Like his childhood friends, Compton native Thomas “TJ” Loftin, 47, grew up in a community dominated by aspiring rappers, huge factions of gangs more often at odds with one another and, most significantly, he asserts, a regionally-based business with untold and still untapped financial opportunities.
In fact, he, along with dozens of others who heeded his advice, has since set their courses on very different roads, embraced a positive work ethic determined to shake off the chains of poverty and achieved economic success as entrepreneurs in the lucrative world of customized cars — specifically, the lowrider industry.
Loftin recently brought his one-man auto industry tour to Maryland’s National Harbor during which he shared the tactics he’s employed to “turn a childhood hobby into a multibillion-dollar global industry.” He says he never forgets to pay tribute and point to the importance of two life-changing mentors who first introduced him to the business — an industry he emphatically proclaims, “still has tremendous economic potential.”
“My partners and my brothers, Gary May and Homer ‘Cap’ Walters, taught me the ropes during my youth,” he said. You’ve got to have a love for cars. I sure did. But I started off in a car theft culture. Some people still make a living that way. What they don’t know, is that you can paint murals on the trunks of lowriders instead of doing graffiti on walls and pull in six or seven figures a year — legally. You can work as a mechanic who knows engines and make $50K a year with Toyota. But you can also start your own business and see your income multiple tenfold. It’s all about learning your true value, your real worth and being willing to move in a different direction.”
“Lowriding was a culture for those of us who grew up in Compton — the capitol of lowriding. You can trace its roots to the years right after War World II, but the business went viral after rap groups, particularly N.W.A. (Los Angeles-based, formed in 1986 and now considered one of the greatest, most influential groups in the history of hip-hop music), began to include lowriders, with Chevys at the top of the list, in their videos.”
“I was behind the scenes, building cars for videos when the demand suddenly exploded and folks wanted them in their movies, commercials and TV shows.”
“These customized vehicles were initially associated with Mexican-American youths but Blacks now have a very strong footprint in the industry — a business whose worldwide annual sales exceed $10 million. That’s why I’ve since come out of the industry of building to speaking about the untapped financial possibilities,” said Loftin who pointed out he never has a day that could be described as “typical.”
“I might be at a high school discussing the auto industry, bringing a couple of lowriders and several rappers to an elementary school, visiting someone’s lowrider shop — a business that I helped them get off the ground, or boarding a plane in route to a presentation that I’ve been asked to give in another part of the country or the world,” he shared displaying irrefutable excitement and a passion that he says has been part of his DNA for as long as he can remember.
Loftin believes he’s helped over 100 people start their own businesses in the auto industry and says they’ve achieved success far beyond many of their wildest dreams.
“I’d estimate that 90 percent of those I once mentored now have six- or seven-figure annual earnings. It’s almost unheard of for any of them to not own their homes or the buildings in which they live or in which their businesses are based. They own commercial real estate. And a lot of them, like me, while they’re still under 50, are already considering retirement.”
Loftin says he enjoys any chance to talk to lost or troubled youth — or anyone who has an affinity for cars and wants to change the path of their life for one more positive. He even once served as a bridge between two of L.A.’s most vicious, rival gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, using lowriders as the key to the formation of a peace treaty and eventually creating a national lowrider association — a lasting partnership of lowriders among the two gangs.
“Americans are programmed to believe that college is the only route you can take if you really want to one day strike out on your own and succeed,” he said. “We’re taught that a college degree equates to a successful future. But we rarely attach wealth when embarking on a job search or when considering a career. That’s a big mistake. A lot of college graduates cannot change a tire and have little knowledge about the cars they own. Many people with college degrees don’t own their home, a building or anything else whose value appreciates.”
“I put numbers and names to what’s happening out here for one reason: I want to bring more Blacks into this industry. My tours are meant to expose other Blacks to opportunities in land development, monetizing America’s irreversible increase in gentrification and of course, entering the auto industry as business owners.”
“You see, many of my friends needed a coach. They had businesses but they weren’t legal ones. My goal has long been to pull folks out of their backyards working in garages and help them set up shops on Main Street. I show them how to get their insurance, how to advertise and how to use the blueprint that has worked for me. After that, it’s up to them,” he exclaimed.
Contatct Loftin at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook @ThomasTJLoftin or twitter @thomastjloftin.