Out of a nondescript grouping of office and light industrial buildings in Elmhurst, Ill., a western Chicago suburb, sits a bustling warehouse that’s home to a Bumper to Bumper/Auto-Wares parts distribution hub. It’s where you’ll find parts pros busily placing various boxes on shelves and handling returns.
Bill Bryan, Counterman magazine’s 2010 Counter Professional of the Year, manages this location. A 20-year veteran of the auto parts industry, his skills at managing employees, assisting customers and approaching his job each day with vigor, are among the reasons he was chosen for the award. The Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance, of which his warehouse is a member, nominated Bryan. He oversees nine employees.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Counter Professional of the Year award. As part of the application process, finalists were asked to review in an essay what they believe to be the three biggest issues facing the aftermarket.
The requirements for this year’s Counter Professional of the Year award, sponsored by Affinia and its brands WIX filters and Raybestos brand brakes and chassis, were more strict than in years’ past. In addition to being ASE P2 certified, applicants or nominees had to also be AIA Import Parts Specialist certified.
Bryan got started in the business like many parts pros he needed parts for his car and paid a visit to a local parts store that happened to be hiring that day. In his case, it was a 1977 Buick Regal that had a bad ignition module. He was 17 at the time and walked into a Forest City Auto Parts location. The sign advertising a job opening piqued his interest. “The manager said, ‘I’ll give you a job,’” Bryan recalls. “That was it. I was hooked.”
Bryan had been working in construction at the time and it was hard work, he recalls, that didn’t pay very well. “I liked cars better,” he said. In his off-time, he frequently tore down engines and rebuilt cars with his friends and learned as much as possible about vehicles. “In one form or another, I’ve been involved with the automotive industry ever since.”
Along the way, he also tried selling cars, which he admitted isn’t as easy as it looks. To him, working in the parts business is a natural fit for his personality. “I’m just a people person,” he said. “I like working with people and helping my customers make money. That’s the only way you’ll make it in this business... You’ve got to make friends.”
“I especially like tracking down hard-to-find parts. They’re a challenge,” Bryan said. After spending a time at the warehouse, one thing is clear: While there are chairs, you’ll hardly find anyone sitting in them. There’s just no time. If the phone doesn’t ring for five minutes, everyone notices.
Fifteen independents pick up parts from the Elmhurst warehouse, all of whom must have an account with Auto-Wares, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based parent company. There are six Auto-Wares stores that receive deliveries out of the Elmhurst hub, which also delivers directly to the customers of those six stores. Select customers from each of those six stores are given an opportunity to buy directly from the hub, which gives them wider access to greater inventory, Bryan explained.
Each of those customers must maintain a minimum monthly buy in order to purchase directly from the hub. Or they have to be a Bumper to Bumper service location. Buying direct makes sense, Bryan said. “There’s a wider breadth of parts available,” he said. “Why not just deliver it from here?”
The most fundamental difference between working at the warehouse and manning a parts store is there’s absolutely no retail or walk-in traffic, Bryan explains. Other than that, just about everything’s the same.
Visitors to the Elmhurst location will notice one thing. While there’s space on the shelves for more parts, that won’t last long. Bryan explained that parts proliferation is palpable. “Every week, they’re sending in new parts,” Bryan said. He estimates they get 20 to 25 new parts numbers each week. The warehouse, which isn’t too close to running out of space, will inevitably have to add a second tier to keep up with demands for space. Bryan said the company already has spoken to the warehouse’s landlord and getting the extra space won’t be a problem.
Four times a day there’s a familiar honk outside the warehouse from the delivery truck that makes the run from the downtown Chicago Auto-Wares warehouse.
In his response to the essay questions for the award selection process, Bryan said he believes more time must be set aside for counter professionals to train. “We have vast amounts of training available to help everyone learn the newest systems, refreshers for stuff you don’t see every day and not a lot of us set aside the time for it,” Bryan wrote. “Many do, but more could. Training is key for success. The more everyone learns, the easier the day goes because everyone can help everyone. I don’t claim to know it all, but I am not afraid to ask my peers for help or ideas.”
