››› The SEMA Education builders panel (left to right): moderator RJ de Vera, TJ Hunt, Bisi Ezerioha, Gabby Downing and Kyle Kuhnhausen.
A Real-World Builders' Look at How to Get a Vehicle Project Sponsored
T. J. Hunt has more than two million followers on YouTube. He pioneered automotive influencing and has turned it into a lucrative career. At the 2022 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, he was on a panel during a session entitled "How to Get a Sponsor for Your Next Build."
"You're not going to get sponsored because you're cool," said the president of Hunt and Company, an apparel business he launched. "It's because that company thinks you're going to make them more sales. For a start, you have to see yourself as a salesman for that company."
The session was one of more than 70 educational presentations during the Show that ran last November at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Joining Hunt were RJ de Vera, SEMA vice president of marketing, who moderated the session; Bisi Ezerioha, president of Bisimoto Engineering in Ontario, California; Kyle Kuhnhausen, founder and president of Kuhnhausen Metal Concepts in Creswell, Oregon; and popular content creator and competitor Gabby Downing from Fredericksburg, Virginia.
All the panelists had humble starts. Ezerioha is originally from Nigeria and worked his way up from building a Honda CRX drag car to racing for American Honda. Today, he has relationships with many original equipment manufacturers. Kuhnhausen and Downing both started with Hondas as well, with Kuhnhausen winning the Young Guns category in the 2018 SEMA Battle of the Builders. Downing has driven drift cars, off-road vehicles and started with videos on basic repairs, including oil changes. She recently bought a C5 Corvette and is one of the most popular influencers in the automotive aftermarket.
"These are great examples of people who started building a car and now they have these great businesses," said de Vera. "For us at SEMA, a pillar is the idea of innovation and opportunity. Innovation isn't just about building the business, it's about building yourself."
Inevitably, a first project is going to start in a person's garage and it's going to be self-funded. A build also needs to be chronicled so others can follow the story. Recalling his experience in the Battle of the Builders, Kuhnhausen said, "It takes guts to start a build and put it all on social."
Most first-timers start with what they're given, noted de Vera. Ezerioha's first modification was by accident. He had an '88 Honda CRX HF. He started his car one morning and the exhaust was louder than usual because it was perforated. "It sounded cool, and I liked it," he said. He went to a local Honda dealer and got a quote of $600 to fix it. "I couldn't afford it, so I went to a local muffler shop and they put a Dynomax Ultraflow on my car," he said.
The HF designation for his car stood for high fuel economy, and Ezerioha called that a "blessing in disguise" because it was the lightest CRX made. He got into drag racing and when it came to interacting with people in the pits, Ezerioha did what came naturally. All the other competitors kept to themselves to try to maintain a competitive advantage. But Ezerioha was an open book. He had his sponsors' literature displayed on a table and he interacted with fans. A representative from American Honda noticed Ezerioha's efforts and asked if he would race for the company. "My passion is what allowed me to attract a financial sponsorship," he said.
Downing started with her own CRX. "I had just gotten out of high school and I needed something that was old and affordable, and a Civic was too boring," she said. "It had 18-in. wheels that were way too big and had two big subwoofers in the back. I modded it, I raced it and I rallied it."
Hunt started with a BMW 328, saying, "I did some V6 things to try to make it fast, tuning and springs and taillight tints, just some basic stuff; but that's kind of what cracked the seal for me. Then I got into the forums and trying to figure it all out."
It Starts With Parts
The first step in the sponsorship process is usually parts. Ezerioha's first backing came from SoCal Racing Wheels. "I met with the owner and he was an engineer as well, and we just hit it off," he said. "It taught me early on that relationships are important with sponsorships."
Kuhnhausen was four years into a five-year build and took the car to a local show in Oregon. He met the president of Radium Engineering of Clackamas, Oregon, which makes performance accessories for cars and trucks. "He loved the passion I had and the innovation I was doing on the car, and he said, 'Give me a call and we'll get you whatever you need," said Kuhnhausen.
He continued, "I made the call and about a week later, an unmarked package showed up on my door. I said, 'That's cool, this guy believes in me so much that he's willing to help me amplify my build,' which went on to win the Young Guns division of Battle of the Builders and "kind of got my career going." Today, Kuhnhausen is a Battle of the Builders judge.
All the cars that KMC builds now get Radium parts. "I've got a lot more eyes on what I do to feed business their way, so it's a cool relationship," said Kuhnhausen. "They gave me the early edge and now I can give that back."
Early in her career, Downing got lots of parts sent to her to use in videos. One of her earliest partners was BFGoodrich. When the tire giant first reached out to her, she thought someone was pranking her.
"I have had a hard time understanding my value and believing that I had anything to give back," she said. "When they reached out and believed in me and my value and being different, [they became] someone I wanted to continue to work with."
