A Life Devoted to Cars
As a precocious five-year-old, Jim Luikens amazed his parents by standing between them on the front seat of their 1950 Chevrolet and identifying passing cars by calling out their names and model year. His mom and dad couldn’t believe that he could correctly identify so many different cars at such a young age. However, this was just an early glimpse into a life that would be dedicated, and devoted, to the automotive and high-performance aftermarket industries.
While still in his early teens Jim competed in and won, numerous model car contests including a big regional win in the Revell National Model Car Contest. After learning to drive in his parent’s 1957 Chevrolet he obtained his first real car. Not many people can say that their first car was a Hemi, but Jim can.
Before visions of Hemi Road Runners and Chargers begin dancing in your head, you should know that it was actually his grandfather’s 1955 DeSoto FireFlite. To Luikens however, it was as good as a Hemi ‘Cuda because he finally had wheels of his own.
Possessing a definite need for speed, Jim built his first race car at the tender age of 19. He chose to build a Pontiac because he was never a me-too kind of guy and wanted to race something different and more challenging than the prototypical Chevrolet. Ironically, it ran so well that he came to the attention of Berger Chevrolet in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Subsequently, he was asked to join their developing High-Performance Parts Department. Adapting quickly, he was appointed the High-Performance Parts Manager within 18 months. Over the next four years he, and his staff, built Berger into the number one Chevrolet High-Performance Parts dealer in the United States.
In 1975 Jim jumped at a chance to join Mr. Phone, the marketing arm of Mr. Gasket and other leading performance parts companies. In this capacity he worked closely with A&A Fiberglass, founding their race support program and becoming their first racing coordinator.
In 1986 opportunity knocked again. Autostyle, a well-known tier-one producer of body and trim pieces for the auto industry, was interested in establishing a new division named Autostyle Cars. It was to be a car conversion upfitter (similar to Cars & Concepts) that would install the specialized parts that Autostyle manufactured. However, Autostyle was abruptly sold in 1988 and its sale resulted in the closing of Autostyle Cars.
With twenty-three years of experience in the performance parts aftermarket at that point, Jim decided to switch his attention from sales to marketing. The “new” Rise Sales (a name he carried forward from his Mr. Gasket days) opened in September of 1988. Starting with just one client, the business grew quickly.
Eventually, Jim and Rise Sales served the automotive and high-performance industries in three basic ways. They produced high-quality catalogs, marketing materials and sponsorship proposals for a variety of clients, many of whom were with Rise for a number of years.
In 1993 Rise Sales was presented the Best New Catalog Award at the renowned SEMA Show in Las Vegas for their work on a suite of marketing materials for Mangels Wheels of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Jim said at the time, “to go to Las Vegas and be recognized by your peers as the best of the best was personal recognition that he thought could never be topped.”
But, life had another big surprise coming for Jim. Over the years Jim has served Daimler AG and its Mercedes-Benz brand in a large variety of ways. Each year Daimler AG presents the highly desired Silver Star Award to the single person, who is not an employee, that has done the most to advance Mercedes-Benz and its vehicles throughout the world. In its entire 61-year history (at that time) the award had only been presented to three Americans despite the USA being Daimler’s second-largest market after Germany.
In 2017 the Silver Star Award was presented to Jim Luikens for his vast body of work for Mercedes Benz over many years. Jim was thrilled to accept the award and noted that he felt it vindicated his life’s work.
Jim is thrilled with the success his clients have achieved using his materials and proud of the success stories he had helped to craft. Unlike some agency owners, however, he is content to take a low profile and let his work do the talking for him.
“My soft-spoken nature is sometimes mistaken for aloofness but that is just my quiet intensity showing through. I am not able to turn my intensity on and off at will. I usually have one or more projects taking shape in my head and I have little time for idle chitchat.
Some people couldn’t believe that our work was as good as it was because we were not based in a major market. Actually, the location has very little to do with creativity. As Jim is fond of saying, ‘the only thing better in California is the weather.”
Jim Luikens and Rise Sales are truly full-service partners that are skilled and experienced in all forms of Automotive Marketing Communications. In 2020 they are celebrating a milestone 39 Years of Excellence. Despite taking a little slower pace today Rise still serves its key clients.
Not much has changed from those days long ago on the front seat of his parents’ car. Jim is still doing the improbable and leaving a trail of speechlessness behind him.