Article Reprinted from the NORTHWEST HERALD Newspaper, July 25, 1997
Finding the perfect partner in business, much less finding a lifelong partner in marriage, is no easy task.
Easy or not, John and Jeannie Ruther have done it. Their marriage dates to 1980 and, together, they own and operate Northstar Motorsports.
John purchased Northstar Motorsports on April 1 just after retiring from a career in another field on March 31.
Northstar Motorsports is located just off the beaten path of Route 14, hidden in a commercial area at 28144 Industrial Ave., Suite 108. A logo on the glass door of the commercial suite is the only indication of what awaits the sports car enthusiast.
Upon entering, customers will first notice the colorful driver suits, harnesses, and racing seats hanging on the walls throughout the perimeter of the shop.
The shop has a very high tech, metallic look to it. This adds an ambience that lets people know of the owners' passion for the sport.
"Northstar is a retail store for the sports car and racing enthusiast. We sell everything from racing apparel including drivers suits, shoes, gloves and helmets to harnesses, seats and brake pads. You will also find books, videos, jewelry, leisurewear, and many other novelties," John said.
In the middle of the store sits the main attraction, John's white 1993 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR3.8LM. "This car is one of only 43 cars like it in the world, and only one of two that were never raced," he said.
John occasionally takes the car to shows and other club related events. Porsches are John and Jeannie's main interests, but they cater to all sports car owners and whatever their needs may be.
Jeannie's brother for instance, is a classic Corvette collector. "We have clients who own or race Ferraris, Corvettes, Vipers, you name it. We can get them what they need," John said.
Jeannie works very closely with customers to get them fitted for driver suits, shoes, and helmets.
"Not one customer leaves our shop with a piece of gear that does not fit," Jeannie said.
"A good fitting helmet can be crucial in a crash on the race track. It can be the difference between walking away from a crash and a serious injury or worse. If it is too loose, it will not protect a driver properly."
She takes great pride in her work at Northstar and that comes with experience. She previously owned a boutique and gift shop called Trout Lilies, located just outside the entrance to Trout Valley subdivision in Cary.
That business gave her five years experience in the retail business. She applies her knowledge of customer service and merchandising to Northstar with John.
Northstar sells many items for both men and women. "We have some beautiful jewelry and Italian handbags for the women. Also, we do some wonderful gift wrapping here," she said.
"Northstar also has a gift registry, which is growing in popularity. The week prior to Father's Day, for example, was quite busy here. We had women coming in every day purchasing gifts for fathers and husbands. I really enjoy the customer service part of the business," she said.
Jeannie's goal is to be the Nieman Marcus of motorsports merchandising. Keeping a good customer relationship with many of her clients is key to success.
"We try to sell the most unique items of the highest quality. We have added 30 percent to the inventory this year and we also have a new computer system," she added.
Northstar's building includes a retail shop in front and a shop area in back that closely resembles a European race shop.
This is where John's other Porsches are parked. He owns and races his 1995 Porsche 911 Supercup 3.8RSR. He races it on many popular race tracks throughout the U.S. His racing experience includes the 24 Hours of Daytona; 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida; Road Atlanta; Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wis.; Mid-Ohio and Blackhawk Farms; and the Nurburgring in Germany. John also owns a 1979 Porsche 930 Turbo. This car only has 40,000 miles on the odometer and is his only street-legal Porsche.
The racing helps his business. "We race at a lot of club events during the racing season. My car, in fact, is sponsored by our business and we sponsor many events and races as well. In turn we get display space to set up and sell our merchandise and parts," John said.
Race teams benefit as well from Northstar displays at tracks.
For instance, if they need extra parts, such as brake pads or anything else, they know they can come to the Northstar display where they'll usually find the part they need for sale.
"We sell over 150 racing seats a year, and we sell merchandise throughout the country," said John.
One form of motorsports that is gaining popularity quickly, is karting. Northstar is the biggest supplier of kart racing equipment in the midwest.
"We are also the leading distributor for an Italian firm called SPARCO, which produces high quality racing equipment. Auto racing is their primary line but they also produce an equally high quality line for karting as well as car accessories. The popularity of karting is growing, mainly because the cost of this form of racing is much less than racing a full size race car. These are no kiddie go karts either. They can reach speeds in excess of seventy miles per hour or more. This sport is just booming in popularity, and we sell a lot of equipment for it. Safety equipment is a must in this sport as well," replied John.
"Northstar supplies many local racers with parts, as well as many throughout the nation and around the world. We ship a lot of equipment to customers in Britain, Germany, and even Indonesia," said John.
Just above the retail shop is a mezzanine that contains both John and Jeannie's office where they work side by side. Next to that, is the combination library and viewing room which also doubles as a conference room.
This room is lavishly appointed with a conference table, leather chairs and couch, and a TV and VCR with surround sound. The room is adorned with automotive artwork and soft track lighting.
A large bookshelf running the length of the room contains books, videos, and other merchandise that Northstar sells.
"We use this room to entertain vendors, guests, clients, and customers. We'll watch some races on video or just get together up here and have a great time," said John.
"We had our first rally here with the Porsche club recently, which was a real blast. It worked out very well actually. All of the club members with their cars met here on a Sunday afternoon and we opened up the entire shop for them to enjoy," said John.
"Jeannie made lemonade and gave everyone a little baggy of cookies to enjoy for the rest of the rally. We let everyone walk through the entire shop and, basically, see what we're all about," said John.
"Some of the members found some books or other items they liked, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Jeannie does a lot of the club rallies when she can. She really enjoys it."
Since taking over ownership of Northstar in April, it has been more successful than they envisioned.
This has kept John and Jeannie very busy in a business and hobby they share a passion over and enjoy so much together.