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20 years at JGR: Meet Susan

As we continue our series highlighting JGR employees that have been a part of the team from the beginning, Susan Berry has worked on the merchandise side of JGR since she started here in 1991.   She has been involved in all aspects of NASCAR merchandise and inventory, and has plenty of experience to show for it.  From her early days working at the racetrack with her husband on the souvenir trailer, to now- primarily managing the retail store here at JGR and online- Susan provides us with a unique glimpse into the merchandise side of racing.

What do you currently do here at Joe Gibbs Racing?

Mickey and Susan Berry
Mickey and Susan Berry

I am the retail manager and am responsible for maintaining inventory for the gift shop at JGR race shop, for maintaining inventory on the website and for shipping all the orders that come in daily.  We pride ourselves in shipping orders the same day we receive them.  We also have 8 showcars that have vending windows and I do all the buying of that merchandise and make sure they maintain good inventory as well.

What did you do before you came to Joe Gibbs Racing?

I used to work for an insurance company that worked with car dealerships and have always had an interest in racing.  In 1991, my husband and I moved down here and were hired Thanksgiving weekend.  Our first job in the industry was working for JGR on the souvenir trailer.  Joe Gibbs Racing was formed in July 1991, but we didn’t actually start racing on the track until 1992.   JGR is the only team we’ve ever worked for and we worked the souvenir trailer for the first 3 years and went to all the races.  After that we worked in the hospitality tent for 5 years and did 6 Cup races and about 20 drag races a year. We were on the road 220 days a year and eventually you reach a point in your life where it is nice to be able to sleep in your own bed so you start looking for some roots, so we came off the road.

Hospitality Tent
Hospitality Tent

One big change in the racing industry is that you no longer see husband and wife teams hired together who were responsible for that specific souvenir store.  My husband and I, from the time we started in 1991 until we moved into the facility we are in today, worked together all day, everyday 365 days a year.  So until we moved in here and our positions separated we were together all the time.

Why have you stayed at JGR all these years?

I’ve always just felt at home here and I love what I’m doing.  When we moved into this facility I was actually the receptionist at the front, and the souvenirs were in the lobby.  Now it has grown into what it is today and we have a 3300 square foot store.  I never even contemplated going somewhere else or even wanted to look around because I have always loved working here.

There are times that I miss the travel part of it, but that takes a physical toll on you.  I’ve been here so long that I don’t know that I’d have the stamina to be out on the road anymore.  I love the fans- I love the team- I love the team spirit.  It just feels good to be a part of a team.

How has the racing industry changed in the past 20 years?

In general, it has changed tremendously.  The cars don’t look like the cars that you buy from a dealership, but they used to.  The technology, the engineering that is involved today, is so much more than it was back in the 1990s.  The racer was the core of the team and now it’s the engineers.

From a retail perspective, there is a lot of it that hasn’t changed because the passionate race fan still wants his or her favorite driver’s hat, t-shirt etc.  Diecast used to be a highly collectable item and its lost its collectability.  That is in the process of being revamped with Lionel coming in to make that change.

There was a point in time where you had a lot of outlets competing for the same customers, but when the economy tanked lot of those outlets folded.  It used to be really and truly going trackside was where you got the majority of your merchandise.  All the teams and drivers now have their own websites and from that perspective there is more competition than there was in the 1990s.

JGR Driver Bobby Labonte
JGR Driver Bobby Labonte

What moment will you always remember from working here at JGR?

Bobby’s first win at the Coca-Cola 600 and my first trip to Winner’s Circle, that really jumps out at me and something I will always remember.   Bobby’s first championship was also special because championships are always special memories.  As a team we are long overdue for another one.

What is it like working for Joe and JD Gibbs?

Having been here as long as I have, I know that their door is always open.  I can sit down and talk about what’s on my mind.   I report directly to Dave Alpern and he is also another one I feel the same way about.  You just know that you’re working for an organization of people that you can talk to at any point in time and that is a sense of security.  You are not walking in and talking to a total stranger, you are walking in and talking to something that you know and that knows you.  It makes all the difference.