In his essay, Bryan also said he believes the poor economy should help the aftermarket garner sales. “We need our customers’ businesses to stay alive. Everyone needs to ask for the sale, period,” he wrote. “Mr. Shop owner is hurting, too, and has probably let that helper/apprentice go or reduced payroll hours in some fashion. Now it’s harder for him to chase that part you might not have. If it’s a dealer part or at the competition, ask him if he wants you to go get it. You can make a few bucks and it’s less stress on the shop’s part. That makes him just a little bit more loyal.”
Bryan discussed one of the hot-button issues that affects operations each day and how he has tackled it. “Returns nowadays are crazy. You sent the wrong part, you got the wrong info, the vehicle owner cancelled or the old part was put in the box to show Mr. Car Owner and ended up in the returns,” he wrote. “We make it a habit to open every box that comes back. It’s a good habit to have.” The reasons to make opening each box a habit are many, he believes. “It keeps that special part that the next guy might need a good clean part on the shelf, not used or a core,” he wrote. “The last thing you want is to send out a clean box and get the nasty, upset phone call from the shop. Open your returns when you get them, you’ll be happier in the long run.”
Bryan traveled to AAPEX in Las Vegas in early November to receive the Counter Professional of the Year honor and meet with other industry professionals during an all-expenses paid trip. As part of the trip, he was able to attend the AAPEX as well as SEMA show and attend industry luncheons.
Counter Professional of the Year Finalists
It’s always a difficult task to choose a single recipient for the Counter Professional of the Year award. The staff of Counterman magazine sifted through piles of entries and identified several people who are worthy of recognition. After narrowing all the entries down to four finalists, Bill Bryan of Bumper to Bumper/Auto-Wares, Elmhurst, Ill., was chosen. Here is a look at those who made it to the final round.
Full Service Auto Parts
San Antonio, Texas
Dan Hayes started in the auto parts business in 1982 as a driver/warehouse employee and over the years, has worked his way up into management. “For me the parts business is kind of like coffee. When you took your first drink it was a little bitter but it grows on you and you need a cup every day or you just don’t feel right,” Hayes wrote in his entry for the Counter Professional of the Year award. Hayes spends a good deal of his time developing the counter and sales teams at Full Service Auto Parts. He assisted in the building of a training center and arranges training seminars for both employees and customers.
This was the second time Striffler has been chosen as a Counter Professional of the Year finalist. He was nominated by Ricky L. Trottier, Divisional General Manager, Great Lakes Division of Uni-Select USA.
In his nomination of Striffler, Trottier said, “Brian’s 20 years of experience at all levels of our company have provided him with the knowledge and expertise that continues to help our company grow and be a leader in the marketplace.”
Brian’s passion and positive attitude continue to drive him to be the absolute best in everything he does, Trottier wrote. “He is self-motivated, ambitious and continues to accept all responsibilities and tasks with excitement. In addition to being a wealth of parts knowledge, he is also our resident IT person. Brian has taken on the role of championing our e-commerce directive in our division.”
Trottier said Striffler makes sure products and cataloging are up-to-date daily and that any changes are immediately updated for customer availability. “Brian has also instituted weekly sales programs via email to our customer base in order to keep them informed of new products as well as training clinics and upcoming programs as well as weekly specials,” Trottier wrote.
O’Reilly Auto Parts
St. George, Utah
Customers from far and wide come to, or call our store in order to take advantage of his vast knowledge and his dedication to finding the correct part, no matter how difficult it is to find,” wrote colleague Jocelyn Waters, who nominated Orion Parker for the honor. “I personally ask him every time I have a question that I cannot find the answer to, and I have complete confidence that he will give or find me the right answer, and I have more faith in his abilities that anyone else in the entire region.”
Waters cited Parker’s upbeat attitude for having positive effect on the store and helping “to produce more sales as a result of the exceptional experience that customers receive when they come into our store.”