Hunt was running a Subaru BRZ and sent an email to Subaru parts distributors to introduce himself. "I got lucky because the person who saw the email was 18 and actually a viewer of my channel," said Hunt. "His boss was probably twice his age and had no idea."
Hunt landed a phone call with the boss and explained his presence on YouTube. He explained that if they gave him a store credit on parts, Hunt would do install videos.
"They took a shot in the dark and it was a hit for them," said Hunt. "It opened up that door and showed me how to leverage what I had."
Once a shop or individual is successful, the relationship often organically moves to the next level—financial sponsorships.
Downing said that her first financial sponsor remains a partner today. "They saw what I could do if I had financial assistance," she said. "I'm all about proving myself and making content and showing it."
Kuhnhausen's content has always been based on his build process. "I found a company that I don't have to sell their product because my simply using their product sells their product and that's SendCutSend laser cutting service," he said. "The partners you want to work with are the ones that you would still be working with even if you didn't have a deal."
Hunt's first financial sponsorship came through de Vera when the latter worked in marketing for Meguiar's Inc. Today the wax and polish company is Hunt's longest-standing partner. "You need to know the sponsor's demographic better than your own," he said. "What do they have and not have."
De Vera saw Hunt's reach firsthand at a show that Meguiar's was sponsoring. There was a long line made up primarily of young attendees waiting for as long as two hours for Hunt and company merchandise. Meguiar's was a brand known for appealing to the older hot-rod crowd, not the young drift-car enthusiasts.
When Hunt and de Vera started talking, the former explained that he could deliver that audience to Meguiar's.
"You need to fully understand that you're a salesman, know the demographic, what they're studying, what they're looking for," said Hunt.
Added Downing, "Once I took myself seriously, brands saw that," she said. "I shifted to promoting myself as a business and not a person."
NEW PRODUCTS PREVIEW
As of August 15, 2023
Lakewood Bellhousing Bolt Kit for Mopar Gen III to T-56/T-56 Magnum
Lakewood has specialized in safety from the beginning. These Lakewood Bellhousing Bolts are no different. Built from high-strength chromoly steel, then black oxide-coated for a tough, long-lasting finish. This bolt kit provides the necessary fasteners to connect your bellhousing to both the engine (LS or LT) and transmission (T-56 or T-56 Magnum). The entire kit consists of 10.9/Grade 8 bolts, and it's included in purchase of an LK7100K bellhousing.
Ranger TruSensor TPMS Tool Kit
With the portable TS58R in hand, technicians will be able to view Sensor Battery Life, Tire Pressure, Broadcast Frequency, Sensor ID, as well as tire location. Its universal interface can relearn all known 315-MHz and 433-MHz sensors, including aftermarket and OE types. The TS58R has four modes for programming new sensors: copy by activation, manual input, auto-create ID (up to five sensors at a time) and copy by OBD. Other essential TPMS service capabilities include Manual Input ID, Duplicate ID, Automatic Create ID, Sensor Position Change, and Modify ID functions.
Ingersoll-Rand W311 IQV20 1/4-in. Compact Impact Driver
Ingersoll Rand grows its IQV20 system with the W3111 IQV20 1/4-in. Compact Impact Driver. Its brushless motor delivers up to 4,200 in.-lbs. of breakaway torque to quickly complete demanding applications. A compact form factor with 5.2-in. tip-to-tail length and weight under 2.3 lbs. provide excellent control and maneuverability in tight workspaces.
Astro Tools Goliath Ball Joint Service Tool & Master Adapter Set
Astro's latest large forged-alloy C-frame press features industry-leading strength and both a wider opening and longer arms to more easily fit adapters. The set includes all the receiver tubes and removing/installing adapters needed to work on press-fit upper and lower ball joints. It works on 2WD and 4WD domestic and import vehicles through the '20s. It includes information for more than 1,100 applications. All forged adapters and screws are grade-12.9 heat-treated for max durability.
Beta Tools 12V Multipurpose Portable Starter
Beta Tools' new 12V multipurpose charger uses a starting current of 600 amps and a pickup current of 1,500 amps. The four-cell, LifePo4 battery has a capacity of 25,000 milliamp-hours and protects against polarity reversal, short-circuit, overcurrent, overcharge and overheating. It's supplied with a protective case, cable with starting clamps, USB ports for charging electronic devices, an LED battery charge indicator, USB and USB-C cables, and multifunction LED lighting,
Bauer 20V Brushless Cordless 1/2-in. Impact Wrench
The Bauer 20V Brushless Cordless 1/2-in. High-Torque Impact Wrench delivers 1000 ft.-lb. of bolt breakaway torque at speeds up to 1,800 rpm to power-off nuts and bolts fast. The three-speed selector operates at 0-700, 0-1,400 and 0-1,800. A built-in LED light provides superior work visibility. Pair up with the Bauer 3 Ah battery pack or greater to deliver more work per charge and more work over the life of the pack.
