In 1960, Jeg Coughlin — an accomplished hot-rod racing teenager — bought a building in which he could work on cars.
That was the beginning of JEGS High Performance, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. The company has about 350 employees and several facilities, including its Delaware operation at U.S. Route 42 and London Road.
The Delaware facility is a 100,000-square-foot automated warehouse with state-of-the-art material handling and shipping logistics, dedicated Federal Express trucks and customers and suppliers all over the world.
Raised in Upper Arlington by a father who was a vice president at Lazarus, Coughlin always had a flair for tinkering and repairs, but the desire to race came on suddenly, before he was 16.
"It happened awfully fast," Coughlin said. "My mom and I went to Cleveland and bought a 1936 Ford that had a Mercury engine in it. The guy wanted $80 and mom ended up getting him down to $50. It was my first experience negotiating."
By 1959, he had his first win in a national-level hot rod race and he was the go-to guy among his friends and people who were impressed by his cars and his racing.
"People started coming to me and saying, how did you do this? How did you get this rear end to fit in this car?" Coughlin said. "They'd say I'd like to have one of those in mine, and so I started working on people's cars. I didn't have any overhead. I started at our house, until my dad said, 'God, this is not going to work, the garage door is starting to fall off the house.' That's when I went out and rented a building."
He was 17. Less than a year later he had saved enough to buy the original building on 11th Avenue that served as his repair and fabricating shop. Coughlin's dad told him he had to be a professional person or work at Lazarus, so Coughlin enrolled at Ohio State University. After three terms he walked out. His dad told him he would never go into his son's business until he made a profit.
"That has stuck with me for 50 years," Coughlin said. "I made a profit my first year."
Coughlin eventually bought the entire block at 11th Avenue, which still houses part of the company. In 1988, 28 years after starting JEGS, Coughlin sold the business to his sons, John, Troy, Mike and Jeg, Jr. He has stayed active in both racing and the business, and he still attends more than two dozen races a year. The Delaware facility opened in 1999.
For the first several years, Coughlin focused on repairs and fabricating race cars. As he bought parts, he decided to buy extra parts, too, and opened a retail store. By 1968, the retail end of the business was as important as the fabricating end. By 1980, sales dominated the business, and since 1989, when JEGS printed its first catalog, the business has come to be dominated by mail order.
Coughlin said he had a team of seven employees running his shop, bringing in about $1.5-million in business, but he knew they'd be great salesmen who could bring in 10 times as much selling instead of fabricating. By the time he sold the business to his sons, it was a $20-million annual operation. Today it exceeds $200-million in annual sales.
Like their father, Coughlin's four sons worry less about conventions — only one graduated from college — and instead enjoy family, racing and business. All of them race and all have won races and championships.
Coughlin wouldn't let his oldest son, John, come to work right away, but told him to work for someone else first.
"He was ready to come to work the day he graduated high school, but I told him to go out and see what it was like to work other places," Coughlin said. "He worked for about six months with other race car drivers. Then he called me from California one day and said, 'You know I just don't understand why I'm doing this. I think I could do better with you.' I said get a ticket. He came home and the rest is history.
"With the other three I decided there was no sense going through the ritual — unless they wanted to. But they didn't."
For the Coughlin family, it all works. Four sons not only work together, they work with employees who have been with the business for up to 40 years.
All of it has come from a man who loved racing, loved his work and took his family with him.
"Part of that was from the time the kids were 3 or 4 years old they all went racing with me," Coughlin said. "I ran a business, I raced a car, I raised a family. I think I did a pretty good job of balance."