Chris Johnson is a third-generation auto parts professional. In the 1960s, his grandfather opened a parts store in Wadena, Minnesota, and eventually sold the business to Johnson’s dad. As a toddler, Johnson would roam the aisles in his walker. Around the age of 10, Johnson started working at the store – counting parts, dusting shelves and doing janitorial work.
The store also had a machine shop where his dad rebuilt engines, and Johnson helped out with that too.
“I always had fun tearing apart engines,” Johnson recalls. “It was a good learning experience.”
After graduating from high school, Johnson earned an associate’s degree in business management from Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minnesota. He found the job prospects challenging for a candidate with an associate’s degree, so he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota. He graduated with a major in business management and a minor in marketing.
While in college, Johnson worked as a counterman at an Advance Auto Parts store, and managed a NAPA Auto Parts store. He has been with Automotive Parts Headquarters (APH)/Auto Value since 2012, and is the manager of the Auto Value store in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Cloud.
The soft-spoken Johnson, 33, couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“It’s very steady work,” he says. “There are always going to be cars on the road, hopefully.”
Johnson’s experience rebuilding engines has served him well. He can diagnose engine problems just by listening to them, and he can share examples of repairs he’s completed and what he learned from them.
He backs up his hands-on experience by maintaining his ASE P2 Automobile Parts Specialist certification. He encouraged three of the store’s counter pros to earn ASE P2 certification as well. “It’s pretty nice to have patches on all of our sleeves,” Johnson says.
Jeff Feddema, an outside salesperson for the Auto Value stores in St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and Foley, Minnesota, describes Johnson as “a digger who doesn’t like to say no.”
“He’s very good at sniffing out new business,” Feddema says. “He’s fantastic at building strong relationships with customers. He’s very good at making new customers feel comfortable and convincing them to call us again.”
Johnson came to APH/Auto Value with a solid academic foundation for running a business. He credits his college coursework for helping him in a number of areas, from managing and retaining employees to building relationships with customers.
Even with his credentials, Johnson never stops learning. Over the years, he has enriched his technical knowledge by taking courses offered by vendors, APH/Auto Value and the local community college. Through APH/Auto Value’s affiliation with the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance, Johnson also has completed the Alliance University learning path for counter pros.
Johnson and his wife, Tammy, have three kids, two of whom are in diapers. Even as his life has gotten exponentially busier, Johnson still manages to squeeze learning into his schedule.
“I donate plasma twice a week, and I usually bring a trade magazine like Counterman with me, at least once a month,” Johnson explains. “I’ll read it from cover to cover, because I’m there for an hour. Then I’ll leave it on the lunchroom table when I’m done.”
In some ways, Johnson’s life and career have come full circle. In 2001, his dad, Bob, sold the Wadena parts store to APH/Auto Value, and now Chris Johnson is part of the APH/Auto Value family. Just as Johnson’s father and grandfather would bring him to the store when he was a kid, Johnson totes one of his kids to the store from time to time.
Johnson still owns a 1973 Plymouth Duster that he and his dad rebuilt in high school, although he admits he hasn’t driven it in a few years. “It’s hard to fit three kids in there,” Johnson says. “And it only runs on 91 octane.”
Know Your Customers
Johnson estimates that 90 percent of his customers are professional installers. Johnson makes a point to greet them by name – and he encourages his team members to do the same. He says the key to building strong relationships with customers is getting to know them.
“Find out what their hobbies are. Find out about their family,” Johnson explains. “And basically consider their shop your shop. We’re all trying to make money together.”
Another strategy that’s served him well is to strive to never say “no” to a customer. He credits APH/Auto Value for giving him the tools to put that philosophy into practice. “We should never have to say ‘no,’ because if it’s bolted or glued on a car, there’s some way we can get it,” he says.
Johnson usually comes up with a solution for even the most challenging customer requests.
“Chris is very diligent in always finding ways to say ‘yes,’” asserts Dan Thom, a regional manager for APH/Auto Value. “He refuses to say ‘no’ to a customer by exhausting all resources … Chris expects the same level of customer service from his employees.”
Johnson isn’t one to seek the spotlight, but it’s starting to find him. He was a finalist for Counterman’s 2018 Counter Professional of the Year award, and APH recently named him the 2018 Auto Value Store Manager of the Year. Feddema sees more success ahead for Johnson.
“The most interesting thing to me about Chris is that not only is he a great dad and husband, but I don’t believe he’s even come close to his full potential,” Feddema says. “I believe Chris will continue to excel and continue to set a great example to the people around him.”