Boxo USA Pro Series 45-in., 11-Drawer Bottom Roll Tool Cabinet
Ideal for the seasoned mechanic, professional technician as well as the homeowner who likes to be organized, each Pro Series toolbox works perfectly with our large choice of tools. They're constructed from strong 18-gauge spot-welded steel with gusset-reinforced corners, full-length beam supports (where applicable) and multiple strategically placed spot welds for long life. Each full-length drawer uses a soft-slide design with an all-steel ball-bearings rated at 100 lbs. per slide. They're available in white with black drawers or black with gray drawers.
TOOLS & EQUIPMENT
As of August 15, 2023
AC Hydraulic A/S 35119
ADAS Aiming 38239
Adenna LLC 35133
Advantage Lifts 38087
AirBoss Air Tools Co. Ltd. 38161
AirSept Inc. 36237
AIRVANTAGE TOOLS 36067
Alkota Cleaning Systems 39225
Alpine Bender Machinery 35095
Alsco Uniforms 39223
Amgo Hydraulic Corp. 38139
Anglo American Tools 36118
Anhui Xunchi Tools & Equipment Co. Ltd. 12772
ANSED Diagnostic Solutions 39167
APlusLift Car Lift Products 39238
Ascent Systems Inc. 36030
Assembly Tool Specialists Inc. 35241
Atlantic Safety Products Inc. 35067
Atlas Copco Compressors 35071
AUTOLINE PRO 39065
Badass Workbench 37097
Bad Dog Tools 35043
BendPak/Cool Boss/JackPak 35137
Best Guard 38187
Beta Tools 37113
Big Ass Fans 36087
Bissell Commercial/Speedy Sweep 36152
BLM GROUP 38037
Boss Tables 37183
Brush Research Manufacturing 35065
Buddy Load Binder Attachment 12382
Cabinets By Hayley 36117
CARKU Technology Co. Ltd. 37050
CAROSS USA 39173
Cattini Oleopneumatica S.r.l. 36124
Cementex Products Inc. 12182
Champion Pneumatic 35055
CHANNELLOCK Inc. 36055
CIC POWERBOX LLC 36231
ClampTite Tools LLC 36066
Cobra/Detroit Torch 36160
The Creative Product Group Inc. 11642
CRIPPA SPA 35175
CTA Tools 35217
DEA WORKY North America Inc. 37141
Dongguan Karlux Precision Machinery Science & Technology Co. Ltd. 11424
Durofix Inc. 37119
Edwards Manufacturing 36073
Enter Corp. 35033
Epilog Laser 35037
Ernst Manufacturing Inc. 35201
ETA Manufacturing Sdn Bhd 11429
E-XTEQ LLC 38027
FAST PULLER by GUNIWHEEL 36193
FCAR TECH USA LLC 11349
Fireball Tool 37201
Flagro USA Inc. 35223
Flo-Dynamics/Norco Lifting Equipment 36095
Full Spectrum Laser 12482
Fuyang Tongli Industrial Co. Ltd. 38133
Garage Royalty Products Inc. 12483
GEDORE Tools 36240
GrandPaw Tools 39107
Green Air Link Corp. 36200
Greentech Dryers srl 49200
GripEdge Tools 13167
GT Tools 36162
Guang Yang Industrial Works 39077
Guangzhou Palmergrip Metal
Products Co. Ltd. 35115
Guangzhou TAWA Hi Tech Co. Ltd. 35213
GUNIWHEEL LLC 35195
Haas Automation Inc. 36211
Hangzhou Black Box 3D Technology Co. Ltd. 12369
Harbor Freight 38047
HEM INC/HE&M SAW Inc. 36060
Hertz Kompressoren USA 35251
Horizon Tool Inc. 36206
Huizhou Cartee Electric
& Machinery Co. Ltd. 37248
Huth Ben Pearson International 36032
Industrial Fan Co. 37241
Industrial Gold Air Compressors 35025
Ingersoll Rand 35087
Innova Electronics 38151
Ironclad Performance Wear 12874
iSCAN BY Autoland Scientech 38183
Jeoutay Liu Industrial Co. Ltd. 37237
JM3 Oil Filter Wrench 12663
J.W. Winco Inc. 12083
Kaeser Compressors Inc. 36109
K&L Supply Co. 12244
Kingdom Abrasive Corp. 36216
KNIPEX Tools 36141
KnKut Drill Bits & Cutting Tools 35235
Koken USA 36205
