You don't have to know a carburetor from a catalytic converter to appreciate Eastwood Inc.'s story of entrepreneurial adaptation.
It's a user's guide, if you will, to staying relevant in a business world where change is often required at a pedal-to-the-floor pace.
The Pottstown-based company has been serving the do-it-yourself automotive restoration and customization market since 1978, when typewriters still dominated the office landscape, the Bee Gees ruled the music charts, and Garfield first appeared in the comics sections of U.S. newspapers.
Started in Malvern by car enthusiast Curt Strohacker, Eastwood was catalog-based. The first was a quick read: eight black-and-white pages of metal-finishing tools and equipment.
Today, Eastwood has gone all QVC-like or, as Martin Bispels, chief sales and marketing officer, put it: "A long way from an eight-page catalog."
That was to be expected when the company hired Bispels, a 17-year QVC veteran, in July 2015. When he left the home-shopping behemoth in March 2014, Bispels was head of business development.
In home shopping, the production studio is where the sales catalog comes alive. Consequently, when Bispels, 48, of Phoenixville, was solicited to work at Eastwood, he considered it "a good fit."
Helping him come to that conclusion was the studio Eastwood constructed in 2013 within the 100,000-square-foot headquarters/warehouse to which it had relocated in 2000.
Amid set lighting and handheld cameras, Eastwood Live segments are broadcast three times a week on Facebook, YouTube, and Eastwood.com. The professional-quality how-tos help the company better connect with customers and, of course, move the more-than-
4,000 products it sells.
Since the live segments debuted in May, "we're getting lots and lots of engagement," said Bispels, who estimated reaching more than two million people with programs on such topics as pinstriping, plasma cutting, and creating a Model A Ford cowl panel from scratch. A social-media producer monitors the questions viewers post, and gets them real-time answers.
Also accessible online is a vast library of shorter how-to videos, which have been "a big eye-opener for us" in terms of their appeal, said Nicholas Capinski, director of content marketing. A segment on powder coating attracted 37,000 views in 24 hours.
Like QVC, Eastwood offers a daily deal to help drive sales, offering a discount on a particular item for a certain number of hours. One day last week, it was 10 percent off a 100-pound pressure abrasive blaster.
Yet Eastwood still sees relationship-building value in brick-and-mortar outposts. In addition to its longtime Pottstown store, it added one in Illinois in 2014 and one in Ohio in 2015. More are planned "where our customers want us to be," Bispels said, declining to say where or how many.
In all, the company counts 37 "touch points" with customers, including mobile apps (yes, people place orders while under the car they're working on, Eastwood reports), free technical advice, and emails.
The hope is that all that customer connection will help smooth rough patches when they arise, such as the recent internal-system change that caused delayed orders. The company posted an apology on Facebook last Monday, after at least one angry post a couple of days earlier by a customer who accused Eastwood of ignoring the situation.
"We understand delays in shipping your order may have impacted your project, and your trust in Eastwood to deliver on our promise to Do The Job Right," the company wrote. "Our team is working around the clock to get everything working correctly in order to better serve you."
As a privately owned company (founder Strohacker remains the sole owner), Eastwood does not disclose its revenue. "Double-digit growth every year," is all Bispels would say on the subject.
Eastwood has a strong following because it is unrivaled in what it does, said longtime customer Jim McCulley, 75, of Pine Hill, who has been building dragsters since 1960 and racing them even longer.
"They make products that you don't see at Home Depot and at Lowe's," McCulley said. "Somebody found a niche, and they filled it."
Though he's "a child of the print age," Mike Joy, 66, a lap-by-lap announcer for Fox Sports' NASCAR coverage and a car restorer since age 16, praised Eastwood's embrace of social media.
"They do a very good job of showing how easy it is to use tools that the average person might shy away from," he said.
What Joy misses is the camaraderie of car enthusiasts gathering to work on their vehicles together that was prevalent in his youth.
"Maybe that's the one downside to the rise of the internet and social media," Joy said. "You can now [rebuild] one of these cars and never speak to anybody."
In person, at least.