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Secret to Success – Jordan Swerdloff

If you’ve been on Secret Entourage before, you’ll know we’re big fans of ADV1 Wheels and loved them enough to rock several sets on a few of our project cars. ADV1 Wheels has grown extremely fast and this all couldn’t have happened without the learning experiences Jordan Swerdloff had during his short endeavor with 360 Forged. Although 360 Forged was short lived, we saw the drive and determination in Jordan and fully supported him in any capacity we could as he has done the same for us. With that said, Jordan launched ADV1 Wheels immediately after and has continued to rise to the top of the wheel industry.
How did you get involved in the automotive business?

I had a lot of interest in anything related to cars since I was a little kid so it was just a natural thing for me. I didn’t finish high school so I worked at a few different car shops cleaning up oil off the floor, taking out the trash, etc, but I’ve always had a lot of interest in cars and also in running my own business, whatever that may be.

Back in 1998 I was into Honda’s and street racing so I invented the FMI, the front mount intake system. I started this little business out of a tiny office and made front mount intakes with custom aluminum piping and a welded up box with the filter in the front so it mounted up like a front mount intercooler.

That was my idea back then but ran into an issue with another company who ended up making a similar product so I wasn’t able to sell or make it anymore. Either way, I was too young and I didn’t really know any better at that time. When that happened, I said, “Forget it. I’m getting out of this business” and that’s when I started doing graphic design. It was something else that I was really interested in and that’s kind of how that all started.

I’ve always had a lot of interest in not necessarily art, but graphic design. With my graphic design business, I did a lot of automobile related work. Right before 360 Forged, the business was actually doing pretty well for me so I had a little retail shop for printing and graphic design here in Miami. I eventually sold the business and around 2004-2005 started 360 Forged. It wasn’t anything that was really new to me just because I’ve been in this industry since I was a teenager for the most part. So that’s how I started and that was what I was doing before then.

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At a time when there were already some established wheel companies, why did you think there was room for yet another one?

To me, it was probably the same mentality that most people have when they get into any business, which is, feeling ambitious, maybe overconfident, and a little bit naive. If you remember back then, I actually launched 360 Forged with the carbon fiber overlay on top of the forged center disc wheel. It was something different. Even though there are big companies that have been around for a while, it was something that they didn’t offer and it was pretty difficult to be able to produce it so it was something cool. I had a nice car at that time and was active on the forums so I tested it out a little bit to see what people thought first. I guess I felt confident enough to do it but I had no idea what was really involved or anything until years later. It wasn’t until about 2009 before I really started to understand.

What did it take to fund the business to get it off the ground?

It doesn’t take much money to start this kind of company. We very much started this company with zero dollars. To me this business or even most businesses, as long as you got enough ambition, you’ll find a way to make it happen. There’s so much more to it than the wheel styles and marketing, it’s everything behind that. Once you actually start selling, that’s when it really gets difficult when you have to start managing production and dealing with bottlenecks, growth, and everything else. It’s a difficult thing so I see it all the time. It looks like it’s all fun with nice cars and pretty models, but it’s not.

360 Forged grew faster than you anticipated, why do you think so?

To me, it didn’t really grow fast but I think it looked much bigger than it actually was. The reason for that was because we got into this business with an eye for design and knowledge in photography, design, and marketing. I think that was the difference because it’s a saturated market with a lot of the same thing. Everything looked the same and there was nothing different. I guess that was what made us stand out and started selling as opposed to everybody else. I think it just looked like it did but we were never able to produce and that was time to learn from all those mistakes. It took off pretty quick but again, if production can’t handle it or you if you don’t have a good business behind it or good staff, accounting, or anything else, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the wheels look just absolutely amazing and are covered in gold. It makes no difference if you can’t produce them so I mean it very much needs multiple aspects of the business equal in order to make anything happen.

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Looking back would you consider 360 Forged a failure?

