Interstate Batteries  

Extended Family Feature

The Power of Relationships


J.D. Gibbs (left), Joe Gibbs (center), and Coy Gibbs (right).

Everyone knows our batteries last a long time. You know what lasts longer? The relationships we build.

Whether it's our 22-year racing relationship with Joe and J.D. Gibbs or relationships with Dealers, we believe in building on those ties.

Our founder John Searcy created Interstate on a foundation of strong relationships, and that legacy continues today.


Joe Gibbs in 1974 with a 5-year-old J.D. Gibbs, left, and 2-year-od Coy Gibbs. At the time, Joe was a running backs coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Joe Gibbs – millions recognize him as the Washington Redskins head coach and the man behind NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.

There are two people at Joe Gibbs racing who know him by another name: Dad.

J.D. Gibbs was 23 years old and Coy was 20 when Joe made the jump from pro football to pro stock car racing. To make the jump, Joe was cold-calling sponsors, and one of his calls connected him to Interstate chairman – and future friend – Norm Miller.

"Our very first phone conversation, I don't think I've ever had one like that. We must have talked for 45 minutes," Joe said. In following meetings, Joe explained the scope: There were no drivers, no car shop and no cars. JGR, at the time, was just a dream – but one that Norm believed in.

Interstate became JGR's founding sponsor in a gesture of faith – and business savvy. After all, many of the battery dealers Interstate had were (and still are) big fans of NASCAR and pro football.

Over the years, Joe and his sons learned the ins and outs of racing and how to run a family business. J.D. started out as a tire changer at JGR, and both brothers drove for the team. Today, J.D. is president of JGR while Coy owns and runs the motocross team, JGRMX.

J.D. has found several keys to running a family business, from using each family members' gifts to purposeful communication. Communicating takes work, even if you've grown up in the business, J.D. said.

Joe Gibbs and Interstate Batteries Chairman, Norm Miller.

"Like any other business, success doesn't happen by accident," he said. "In addition, it's important to make sure your children understand that just because it's a family business doesn't mean they are guaranteed a spot unless they work diligently, invest time and care for the business."

Since 1992, JGR has run a car with the Interstate Batteries logo. The relationship goes beyond the paint scheme. When Interstate held an incentive program for its Route Sales Managers across the nation, JGR hosted the grand prize: a go-kart racing weekend with Team Interstate™ drivers.

And off the track, Joe and Norm's friendship continues – whether they're going on vacation together or working together in the I Am Second® ministry. And J.D. said that's part of successful business, too.

"Finally, lots of prayer is always essential with any business."


Graig Judge accepts an RSM of the Year award from President & CEO Carlos Sepulveda and Chairman Norm Miller.

After 32 years of selling Interstate, Thayer's Marine and RV in Norwich, Conn., knows they have a long-term relationship on its hands.

Business Manager Richie Thayer orders batteries each week from IBS of Connecticut's Manager Graig Judge, making the same calls his father and grandfather made for 32 years. Distributor Bob Judge, Graig's dad, set up Thayer's Marine as a Dealer in 1981 – three years before Richie was born.

Bob laughs when he recalls meeting Dick Thayer, the owner, for the first time.

Dick said, "Well, I got batteries. What do I need yours for?" It came down to a battery test, and when Interstate won out, their 32-year-long relationship began.

"They remind me of what we are. My business is on its third generation. They're on their second. When I call [Bob], he reminds me of my grandfather. They have the same personality," Richie said, adding that they're still growing together. "We went from selling two to three boats a month to 20-30 boats a month – each with an Interstate battery."


Brothers Carmine and Richie Matarazzo recall 20 years of working together with Interstate Distributor Mike Whittington (center). The brothers own Sonny's Auto Supply in Melbourne, Fla. (Photo: Keith Carson).

Melbourne, Fla., Dealer Carmine Matarazzo, Jr., said the automotive business can change quickly, especially with suppliers.