Krebs Brothers 38111
Kukko Quality Tools Inc. 36156
Lang Tools 35107
Last Drop Wrench LLC 36204
Launch Tech USA 38101
LDS Industries LLC 38235
LEDLENSER USA 35237
Levrack LLC 37149
LS Industries 36226
Lyon LLC 39234
Makita USA Inc. 11416
Mastech Innovation Ltd. 12783
MaverickCNC Plasma Tables 37135
Mayhew Tools 35171
Mega Compressor 37213
Millner-Haufen Tool Co. 35163
Milton Industries 37039
Milwaukee Sprayer Mfg. 37217
Mobile Tool Network 36212
Moduline Cabinets 36061
Mohawk Lifts LLC. 36189
Mueller-Kueps LP 35147
Nantong CheliTools Co. Ltd. 36236
Ningbo Chima Winch Co. Ltd. 38216
Ningbo Huasheng Air Compressors Co. Ltd. 38249
Ningbo Wuma Electric Appliance Co. Ltd. 11445
Nitrous Keys 35205
Ohio Brush Works 38212
OMER USA Inc. 37047
Panaro USA Inc. 12753
Parker Hannifin 37087
PICHLER Tools 12865
Pollution Control Products Co. 35185
Powerbuilt and Caterpillar 37155
Power Probe Group 36103
Precision Instruments Inc. 38233
Prologics Europe Ltd. 36232
Puffer (Taizhou) Machinery Co. Ltd. 39111
Puma Industries Inc. 39248
Qingdao Toolstar Tools Co. Ltd. 12458
QJT Group 37240
Quantum Machinery Group 38069
RAASM USA Inc. 36158
Rapid Air Products 36153
Raxwell Industries LLC 39035
Red Kap 36125
Redline Detection 37171
Revopoint Global Inc. 13083
Rhino Tuff Tanks LLC 36112
Rich Honest Machinery & Tools Co. Ltd. 35159
Rodman Drill 35031
ROGO Fastener Co. Inc. 37209
Roth North America 36228
Rousseau Métal Inc. 37067
Ryerson Inc. 11678
Sage Oil Vac/Acme Truck Body 39105
SAMSON Corp. 37236
San Antonio Laser 11543
SAS Safety Corp. 35103
SEMA Garage: ADAS, Emissions,
Product Development 36007
Serra LightWELD-LightSAFE-LightBOT 38145
SFA Companies Inc. 35077
Shanghai Techway Industrial Co. Ltd. 13175
SHAVIV USA 35117
Shenzhen Southking Technology Co. Ltd. 39101
SHINING 3D Technology Inc. 12353
SK Tools USA LLC 38229
Soartec Industrial Corp. 39075
Socket Straps 36218
Spectro Wire & Cable Inc. 35017
SP Tools USA 36199
Stahlwille Tools LLC 36241
Stand Tools Enterprise Co. Ltd. 35227
Steamericas Inc. 37061
Stertil-Koni USA 37073
Strategic Tools & Equipment Co. 35127
Stratus Auto Equipment 38211
STRINGO Inc. 13158
Strong Hand Tools 38119
Sumake North America 36161
Sunbright Tools Co. Ltd. 36222
SunFire Heaters 35229
Sunmatch Industrial Co. Ltd. 36051
Super Duty Fans 38205
SW Safety Solutions Inc. 13169
T.D. Premier Group LLC 39099
Temco Parts Washers 36234
THA HYDRAULICS 37091
Thexton Manufacturing Co. Inc. 35161
Titan, Star Asia USA LLC 38193
TONE TOOLS 39228
Tracked Machines 38199
TRAK Machine Tools 37103
TR Tools LLC/Tite-reach Wrenches 35061
TW Products 36238
TW Tools LLC 39229
Uniweld Products Inc. 35063
URREA Professional Tools 13069
VESSEL/SP AIR 35153
VIM Tools 38177
Vividia Technologies & Oasis Scientific Inc. 35125
Wallmek Tools 37177
Wera Tools NA Inc. 13168
Wiha Tools 37189
Wuhu Yijing Hardware Tool
Manufactring Co. Ltd. 39103
Wuyi Mingrun industry & Trade Co. Ltd. 39109
Yongkang Lante Industry and Trade Co. Ltd. 12454
Zendex Tool Corp. 36171
Zhejiang Nanpu Pneumatic
Components Co. Ltd. 12282
Zhejiang Refine Wufu Air Tools Co. Ltd. 38236
Zhejiang Rongpeng Air Tools Co. Ltd. 35207
Zhejiang Safemate Automotive
Safety & Emergency 39236
Zhejiang Zhongyou Industry & Trade, Ltd. 39175
Zhuji Danbo Tools Co. Ltd. 38250
Zund America 36221