I don’t consider it a failure because to me, from the beginning of 360 Forged to ADV1 Wheels right now, it has been one long process, which today is a successful venture. Whether or not it will be any year from now, I don’t know, but I consider it a failure here in terms of the lifespan of that company itself. It’s just from lack of knowledge in the industry and just overall in business, but also being young and not really having the same mentality that I do now even though it has only been a few years. I’ve got two kids now, I’m married, which I didn’t have at that time, and it’s a big difference for a man’s mentality. Now you’ve got people who depend on you as opposed to just being able to pack up and go at any point.

It’s a big difference because when I started this company from scratch and fresh, it was a very much different mentality and a different type of pressure behind it. So I consider it a failure from a business end but at the same time, it’s just part of that learning process. I couldn’t have done anything else had that not happen first. If it didn’t happen first, it would just been ADV1 Wheels that went out of business.

Not only did you lose customers but your competitors also tried to leverage the opportunity to spread rumors. How did you handle that?

360 Forged came out of nowhere and disrupted a lot of other businesses. The last thing that anybody wanted was for me to walk away and start up another company. So that’s where a lot of those rumors really started because if you think about it, a competing company’s only defense in that type of situation is to do exactly that. I’m just doing the right thing and making sure we’re running a good business and doing exactly what we say what we’re going to do.

It has kind of faded away and I guess most people have learned to just accept it and understand that wasn’t really the case. It really was what it was, a business that didn’t do very well, a bunch of people who ordered wheels and during that time didn’t receive them. Hopefully by now all those people have been reimbursed or orders have been filled. I spent a good two years in the beginning of this company still dealing with that and making sure that things are getting done on that end of it. I think you eliminate things like that just by proving it instead of talking about it. That’s what I’m trying to do, just run a business, doing it right, and that’s it. Everything just kind of faded away.

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It seems all outstanding issues have been resolved but what do you say to people reluctant to purchase from you now?

It was crazy. It was very difficult because as we started, I was aggressively pushing the launch of ADV1 Wheels and I couldn’t get on any forums. The wheels looked good and we were trying to get that out as much as we could. People wanted them but everybody was really hesitant because there were so many rumors. It would come up just constantly. If anybody called here asking questions about wheels, it would always turn to “What about that guy, Jordan? Is Jordan involved in the company?” Because of that people were afraid to place a deposit here.

We played it case by case and did the best that we could. I spent a lot of time just talking to people and explaining to them and answering whatever questions they had. But it was difficult, that’s for sure. There was so much negativity but thankfully, I had enough drive to be able to push through it. I made it a point to put as much as I could into making our wheels perfect and look good so it started to outweigh people’s hesitation and doubt, and at least give us a try.

Why not keep 360 Forged and try to fix it instead of launch a brand new company like ADV1 Wheels?

I had an offer to walk away from it in exchange for getting all those orders filled and taken care of. To me, it was more important to do that and move forward and start from scratch than cashing out on whatever it may have been. I know that it doesn’t take money to do it so to me, the most important thing was at least to get those orders filled whether it takes a week or a year or more. I can somewhat save my name as opposed to just having to completely walk away from the business.

After going through that, I really had a good understanding of the real goods and bads of the business that most people will not know or maybe not even go through. I don’t have any bad taste at all. If anything, I feel a lot more confident because of that. When starting ADV1 Wheels, I already knew the real important things to avoid that I wouldn’t have known or didn’t know before. I love this business, cars, wheels, engineering, and design and all that stuff so it’s all that I know. There was no other choice at all.

What makes ADV1 Wheels different from the dozens of other companies to chose from?

I know there are other companies out there that probably produce a great quality wheel as well with different or similar styles, but my primary focus with this was to try and just create very low volume, high quality wheels, with good service. I didn’t intend for it to be anything big, just like I said, real high quality, low volume, and really, really nice design. The biggest thing is the design of the wheels and the quality that can match with it. They are expensive and always have been but they are very expensive to produce in a lot of cases but it’s not anything that is intended for high volume or for everybody. When I get that question, I usually say do your own research and if you like the wheels and you want to buy them, then buy them and if not, then maybe it’s just not the right wheel. That’s okay.

