It’s the show that every year, whether you’re an industry insider or simply an automotive fiend, you’re no doubt looking forward to and talking about for months. Planted firmly in the halls of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center, SEMA is unquestionably the mecca for gear heads worldwide. Domestic, import and everything in between can be found scattered over miles of red carpet and a crowd that seems to grow larger by the year. One man that never misses the annual event is Neil Tjin. Not only does his automotive obsession draw him to , but because he also builds and displays multiple cars for the likes of General Motors, Scion, Ford and Honda, and his growing list of aftermarket partners includes the likes of Magnaflow, Falken and Vortech.
Having spent the last 15 years in the automotive industry serving as a magazine editor, automotive designer and what can only be described as a networking guru; this 30-something family man has certainly hit his stride. With over 30 SEMA builds under his belt and a blossoming business as a traveling ambassador for a number of brands on the Tjin Edition RoadShow program, Tjin is showing no signs of slowing down.
Can you give us some information on your industry history and your personal car addiction?
I started in the magazine industry back in 2003 and was the Executive Editor for HCI and B/Scene Magazine. It was one of the best jobs I ever had, cause I was able to give back to those who built badass cars and I was able to educate a large audience through both books. I got my first car when I was 16, a Junior in High School. It was an Eagle Vision and I was the first guy in my high school with 17” wheels. After my Vision, I built an Acura Legend, then an Acura 3.2 TL, the car that really put us (aLL STaR) on the map. Since 1996, my wife Mei, brother Gene, and our team have designed and built over 100 high profile builds for our team, manufactures, partners and OEM’s. When I was 16, my brother and I started our own wholesale company in Miami called Star Performance. We were the East Coast distributor for Team Dynamics Wheels, Andy’s Autosport body kits, and Ground Control suspension. From there I went on to run a couple of automotive retail stores in Miami before I became the Marketing Director at Toucan Industries, also known as the Bird. In 2003 my wife and I moved to SoCal to take over HCI and B/Scene Magazine and in 2004 I started the Tjin Edition RoadShow, which is going into its 10th year on the road. In 2011, I became the Marketing Director at Vortech Engineering.
What manufacturers do you work with regularly for SEMA?
I have built vehicles for Ford, GM and Honda. We have also designed and built cars for Scion.
What was the first official SEMA build you did for a manufacturer/brand and did you know it would turn into so many more builds in the future?
Our first build for an OEM was a 2003 Scion tC. I had no clue what I was doing back then as it pertains to an OEM relationship. We built a wide-body, slammed tC which ended up getting a ton of attention in print, on billboards and at the car shows. From there, we did a couple more builds for Scion. In 2006, we started doing projects for Honda and GM, and in 2010 we joined the Ford family.
Was that your goal from the very beginning?
I didn’t have goals at 16. I just enjoyed cars, but I enjoyed sports and spending time with my wife more. Cars were more of a hobby then anything back in high school. I would say from 1996 to about 2000, cars were a hobby, something for my family and friends to do on the weekends. Around 2000 things really changed from a hobby to a business. That’s when the goals really began. I have always been into marketing, I have always liked designing cars, I have always liked helping others (I had a lot of great mentors help me in my journey), and I have always loved shows and meeting people. For all of those reasons, we started the Tjin Edition RoadShow in 2004. Some goals have been reached and I am still working on more goals.
Most car fiends are wondering how you landed in the position you’re in now. Essentially, how did you become the “go-to guy” for some of the companies you work for?
A lot of hard work, determination, passion, drive, honestly, over delivering, and also some luck. Doing all those things allows you to be in the right place to meet the right people and to be able to do great things. I am no different then the next guy. I am just some guy that grew up in Suriname, South America, moved to Miami, started playing with cars, and one thing lead to another. I am also a strong believer in having a strong family support system and a strong team behind you. And Prayer. It works!
How hands on are you with each of the projects you put together for SEMA?
I handle everything from the proposals, to the designs, to interacting with the OEM’s, to the partners and the shops. These are my babies, so I oversee everything from start to finish and every detail has to be perfect. We work with some of the best partners and shops in the industry, so its fun to R&D new products with companies like MagnaFlow who do 99% of all of our exhaust systems. Also to work with top notch shops like Unique Fabrication who handles all of the fabrication work on our builds and L&R Autobody, who handles our paint and body. I drive them crazy at times but they know what we stand for and we all want to over deliver with our builds!
Talk a little about the Tjin Edition Roadshow. How it started and what it’s grown into.
The Tjin Edition RoadShow is designed to be an interactive experience. It helps to deliver new retail sales leads as well as foot traffic to your dealers while developing new distribution outlets for your brand. Without having to spend thousands of dollars sending your employees out on the road week after week, the all-inclusive Tjin Edition RoadShow is here to take your company on the road. For less than the cost of an average monthly print advertisement, we go out in the field and deliver crucial grass roots consumer interaction to your potential clients. By giving consumers the opportunity to physically interact with some of the best products in the automotive aftermarket, we give your brand the upper hand over the competition.
At each of the twenty five-plus events that the Tjin Edition RoadShow attends, the 100×30 booth display will have a section for your products to be displayed, there there will also be a handful of Tjin Edition branded vehicles equipped with your products. Be sure to visit our “Partners page” to get a better idea of who’s involved and who you could be working alongside. Last year we started our West Coast Tjin Edition x Dayuum Roadshow and with both roadshows, we do more then 30 national shows a year.
Talk a little about the networking involved to get the parts needed to piece a project together.
It is all about relationships, communication and working with the right partners that happen to have the right parts for a particular build. We have had ongoing relationships with some of our partners for over a decade and every year we partner up with a new company to market, produce and R&D parts for a particular build.
SEMA builds are notorious for having very short timelines – how do you deal with the stress/pressure?
It changes every year, but I am very schedule oriented. I am always updating and talking to our OEM partners, our product partners and our shops. As I mentioned before, I can and usually do drive my partners and shops crazy, but I know what is on the line with these builds, so I will do whatever it takes to have the best possible product on the SEMA floor for our partners.
Have you ever been late or close to missing a deadline?
NOPE, and never will! Neither my team nor I will ever let that happen. If it takes 24 hours a day to get the job done, you can take it to the bank that we will complete the job at hand!
For more information on the Tjin Edition Roadshow, please visit http://neiltjin.com/tjineditionroadshow/ or follow them on Instagram at @TjinEdition