Paula Lombard knows that if you want to get something done, it is best to do it yourself. And if you’d like to run your own business, create it yourself. So, that’s exactly what she did. Lombard went from a housewife and part-time college student to President and CEO of Wexco Industries, which is now among the nation’s leading global suppliers of windshield wipers, windshield wiper systems and wiper system components.
No stranger to entrepreneurial endeavors, Lombard left school and started up two businesses of her own. The first, a handbag and costume jewelry business called Creations which eventually gave way to the Crystal Café, a small restaurant that sold food items from espresso to specialty sandwiches.
It’s at the Crystal Café that she met her future business partner, Steve Schwartz, and the two of them decided to dive head-first into a windshield wiper business venture. Wipers Express, which eventually grew into the Wexco Industries of today, launched in 1991 and the two of them never looked back.
Steve Schwartz was my landlord at the Crystal Café and he would come in for lunch and we would always talk about business. Steve ran several car washes and was always looking at new ways to gain revenue at his stations. We found there was a need for windshield wipers, statistics are one out of every three cars on the road need new wiper blades. We felt wiper blades should be marketed as a time and convenience item.”
The idea was successful so we created a marketing strategy to start selling product to gas-only gas stations and even taught the gas station attendants how to put on wiper blades. “We started from zero,” she said. “We wanted to supply to the consumer an excellent product at a fair price. Quality was always the main ingredient to our program, we wanted repeat business. With having your own company, you can create your own opportunities. At the Crystal Café I had to wait for customers to come in, with Wiper’s Express you could go anywhere there were auto’s. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit.”
Through the years, WEXCO has been very successful in many areas. With our marketing experience from the early days, we created several very successful private label programs for the windshield wiper aftermarket. In 2005 WEXCO also purchased the wiper system business from Johnson Electric, bringing us into the original equipment wiper system business.
As the owner of her own company, Lombard quickly found out that she could create her own opportunities that, in turn, would create more business. And that’s how Lombard’s latest venture AutoTex PINK, came to be.
In addition to creating their own identity in the market as a women-owned company, Lombard wanted to focus on what would attract a woman buyer. But while she researched stats about women buyers, like the fact that about 60% of customers at quick oil change locations are women, Lombard ended up forming her marketing plan in a much more personal way.
“I was touched by cancer,” she said. When her goddaughter was diagnosed with cancer of the cheek, Lombard knew the cause she had to become involved with. As AutoTex PINK is a women- owned company, she felt the need to donate to a charity that would help the largest amount of women nationwide.
“We found that breast cancer would be a good charity to donate to,” she said. “Women are really affected by breast cancer and we wanted to give back.”
AutoTex partnered with the National Breast Cancer Foundation to benefit women by providing educational information, free mamographies to those who can’t afford them, and breast cancer research.
And the rewards for getting involved with such a noble cause? “I love my job. I love everything about it,” she said. “For one, there’s always something new and exciting. But also, creating AutoTex PINK has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done. I see women who want this product, plus giving back is a very good feeling. It’s more rewarding than I ever imagined.”
But running a business, Lombard explains, hasn’t always been easy. Between working with the sales team, going to inventory and sales meeting, working with outside representatives, vendors and customers, and all the other myriad of things that go along with running the company, Lombard is always on her toes. And in the beginning, all this was combined with raising a family.
“That was the drive behind pushing this company,” she said. “It was critical for me to provide for my two boys. It gave me the drive to push forward and be independent. Right now I’m very satisfied and very proud of the company, but it was a sacrifice and perseverance was important. I was always torn between being a professional woman and a mother. It’s very difficult. I really respect any young woman who has young children and a career.”
Lombard, who’s been selling windshield wipers for 25 years, knows a thing or two about determination in a typically male-dominated industry.
You have to prove yourself and gain respect in the industry. You need to know your product, deal in a
fair and honest way, and always do what you say you will do.
Lombard relates to when she first started out cold calling to local gas stations. “I dealt with different people,” she said. “These were gas station owners as opposed to corporate executives. I look back now and think, ‘how could I have done that?’ I’ve been thrown out of a couple gas stations. You have to persevere, even today. You always have to prove yourself and just keep going.”
Even now Lombard faces similar tests of resolve. “I work mostly with men,” When meeting clients for the first time they are very surprised a woman is the President of WEXCO. When another male from our company is in a meeting with myself and a customer, many times they will assume the male is the President.
Lombard stresses the importance of being assertive when dealing with these types of situations. “You have to overlook these obstacles. It’s many years of conditioning, I often do the same thing in certain situations. It is not intentional, it is just the way it is.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the last several years. It’s interesting in the windshield wiper arena, it seems like it s a women’s product. I really couldn’t see myself selling brakes or hard parts. For some reason, women like windshield wipers. Also, there are several women sales associates for windshield wipers in the industry. Women in business in general has been increasing over the last several years.
For those women with the entrepreneurial itch who are interested in creating any sort of business, Lombard suggests reaching and setting goals. “I would suggest for anyone with a dream, and a desire to go for it. My motto is: “Just Do It” don’t over think it, you will not do it. We can all talk our way out of anything. Of course you need to have a plan, don’t quit your day job??? When starting Wiper Express, I had the Crystal Café and Wiper Express at the same time. I worked for many years without a return. Not everyone can do that.
I was always interested in business. I read a lot and was always interested in stories of others who had become successful. Tony Robbins was an inspiration to me in the early days. I also have a strong belief in the “Power of Positive Thinking”. I have recently read the book, “The Secret”. I feel this is a very powerful view and feel it is how I have come to where I am today.