Everyone was extremely excited to have Barry Meguiar come to the California Car Care Expo. He is a legend in the detailing industry who helped transform Meguair’s in to a retail giant and is the face of the Car Crazy TV show running 16 years. I was really looking forward to Barry showing up until…. I saw him arrive just as I began my presentation to the group and I thought to myself “I’m going to lose everyone’s attention as soon as they see Barry”. However Barry quietly walked around back virtually unseen and demonstrated the quiet dignity and exceptional integrity he runs his business and life by. Mike Stoops later mentioned to me that Barry is keenly aware of his surroundings and he would not walk in on another speaker, it was a classy move and I was grateful. I was able to finish my presentation, we enjoyed dinner together as Barry mingled with everyone while eating the amazing tacos provided by TDP member Sergio.
After dinner Barry took center stage and told us a lot about the history of Meguair’s and his personal background and it was unbelievably interesting. I’ll do my best to summarize some of the biggest points that stood out to me, but please note I’m trying to recall everything from over a week ago so bear with me.
Meguiar’s started out in 1901 making furniture polish and when the buggy and horseless buggy became popular this same polish was used to care for them. Being strategically located right near where so many buggies were built was a huge advantage. They would later move headquarters to California where two automotive manufacturers were located, another strategic move. The brand grew and became a big name in the car care industry during the 50s and 60s when automobiles became more mainstream for American families, however at this time Meguiar’s only sold to professional automotive shops, manufacturers, etc.
When Barry first left college he had a salary of $5,000 and when they asked him to move to Detroit to be the Meguiar’s representative at the big automotive plants they doubled his salary. Unfortunately when he arrived he got little respect in the dark and dingy shops and manufacturing plants he went in to and many people thought he had the job just because of his last name. While there was some success it was tough work and he questioned his direction and future with the company. He became friends with several gentlemen at his church and they were all making around $250,000 a year and they encouraged him to join their company. After some thinking Barry asked his Dad if it would be okay to leave the family company for this lucrative new opportunity and his Dad supported him. After much deliberation Barry passed on the new job and decided his path was with Meguiar’s business. He became more determined that he was going to stay and help take the family business to the next level.
Barry eventually returned to Meguiar’s headquarters in California and really wanted to bring the Meguiar’s product to consumers but he faced staunch opposition from his family and even his late grandfather was adamantly against it. The company was owned by his father and two uncles, until one of his uncles passed. The business continued on with his father and uncle running it and the Meguiar’s family was doing well making a consistent profit but they became very complacent. Barry continued to feel the passion of consumers and believed that he could make retail products work and eventually won the battle with the support of his father. To secure this agreement with his family he could not call the new consumer products Mirror Glaze because that name was reserved for products going out to professionals. Barry then decided to call the new product line just “Meguiar’s” and went with a classic old school logo, basically the same as you see today, in spite of the fact many new products used futuristic space age designs. Additionally while most competitors and industry professionals were very “slick” in their presentations Barry was the exact opposite, he was very matter of fact and honest with consumers. He attended the very first SEMA show at Disneyland when it was just some tables in a big room. At this show and various shows throughout the years Barry’s wife would send people over to the tables and Barry would engage them in genuine conversation and often times just hand out a bottle of the product. It eventually built up momentum and Barry was proven right that retail would be a huge part of Meguiar’s growth and now Meguiar’s is the #1 retailer of detailing supplies!
Along the way Barry faced another major hurdle when the board was set to vote him out in a shocking move. Barry brought on an investor, a very good lawyer, that bought out his uncle’s shares while Barry served as the President of the company. When he signed on with the investor they created seven positions on the board, Barry and the investor could appoint three people each and there would be a seventh independent member. The investor appointed himself and two other lawyers that he knew that were really sharp guys, but little did Barry know what they had in store for him. A few years later Barry got word the investor convinced the independent board member and his appointed members to remove Barry as the President. They were going to vote him out and there was a conference call taking place the next day where this issue would be voted on. Barry scheduled to meet with his own lawyers that next morning before hand and he wondered if he would be the President. To know Barry you have to know he is a man of tremendous faith so that night he went home, prayed and he stated that he slept like a baby relying on his faith. He woke up well rested and met with his own lawyers, upon entering they had a big grin on their faces and he wondered what could be so positive on his potential last day. Barry’s lawyers had re-read the company by laws and they only allowed for six board members total, which voided part of the agreement with the investor. When the conference call started Barry asked to go first and the investor smugly allowed him to do so but when they heard the by-laws didn’t allow for seven board members the investor and his nominated board members literally went crazy. They thought they strategized a perfect coup but ironically the lawyers forgot to read the “fine print”. Barry eventually won out staying on as the President and the investor eventually left the company. It was an amazing last second victory for Barry but he appreciates how close he was to losing his company.
Eventually Meguiar’s was bought out by 3M and Barry considers this move to be one of the best things that ever happened to Meguiar’s. He was hesitant to accept their offer but he was assured that the only departments that would merge would be accounting/finance and legal, otherwise Meguiar’s is run independently and Barry is still President. Barry gets a big kick when people run up to him and say “What’s going to happen to you now that 3M owns Meguiar’s?”. His response is often something like “Well that happened about five years ago so things will remain virtually the same.” Meguiar’s even secured the rights to keep all their formula’s secret from 3M. I asked Barry if there are any collaborations planned between the two brands and his response was humorous. He said eventually 3M did ask if they could know some secrets and he declined to share them. Ironically some of the Meguiar’s R&D guys later asked if they can borrow some information from 3M and they graciously accepted. As Barry stated several times working with 3M has been great for Meguiar’s. Eventually Barry said that Meguiar’s shared a little bit of their R&D with 3M, to show appreciation but Meguiar’s has some core secrets they will not be sharing.
After Barry was done speaking he graciously answered questions and stayed for some photo opportunities. He stayed a long time chatting with everyone and I was really impressed with him as a business man and as a human being. He has given back to the detailing community and the community at large while remaining a humble person. I consider myself very privileged to meet Barry and I really enjoyed listening to him.
Here are some pictures of Barry and his famous 57 Chevrolet Bel Air he has owned since he was young.