A Road to Success
In years past, automobiles were distinctive. Each model made a statement about itself and its owner. Today, many cars tend to look similar. The handful of exceptions include the Mini Cooper, PT Cruiser, VW Beetle, Bentley, Porsche and, of course, the Corvette.
Since first introduced in 1953 by legendary designer Harley J. Earl (1893-1969), about 1.25 million Corvettes have been built, and more than 1 million are still on the road.
Every year in late August more than 5,000 of these sleek muscle cars converge on the Carlisle, Pa., fairgrounds to be bought, sold, swapped and ogled by 60,000 enthusiasts, while more than 1,500 vendors from all over the country set up shop to peddle their Vette-related wares.
Smack in the middle of this happy mayhem, in the large white Mid America Motorworks tent, presides a former tool and die maker named Mike Yager. During the show, he gives away 2,500 T-shirts and hats to attendees and exchanges good humored barbs and rapid-fire repartee with any and all who happen by. And he seems to know just about everybody who happens by.
At age 20, Yager bought a 1967 Corvette and was hooked for life. In 1974, with no experience and no business plan, he sweet-talked a banker out of $500 to buy a few owner’s manuals, 500 patches and some Corvette T-shirts that he intended to sell at local club events and swap meets. “I had no idea what 500 patches looked like,” he says, “and I vowed to myself that if I ever sell all of these, I will never buy this many again.”
Today, as owner of the premier catalog of Corvette parts and lifestyle enhancements, he ships more than 1 million automotive parts and accessories a year. At his Effingham, Ill., corporate headquarters (about 100 miles from St. Louis) he has 47,000 SKUs, a six-figure customer base, 175 employees, 50 classic Corvettes and a peripatetic travel schedule that is greatly eased by his private BeechJet 400A and three full-time pilots in his employ.