey said. "At age 15-and-a-half I got my permit and installed a stereo and amp into the car. Soon enough I got a job as a boy in the bay at a shop called Audio Art where I used to buy equipment. I got the job by showing them the stuff I installed. They were impressed and offered me a part-time job while I was still in high school."

After two years as a part-time employee, he was promoted to full-time in 1992. After a year, the shop closed and Lackey moved with his family from Winter Haven, Fla. to Charlotte, N.C., the state of his birth.

He soon landed a job with Rick Wright at Car Audio Masters where he stayed for a year. He impressed Wright by seeking the job out, which Wright had never seen before. The position would teach Lackey many aspects of the business he had not yet learned. Then his father got a job back in Florida, so they moved again. Then a position opened in N.C., so they moved again. Luckily, the constant moving gave Lackey a chance to gain experience, landing at Streets Car Stereo/Dealer Services where he worked his way up to manager until the company went bankrupt.

"The shop was part of a chain and was the last to close up. The owner of Steak and Shake owned the chain. I worked there for a year and a half, then they closed. They had a store in Lakeland, Fla. and another in Winter Haven," he said. "I would spend three days a week in one shop and three days in the other. Our store was the most profitable, which is why it was last to close. I had a guy we had to report to every week. He was a sales guy, kind of like Eddie Kay. He went from store to store daily. It was great, it really helped."

Soon enough, Lackey saw an opportunity to open a shop with capital from another business owner who was the father of a regular customer he had. The man, Ron Bradley, a local restaurant owner, knew Lackey from his son's dealings and gave him the money to open a second store of a chain called Blvd Customs. The store became hugely profitable, more so than the other store with the same name which just sold wheels and tires.

"At that time, a manager of another closed shop and install manager needed a job. So we got together and said we got a ready-made team, let’s work together, we can make it," Lackey said. "We took over Blvd Customs in 1998. Ron Bradley said people were tired of driving all the way to them to do car audio, so he decided to add it to Blvd Customs and expand the shop. He told me he trusted me and asked where I wanted to go. I said I wanted to go to Lakeland with 110,000 people versus 33,000 people in Winter Haven, which was 25 minutes away. We opened the day after Valentines as Blvd Customs of Lakeland. I bought the name from Bradley for a dollar."

After being given some start-up money, Lackey found a former gas station located in a busy location of the city, used the money to redesign the shop and purchased some inventory. Today, the shop has been in the same location for 17 years. 

Read the rest of the feature HERE.

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