The new year has brought two important items of note to the aftermarket, and both of these important announcements will have far-reaching impact on the distribution market place for the foreseeable future.
The first, I am sad to relate, deals with the death of an industry icon. On January 15, Art Fisher Jr., founder and CEO of Fisher Auto Parts, died at the age of 65.
Art was an industry visionary who took a single store location in 1964 and built it into one of the largest and certainly most successful store groups in the aftermarket. In 1985, he founded program group Federated Auto Parts Distributors, which today serves 3,800 Federated Auto Parts Stores and 2,400 Federated Car Care Centers nationwide. Under Art's dedicated leadership, Fisher Auto Parts grew, the Federated program group grew - and so did the entire aftermarket.
We are a better industry for having known him.
Fisher Auto Parts is still in good hands though, probably to the chagrin of its many formidable competitors. Art's son Bo was unanimously elected as CEO and chairman of Fisher Auto Parts. Bo has big shoes to fill, but I am confident that he learned his trade well under the direction of his father.
The other announcement of note involves some major staffing changes at two of the market's distribution powerhouses.
This month, Counterman presents its list of the top store groups in the United States. Topping the list for yet another year is AutoZone, which continues to impress even the most jaded of aftermarket observers. The past year, of course, was a notable one for the Memphis-based mega retailer. Zone's Pay On Scan proposal is still causing a buzz around the industry as suppliers try to figure out if the plan will work for them. But it's the most recent news out of AutoZone that has my mind reeling: the appointment of long-time NAPA President Steve Handschuh to the position of executive vice president of AZ Commercial, AutoZone's wholesale division.
I know Steve personally and can write with confidence that he brings an SUV load of wholesale experience to AutoZone - experience that probably scares the heck out of AutoZone's competitors. This is a big deal for AutoZone, both from an operational and public relations stand point and should greatly enhance AutoZone's on-going quest to carve out more wholesale market share for its 3,259 stores.
Veteran NAPA executive Bob Susor has been named as Handschuh's replacement. Susor is one of the most experienced guys in the business and the entire NAPA organization will benefit from his leadership.
Just about everyone I've spoken to across the industry indicates that 2004 is shaping up to be a good year. With leaders like Bo Fisher, Handschuh and Susor, I predict nothing less for their respective companies.