Article > Opinion

The Big Getter

By Brian Cruickshank

Every February, we list the 20 largest store groups in the industry, and each year this list reveals significant changes in store ownership.

It's a fact of the aftermarket: The big just keep getting bigger. To illustrate what I mean, you only need to look at this year's Super Stores list. It lists the 20 largest store groups in the country, and if you compare this list to previous years, you'll see a distinct trend.

Super Stores List

The 20 largest store groups continue, each and every year, to represent a larger percentage of the total number of stores in the industry. Back in 2001, for example, the top 20 store groups accounted for 11,329 store locations. Many of the names on that list are no longer around today, names like Discount Auto Parts (acquired by Advance), Strauss Frank (acquired by GPI) and MAWDI (acquired by Uni-Select). Four years later, a significantly new top 20 list represented 12,964 stores, a difference of 14 percent. In just the last 12 months, we have seen the disappearance of three more top 20 companies: Murray's Discount Auto (acquired by CSK), Midwest (acquired by O'Reilly) and Autopart International (acquired by Advance). This year's top 20 list represents 13,496 stores, a jump of 4.1 percent over last year.

What all of this means is that a higher percent of the total number of stores in the market is controlled by a smaller number of companies. We estimate the total universe of parts stores in the U.S. to be around 35,000 locations. Thus, this year's top 20 store groups own about 37 percent of the total universe of stores. That's a lot of stores. That's a lot of influence.

So what does the future hold for the single store owner? Can the single store still survive?

Absolutely. While larger store groups do have some advantages, a well-run independent store that leverages the power of its program group and fosters strong relationships with its community and customers can always stand toe-to-toe with any large store out there. There are of thousands of stores in the market that prove this year in and year out. However, those that don't manage their businesses well won't survive, and there are lots of stores - independent or not - that prove this to be true as well. These days, everything counts, and success is not guaranteed for anyone, whether you are a big retail chain or a small one-store jobber. Your store's success is in your hands, each and every time you greet a customer.

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On a related note, every year when we publish our Super Stores list, I get a few irate phone calls from store owners who accuse us of not listing NAPA. They claim, rightfully, that NAPA has the greatest number of stores in the industry. They do. However, the list reflects store ownership, not the number of stores that belong to a particular group. So, for the record: NAPA, ADN, CARQUEST, APA, IWD, The Alliance, Federated, Pronto and other groups don't own any stores. Their members do, which this list reflects. In June, we will publish our annual listing of the industry's program groups, along with the number of stores each group represents.

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