Article > Opinion

The Formula

By Brian Cruickshank

If you’re looking for the formula to win more business, the key just might be standing next to you at the counter.

Some encouraging news regarding Advance Auto Parts and its commercial program crossed my desk just before Christmas. The news centered around Advance’s milestone of $1 billion in commercial sales during a single fiscal year.

This was no Christmas miracle, of course. Advance has been carefully concentrating on its commercial program since its inception a decade ago. Lots of retailers, however, have been searching for the magic formula that guarantees wholesale success, some better than others. I don’t think it has anything to do with magic or miracles; I think it’s a lot more personal than that.

Around the same time this Advance item reached me, I got another bit of unrelated news, this one far more local. It reminded me that success, both with the retail trade and wholesale accounts, is more than just inventory, delivery and terms. Although those things are essential, they are not what truly separates the good stores from the great.

What reinforced all this was an email from an employee at Front Automotive Parts in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, informing me that one of the store’s counter professionals, Paul Hamric, recently celebrated a milestone of his own — his 40th anniversary at the counter. Paul was hired as a driver in December, 1966 — three years before I was born! He recalls a time when the store had body panels hanging from the rafters, when Perfect Circle had consignments of piston rings and when he would order GM points and condenser sets 100 at a time. He understands better than most the changes that automobiles have gone through since he started: from six to 12 volt systems, standard ignition to to distributorless, R-12 to R-134 He spent many hours with his nose in the catalog rack, using three different books to research a tune-up for ’72 Chevy Impala, (he memorized a lot of part numbers to save time) then going to the shelf to check stock on all six numbers needed, then thumbing through pages and pages of price sheets to give a quote to the customer, who was waiting on the phone. That’s valuable perspective.

Paul has been instrumental in the transformation of a small auto parts store, originally having two countermen and a driver, to currently employing 38 full and part-time employees with three locations. One store employee said it best: “It’s often said that people buy from people and Paul is the person in our store that customers buy from. His knowledge and experience is not only unsurpassed — it is the cornerstone of our business.”

Each September, we present research that looks at sourcing trends. The PARTS Survey ask repair shops around the country why they buy certain brands, and further, why they buy those brands from specific sources. Certainly, availability is one of the top factors, as is quick delivery. Those things, however, are becoming commodities — everyone has them. They are merely the cost of doing business. What really separates good retail or wholesale stores from great ones are the people behind the inventory, the counter professionals and drivers who interact with technicians and service writers all across the industry. They’re the professionals like Paul. They’re the ones who truly make distributors successful. 

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