If you ever want to know Thomas Dayton’s
level of dedication to automotive aftermarket parts distribution, just
drive behind his pickup truck or send him an email.
Sure, there’s a
large blue ASE sticker on the driver’s side rear window. But look a
little lower and you’ll find his license plate, “ASE P2.” And then
there’s his email address. It also has “ase_p2” in it.
2009 Counter Professional of the Year, Thomas Dayton
assistant manager of J S Auto Supply in Jamestown, N.Y., is Counterman
magazine’s 2009 Counter Professional of the Year, sponsored by Affinia, Wix and Raybestos Brake & Chassis. In early November, he and his wife, Jessica, received an all-expense paid trip to the AAPEX show in Las Vegas, where he received his award at the Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association recognition luncheon.
first got into parts as a profession in 1996, due in part to his
ownership at the time of a 1979 Chevy Nova. “Like anyone with a 1979
Nova, I also spent a lot of time at my local parts store,” he recalls
in his entry for the Counter Professional of the Year award. “Neither
the Nova nor the college tuition proved to be very wise investments,
and I soon found myself printing invoices at that parts store, instead
of just paying them.”
It didn’t take long for Dayton to feel right
at home, he said. “I knew I liked the business,” he said. “I like the
technical aspects of it and as cheesy as it may sound, I enjoyed
helping people and using my brain. I’m self-taught in a lot of what I
know,” he said, “It’s about needing to find an answer. I’m trying to
learn as much as I can.”
He’s been with J S Auto Supply for three
years. Jamestown, N.Y., a city of about 30,000 people, is surrounded by
smaller rural villages and towns. The store employs four full-time
counterpeople, an outside salesman and nine part-time drivers. The
store serves customers in an approximate 30-mile radius, and the mix of
commercial vs. retail clients is about 80-20.
“I’m not just selling
coil springs. I’m selling knowledge,” Dayton says. “Our professional
technician customers may not need it that much, obviously, but for
other people who come in here, I hope I can be of help.”
originally attended Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and spent three
years pursuing a degree in natural resources management. “I was going
to be a forest ranger,” he recalls, but he changed his mind and instead
co-owned a dairy farm for a time.
This fall, he began taking distance-learning courses at Alfred State College
at his wife’s urging. He devotes at least 20 hours per week to his
Alfred State studies in addition to working a full schedule at J S Auto
Supply. “It always kind of bothered me that I didn’t finish my degree,”
he said. “My wife encouraged me. I think if I was going to go back and
get a degree, it should be in something I enjoy.”
counter professionals must further their education not only to stay up
to date with training, but to bolster the reputation amongst the
general public and technicians.
Dan Backus, owner of J S Auto Supply, Jamestown, N.Y.
“You can find well-educated,
well-staffed parts stores everywhere,” he said. “But not all parts
stores out there meet those criteria. If a customer has a bad
experience with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, it affects
all of us.”
He also participates in as many online training courses
as possible. He attends at least three manufacturer’s technical
training seminars each year. “I am constantly ‘in-training’, as I
discover new sources of information and knowledge. I look at it as an
investment in my career,” he wrote for his essay submitted for the
His professor at Alfred State, Jerry Ives, was himself a 2002
Counter Professional of the Year recipient. Dayton had become very
familiar with Alfred State because, in addition to having grown up in
the area, he serviced the school’s repair shop program by providing
parts to the school’s on-campus jobber store. Ives believes Dayton is
very deserving of the recognition he’s receiving. “It’s great having
Tom as a student,” said Ives, who is an assistant professor in the
school’s parts technology department.
“He’s that certain type of
individual our industry needs; someone who is dedicated and willing to
continue his education to help develop the skills and knowledge to meet
the challenges in an ever-changing industry.”
Dayton has received five ASE accreditations and also holds the Auto International Association (AIA) base and master’s level import specialist certifications.
Backus, owner of J S Auto Supply, says Dayton’s drive and attention to
detail are invaluable and are essential to running a store well. “Tom
does a great job,” Backus said. “All I have to say is, ‘Hey, I’m
leaving’ and he takes over. And I don’t have to worry about a thing.
That’s all any business owner could ever ask for.”
Curt Burdick, who hired Dayton at another parts store, said, “I hired him to work for me because I liked his
demeanor. You knew he was something special. “I always knew his hard work would pay big dividends.”