Automotive Parts Associates (APA) wrapped up its Annual Conference last week at the sold-out Henry Hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, as the shareholder-owned program group celebrates its 50th year in business.
Highlights of the three-day event included presentations from industry analysts; one-on-one meetings with suppliers; and an update from Ted Hughes, executive director of the Aftermarket Warehouse Distributors Association.
APA shareholders elected a new board, consisting of:
- Jim Holmquist – chairman
- Brian Cantagallo – vice chair
- Merle Bever – treasurer
- Shane Sleek – board member
- Harris Steinberg – board member
- Brian Saravelas – board member
- Ed Harake – board member
- Jim Pepe – board member
- Gary Thibault – board member
On the final night, APA celebrated 50 years in business at the nearby Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where the group gathered for the annual awards dinner that recognized partnering suppliers, new APA shareholders and TruStar members.
The following supplier partners received awards:
- Standard Motor Products – Supplier of the Year
- MAHLE – Distinguished OE Partner
- Dorman Products – Outstanding Marketing Partner
- DENSO – Cornerstone Award
- Wheeler Fleet Solutions – Linebacker Award
- LIQUI-MOLY – New Supplier Award
- Epicor – Technology Award
- Factory Motor Parts – Milestone Award
APA recognized the following new shareholders:
- Brown and Sons
- Texas Auto Parts
- Ober Automotive Warehouse
- Northside Imports
- Good Guys Auto Parts
The newest award – the Dan Freeman Excellence Award – went to Ray Lettini, owner of Foreign Parts Specialties. Freeman, who led APA as president and CEO for 25 years, presented the award.
Reflecting on 50 Years
As the program group marks its 50th year in business, Freeman reflected on his time at APA and the changes that have taken place within the group and in the industry.
“In 1989, I joined the APA staff as national sales manager,” Freeman said. “My job description was to develop a private-label parts program and hire a sales team to implement the program for the APA members.”
In 1995, APA became a member-owned cooperative, which established a membership structure that was similar to that of other aftermarket program groups. In 1999, the APA board elected Freeman as president and CEO.
“Our No. 1 priority was to grow the group or the group would become irrelevant,” Freeman recalled. “We developed an extensive questionnaire for prospects. We ran ads in industry publications. We spoke with our manufacturing partners seeking recommendations of prospects that were not in a group or were in a group that did not meet their needs.
“We aggressively began prospecting. I was surprised by the changes taking place in the automotive industry. Auto parts distributors became specialized. … This was a time of growth for APA. We almost reached 200 shareholders.”
Today, APA’s membership encompasses more than 475 independent auto parts distributor locations throughout North America.
“There’s no better time than now to be in the auto or truck parts business than 2023,” Freeman concluded, as attendees gave him a standing ovation. “Lets’ get going and let’s get growing.”
In the mid 2000s, Randall Swedlove, co-owner of Morris Automotive Supply in Fontana, California, boarded a plane bound for San Antonio, where APA was holding its annual meeting. He and his brother, co-owner David Swedlove, were thinking about joining a program group, and they’d narrowed their short list down to APA and another group.
It was a harrowing journey for Randall Swedlove. Severe weather delayed his connecting flight in Dallas, and he had to spend the night in the airport. Despite arriving in San Antonio later than expected (and without his luggage), Swedlove knew immediately that APA was the right program group for Morris Automotive Supply.
“When I got back, I said to my brother, ‘APA is the group for us,’” Randall Swedlove recalled. “They were so warm and welcoming, it was like I knew everybody. There was no need to go anywhere else.”
Since joining APA, Morris Automotive Supply has “probably doubled in size, because you have the right part and the right price,” according to Swedlove.
“We’re able to get good lines,” he added. “APA has been the best tool for Morris Automotive Supply that we could ever ask for.”
At last year’s APA Annual Conference in Atlanta, APA announced its acquisition of TruStar, a Texas-based program group that focuses on undercar parts such as brakes, shocks and exhaust parts. In an interview with Counterman, APA President Steve Tucker said TruStar has been a great fit for APA, which he often characterizes as an “island of misfit toys.”
“It’s a good place for niche-type suppliers,” Tucker explained. “We have some guys that do tremendous business in exhaust, but they don’t really sell any other product lines, so they may not need the full suite of services that we can offer at APA. So we can offer them a little bit of a discounted package. They won’t get all the services available to them, but they don’t care – that’s not who they are.”
With so much consolidation taking place in the automotive aftermarket – and Amazon’s aggressive pricing tactics squeezing profit margins – independent suppliers are struggling to stay afloat. In this environment, program groups such as APA are “probably more viable than they ever were.”
“There are still auto parts stores on every corner,” Tucker said. “You have to be able to differentiate yourself to get the business, and we help them do that.”