So that was the focus. Luckily though, we’ve grown so much more than I ever intended or wanted. Very quickly too, but we’ve been able to maintain quality, service, and a really strong foundation and company with a really good team. Even though it has grown really fast and it’s difficult to sometimes control that, that has been what I’ve been really focused on so I think it’s still the same company that I wanted it to be.

Who’s the team behind ADV1 Wheels now?

Originally, it was just me and Miguel. I met him in one of the shops around the neighborhood. I was getting nitrous put in one of the cars and he was there doing something. We ended up going to Moroso quarter mile race track and we became really good friends. Eventually, he started working for me as one of the sales guys for 360 Forged and he did a great job. When things started going south he helped me out a lot actually. Because of that when I started this company, I told him, “Dude, come in with me and be my partner. Roll the dice with me and see what happens.” Thankfully, it worked out and I’m happy that I’ve been able to keep him comfortable and happy with everything. His role was just to handle everything sales related, all the wholesale accounts, the wholesale network, just to be that guy for me. It has remained that way for the most part. The sales end of things and the wholesale network is a pretty big portion of the business and we’ve got multiple sales reps now and well over 100 dealers, a lot of them are mostly international in other parts of the world. So that’s pretty much his role and I basically handle and oversee pretty much everything else aside from that.

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All of your wheels come out looking great but the same can’t be said for other wheel companies. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I make it a point to not look or see anything else that’s going on with any other wheel companies. I just don’t want to see it. I don’t want to be influenced in any way, not even just subliminally. I don’t want to know what is in style. I try to avoid any kind of trends or anything like that and just stick to what I personally feel is going to be just a bad ass looking wheel design that I would put on my own car, bottom line. If I don’t feel that way then it’s not going to get done. That’s really all there is to it and that’s one thing I always make sure to maintain. I don’t want to follow any other trends. I just want to do what I feel is going to work and eventually, I’m sure, as I get older and older, what I feel is going to work and look good may not be the case anymore, but for right now, I guess people are with me.

Since you weren’t allowed to participate on forums, how else did you market ADV1 Wheels?

Well, at the beginning, we didn’t have any money going into it so there wasn’t any marketing. Usually, when that’s the case and you can’t afford to do any print stuff in magazines or anything, the next alternative is online which we couldn’t really do because there was so much negativity and things going on. We were banned from certain internet forums and even customers couldn’t post pictures of their own cars with ADV1s on it, whether for the right reasons or not.

The only way that I could get it out there then was the quality of the design itself, the wheel design, the marketing design, the way it all looked and I just did my best to get it out as much as we could. We would do just grassroots style marketing with basically no money, and a lot of passion and drive. We would do anything. I remember back then I would create ads and ADV1 brochures for some of the dealers that were willing to push the product as it grew. So anything I could. If I couldn’t put it out there myself then maybe they could for us if they liked it and they feel comfortable with it. I would take any route that I could back then. I would send bulk mailers out, get the website out, anything that we could.

Today, not a lot has changed except for the fact that there’s much more material and positive support that the product really spreads itself naturally and all the dealers are very comfortable with us. We have great relationships with them and they are all doing their best to sell wheels whether it be ours or anybody else’s. They are promoting it and spreading the product out on the internet and all over the world in print materials as well. I think a lot of that effort and just the company itself has gotten to the point where we don’t need to do as much so we do. We had a cover of DuPont last year. We sponsor a bunch of forums. Obviously we use social media which is fun. Our Facebook is really good. That’s pretty much it. Besides that, just keeping the website up to date. It has been a huge project for me since late last year along with new brochures and all sorts of material and making sure that all the dealers agree with all that and have what they need.

One thing we notice is that you guys do funny photoshops and put yourselves out there quite a bit. Why not take a more serious approach?

