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A Student of the Industry

By Mark Phillips

Counterman’s 2008 Counter Professional of the Year Craig Bradley gives back by educating others.
Mark Phillips

It’s not even 11 a.m. on a Friday, and Craig Bradley’s store has done about half its expected business for the day. And that’s just about how he likes it. He knows this by flipping to a screen on his computer that shows the sales numbers in his office at his NAPA Auto Parts store in Lansing, Mich.

  It’s not that Bradley is fanatical about watching the numbers, in fact, he checks only about a half-dozen times during a day. He probably wouldn’t even need to check the computer because he has his finger firmly on the pulse of his store and the needs of his customers in the Lansing area. It’s an ability that can’t be learned overnight, but through years of working in the business, and by managing people and serving customers. It’s only one of his abilities that led to Bradley garnering the 2008 Counter Professional of the Year Award, presented by Affinia. In early November, Bradley and his wife, Karen, flew to Las Vegas on an all-expenses paid trip to receive his award and attend the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX).


Manager of NAPA Auto Parts
523 E Shiawassee St.
Lansing, MI  48912

• Awarded NAPA ASE Parts Specialist of the Year, 2002
• Runner-up for Counter Professional of the Year, 1998
• ASE-certified in 24 areas, with three Master certifications
• Written ASE P2 test questions past four sessions
• Chairman of advisory board of Kent Career/Technical Center parts professional program
• 33-year NAPA career 

With 93 percent of his business comprised of wholesale customers, Bradley is trying to help others build their businesses. “When you’re talking to a customer, I always make sure they have everything they need for the job,” said Bradley. He makes it a practice to ask every customer, “Is that everything you need?” Occasionally a repair professional might bristle at the question until they understand why Bradley asks it. “You try to help them grow their business. If you can, hopefully in turn, they’ll help you build yours,” he said.

Bradley’s affection for all things automotive started early. “I’ve always been a gearhead,” said Bradley, who started in the business in 1975 with NAPA, but had been turning wrenches since the mid-1960s. (NAPA is the largest division of Genuine Parts Co. and distributes more than 375,000 products through its 58 NAPA distribution centers located across the United States.)

Early in his career, he encountered an “old-school” boss who believed in publicly disciplining people. “He didn’t believe in the adage of ‘praise in public, punish in private,’” Bradley recalled. “He was a little ruthless.” It was during those times, he made a mental note of how he’d operate when he entered management. “If you treat someone the way you’d like to be treated, it makes things a lot easier… Around here, the employees are like a family.”

And like any family, they run into rough spots together. Take, for instance, the economy. Michigan, hit hard by the loss of so many manufacturing jobs, in November tied with Rhode Island for the worst unemployment rate in the country, at 9.3 percent. “To say someone wasn’t concerned with today’s environment, they’d be lying,” Bradley said. “As of late, our business has been doing well. People realize they have to make their car last as long as possible. I’m trying to make sure we don’t have to lose any employees.” He does this a number of ways, by controlling costs, like overtime, and instead scheduling only when employees are needed on the clock. “I’ve never had to lay off any full-time employees, and I’m proud of that,” he said.

Bradley’s good-natured demeanor and respect for others are two of the traits that make him successful. He’ll win someone over with good ideas, rather than browbeat people into seeing things his way. “One of Craig’s best attributes is the way he gets his employees to think the way he does as far as that thoroughness,” said Bill Belonge, owner of Auto Surgeon, a certified NAPA Auto Care Center in Lansing. “He’s extremely thorough and wants to get to the root of the problem, if there is one. And he won’t stop until he gets to the bottom of it,” said Belonge, who has known Bradley for 15 years. “There’s only a few people who if I have a real problem, I’ll call first. One of them is Craig. We’re lucky to have him in this town. And the people working for him are a great support team.”

Giving back to the industry

Takers of ASE’s P2 tests over the last several years have likely seen Bradley’s mark — on their tests. Bradley says its an honor to assist in writing questions for the P2, and admits it’s not as easy as it might appear. “It’s a whole different thought process. People think, ‘Oh, you just write questions.’ No. It’s not that easy,” Bradley said. The ASE tests are administered by ACT, the nonprofit organization that offers the essential college entrance exams around the country by the same initials.

Over the past several P2 test-writing sessions, Bradley has gathered with about 17 others to sit, read and ponder new questions. “First, you go over old questions to get you thinking,” Bradley said. “For some questions, they were so hard, no one go it, while another was so easy, everyone got it.” Then the task of writing new questions begins. Some questions can come easily, while the process of writing old ones can be more drawn out. Making things more complicated is the fact that each test, from year to year, must be the same level of relative difficulty.
Bradley said he gets a lot of satisfaction from writing the questions. “I want someone to know that when they get their ASE certification, they’ve earned it. You have to work at it. If you’re a part specialist with an ASE logo, you worked your butt off to get it. As a customer, when you see an ASE logo, you know he or she has done their homework.”

Bradley also is heavily involved in writing the curriculum for the Grand Rapids vo-tech school, Kent Career/Technical Center. Bradley has been the chairman of the school’s advisory board for the past five years and has given his time to the school for more than 20 years. The school’s 18-week parts professional program is divided into a nine-week emphasis on parts and a nine-week emphasis on service writing. About the students who enroll in the program, he said, “I think they come in with the idea that they don’t know what it’s about and they want to try it. Hopefully, we whet their appetite for the business.” He also participates in career days for local high school students. “You can get some really good people,” he said. “They ask you some really good questions.”



NAPA’s Craig Bradley, The 2008 Counter Professional of the Year, presented by Affinia, shares his list of ways to be successful in business:

Enjoy it. You must like what you do. If you don’t like it, you can’t do a good job at it.

Be determined. You have to set a goal. And it’s hard to be determined if you don’t enjoy what you do.

Be involved. You have to give back to others. You have to be involved with the industry and your community. It’s a sidebar to what you do. A lot of people helped me get to where I am. Now it’s my turn to help others.

Stay educated. Never stop learning. If anyone’s come to me and said, “Craig, we have a class you can take. Do you want to go?” I’m there. Never underestimate the value of clinics and continuing education classes on a resumé. It shows the customer you care and you know what you’re talking about. It improves your connection with the customer when you can talk on the same wavelength. It’s good not only to attend classes that a counter professional would attend, but that your customers would attend.

Support others. You have to listen more than you talk, most of the time.



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