He runs Sonny's Auto Supply with his brother, Richie Matarazzo, and their relationship with Space Coast Distributor Mike Whittington has stood the test of time for more than 20 years.

"I never thought it would last as long as it has," Carmine said. "We've been hammered with other battery companies and their promotions, but we'll never change."

And the relationship flows both ways. Mike said he buys a lot of the parts for his route trucks from Carmine.

"We help each other out," Mike said.


Before he moved to California, Ron Cummings – a sales manager back in 1980 – set up Rick Zitren, owner of Broadway Auto Electric in San Diego, as an Interstate Dealer.

It was Ron's first account. He later became the Distributor for IBS of San Diego and shook hands with Rick again, this time as neighbors.

"Anything they need, any time they call, we'll get it out to him that day," Ron said.

Ron helped paint the Broadway Auto Electric building, complete with the Interstate logo.

"We've got an excellent relationship," Rick said. "And we expect it to continue as long as we are here."


Doug Ondrias, a manager at United Ag, one of South Texas' biggest farm cooperatives, first met Distributor Calvin Simpson first met he was a teenage Route Sales Manager working for his dad, Randy Trotter.

"We were raised in a town about 50 miles apart, and I remember Calvin, getting his start and learning the business from delivery and up," Doug said.

They help each other out beyond the business of batteries. Whether it's a pallet of bug spray during the mosquito season or a hand with customer service, Calvin will help Doug out with whatever he needs.

When one of Doug's customers drove in with a dead battery with no warranty, IBS of Victoria gave credit to United Ag that Doug passed on to his customer. The two businesses have grown together in this neighborly way for 29 years.

"I didn't know it was going to last that long," Randy said about setting up the farmer cooperative. "I really remember it being more of 'enjoy it while it lasts.' And we were really good friends right off the start."


Scott Miller

Of course, Interstate is a family-friendly business. Sure, we have 20-year friendships between local dealers and Interstate distributorships. Our love for family and legacy reaches all the way to our chairman, Norm Miller.

In the same way our Distributors have passed their businesses on to their sons and grandsons, Norm recently announced Interstate's next President & CEO, his son Scott Miller.

"No question that God has honored us in the business, and I believe that Scott is well positioned to be our next great leader," he said.

For more than 22 years, Scott's worked at Interstate Batteries – from pushing a broom and running battery routes to directing strategy at Interstate's headquarters in Dallas.

"I love Interstate Batteries," Scott said. "It is a huge part of my life, and has been since I was a kid. It's been a dream of mine to serve distributors, franchisees, team members, suppliers, vendors – the people that contribute to the success of this company every day – in this capacity."

In a recent interview with the Dallas Business Journal, Scott said he had a unique start at Interstate.

Norm got Scott in the door, "and then told the guys at the Dallas distribution center to wear me out and show me what the battery business was all about so there would no misunderstandings," Scott said.

When Norm's brother Tommy Miller retired from the President & CEO role in 2004, Norm hoped that some day, Scott would be able to take over the company. It just required two things: Scott had to be capable and he had to be ready.

Even Norm got into the business through family.

After completing college, Norm joined his dad and brothers working with a distributorship in Memphis, Tenn. Two and a half years later, he moved to Dallas to work at Interstate's corporate office, traveling and helping Interstate founder John Searcy set up new Distributors.

As Interstate has passed from one generation to the next, we've seen time and again the power of relationships.

"I couldn't be more confident about what we will achieve as we work together to create value for all of those whom Interstate Batteries touches," Scott said.


So, what's it like working with Interstate after so many years?

"One word: Blessed," J.D. Gibbs said.

"In one word, family," Richie from Thayer's Marine said.

"In one word, easy," Carmine from Sonny's Auto Supply said.

"In one word? Family," Doug said

"In one word, good. Excellent," Rick at Broadway Auto Electric said. "I guess that's two words."