We’re all young guys and in an industry that we’re all passionate about and love. We love to come to work and I’m sure if we weren’t here, we would be somewhere else doing something similar. I think that shows in everything because it’s just who we are. We’re not going to try and be anything else. It’s kind of weird if a company would be kind of a mystery and nobody really knows who’s who and can’t really put a face with the name. To me it’s just not my thing so we have no problem putting ourselves out there all the time. We don’t take ourselves seriously. This is not a serious industry. I mean, it’s not an accounting firm or anything like that. We make wheels and we love it. It’s just who we are and that’s the way that I try to go about everything, just be who we are and do exactly what it is that we want to do, like I said with the wheel styles and everything else.

Thankfully, people think it’s funny sometimes but I guess if it’s not, we’d still be doing it. Those pictures with my face on things like a fairy or all sorts of stuff like that, it’s actually not me who does it. Usually, it’s the sales guys. I’ve got this whole database of photoshopped pictures that are pretty funny but people love it.

How do you plan to continue to innovate the wheel industry?

It’s just the same thing that we do, nothing will change. I’m constantly working with my guys in engineering on a daily basis on new development. Even today, we just got some new wheels. That’s just another new development and it’s a constant thing. We don’t stop. It’s not like we’ll release some new styles or some new type of wheel here and there. It’s literally a constant thing and every single day we’re engineering and working on new projects. At the same time, every single day, we’re seeing completed ones pop out for the first time constantly. We’ll just keep on progressing more and more naturally just because. It’s not a planned thing. It’s just what we love to do. That’s where I get excited, in working on new stuff.

How do you prepare for the continued growth of ADV1 Wheels in the next coming years?

The company itself is at a point right now where it has a real strong foundation that we’ve built and really amazing team of people who treat it like it’s their own. We all depend on the company. We’ve all got families and everything else to support so the company itself is treated with a lot of respect by all of us with a lot of pride. I haven’t wanted the company to grow for years now but it’s just one of those things where we have to keep up with the demand and we have to be able to support the production and volume as sales increase more and more. Obviously, it is a good thing but last year, I pretty much spent the majority of the year planning for growth because we were really exceeding capacity in every way – from square footage for just staff to production, machine, finishing, aluminum, and everything else. It’s a huge amount of investment and additional expenses in payroll to staff and be able to support increased volume this year.

Hopefully, that planning from the growth last year and all the investment this year will be enough to support 50% or more increase in volume. Everything from the engineering and the way that all the wheels are produced, programmed, and everything else; we’ve made a huge effort to completely redo and revise for efficiency to get more output within the same amount of machinery and staff and everything else.

Hopefully, we won’t exceed that anytime too soon but if it does, then it will be the same story. We’ll keep on going. I’m not going to limit ourselves or limit the company and put a bad taste in anybody’s mouth because the lead time is six months or something ridiculous. We’ll keep doing what we have to do.

What’s the ultimate goal for you and ADV1 Wheels?

I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I’m happy and I’m comfortable more than enough where we are already. I don’t take anything for granted here at all. I don’t know how the market is going to go. Nobody does, so I don’t really think about it much to be honest. I’m happy where we are. I really am and hopefully, we can just keep up. That’s really what I’m really focused on – just making sure that we maintain good service and everything else, and quality. I don’t want it to go anywhere else.

What’s your best entrepreneur advice for someone reading this?

If anybody is going to be an entrepreneur or start their own business, it’s just one of those things you just know and there’s no other choice really. It’s one or the other. If that’s the case, just to understand that it’s not going to happen quick. For me, it was 12 or 13 years maybe before I can tell you I feel comfortable like I did and don’t want to go anywhere else. That’s a long time. Most people are discouraged and kind of give up maybe within the first year. You just have to know. It’s going to be a long, long road and it’s not going to be easy. That’s just part of business. Nobody has made it anywhere without going through that first, that’s the bottom line.

Huge thanks to Jordan to continued support for Secret Entourage. You can find him at the sites below.
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