Randy Shambro’s love affair with cars began at a young age.
Shambro recalls gazing longingly at the Dodge Darts in the showroom window when he walked by Mr. Norm’s Grand-Spaulding Dodge on the west side of Chicago. At the time, it was the biggest high-performance Dodge dealership in the country. Co-owner Norm Kraus rose to prominence by squeezing big-block V-8 engines into the Dart (something Chrysler said was impossible), inspiring Chrysler to produce the 383 Dart GTS and the memorable M-Code 440 Dart GTS. Kraus remains a legendary figure among Dodge/Mopar performance enthusiasts (see sidebar for more).
Growing up in the golden age of muscle cars – near the epicenter of the Dodge/Mopar performance world at the time – was a formative experience for Shambro.
“I’ve always liked cars, even when I was a kid,” Shambro recalls. “I used to look out the window of my house and I could tell what kind of car was going by. Now you can hardly tell. But back in the day, you could tell by the front end and the bumpers.”
Shambro, the 2023 Counter Professional of the Year sponsored by WIX Filters, has parlayed his love of muscle/pony cars into a fulfilling career in the automotive aftermarket that has spanned more than 40 years. Today, he is the assistant manager at O’Reilly Auto Parts store 3381 in Chicago.
Shambro’s story begins in 1977, when he purchased a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda (which he still owns today). Obsessed with his beloved Barracuda, he made so many trips to Sunnyside Parts Warehouse for replacement parts that the manager eventually asked him if he’d like to work there. Shambro took him up on the offer.
“I was pretty much an order picker at first,” Shambro recalls. “I was filling orders from dealerships, pulling fenders, tracking down crash parts.”
The employee discount wasn’t the only part of the job that appealed to him, though. “I liked the job a lot,” Shambro says. “There was a lot of camaraderie with the guys I was working with. It was a lot of fun.”
A few years later, Shambro landed a job as a counterman in the parts department of a local Chrysler dealership. Shambro saw it as a great opportunity to leverage his experience with Chrysler parts. Plus, prior to working in the aftermarket, he’d been able to enroll in some classes at a Chrysler technician-training center, thanks to a shop owner who had worked on his Barracuda.
In the early 1980s, Shambro worked at a mom-and-pop shop called Almor Auto Parts.
“I was cutting drums and rotors, pressing bearings and U-joints and cutting flywheels,” he recalls.
Shambro bounced around for a bit, working at independent and franchised parts stores. In some cases, the store closed or couldn’t afford to keep him on the payroll. For several years, when his wife, Ellie, lost her job, Shambro was working two jobs to support his family.
Through it all, he never questioned his choice of career.
“I wanted to do parts. That was always my main thing,” he says. “I enjoyed it. Back in the day, I had part numbers memorized, so I could pick them up right off the shelf without looking anything up.”
Starting in the early 1990s, Shambro spent 15 years selling aftermarket accessories and custom parts. The timing turned out to be fortuitous: When the first “Fast & Furious” movie hit U.S. theaters in 2001, it inspired a new generation of car enthusiasts – and sales of aftermarket accessories exploded.
“We made a lot of money when ‘Fast & Furious’ came out,” Shambro recalls. “I was selling nitrous kits, body graphics, spoiler kits, spoiler packages. I used to sell LED [exhaust] tips, but those didn’t last long in Chicago because of the salt.”
O’Reilly: A Great Fit
Shambro’s career has shifted into high gear since joining O’Reilly Auto Parts in 2009.
As a member of Team O’Reilly, Shambro has been able to showcase his deep parts knowledge, customer-first sales mentality and roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic. It’s been a great fit. Since he joined O’Reilly, Shambro has progressed from the role of parts specialist to retail service specialist to his current position of assistant store manager.
O’Reilly has recognized Shambro on multiple occasions for his sales achievements, and he is quick to credit O’Reilly for fostering a supportive culture that has allowed him to thrive. “They take care of you,” Shambro says of O’Reilly. “If there’s anything you need – any questions, any problems – they’re there for you. They always work with me on my schedule. And they have a great culture. We all work together, and we have each other’s back.”
That support system starts with his district Manager, Fred Perez, who accompanied Shambro to AAPEX in Las Vegas, where Babcox Media (publisher of AMN/Counterman) and WIX Filters formally presented the 2023 Counter Professional of the Year award to Shambro.
Perez agrees that O’Reilly has been an outstanding fit for Shambro, and vice-versa.
“He still has that enthusiasm for O’Reilly,” Perez adds. “Randy lives by our cultural values. He believes in them and he talks about them all the time.”
O’Reilly store 3381 is located at 7250 West Foster Ave. in Chicago. A lifelong Chicagoan, Shambro has been selling parts in that neighborhood since the early 1980s. He’s known some of his current customers for 30-plus years.
Over the years, parts stores have come and gone, and vehicle technology has taken a quantum leap. But Shambro’s approach to customer service is timeless.
“It’s about putting in the time, getting to know the customers and building those relationships,” he explains. “You take care of the customer, answer whatever questions they have and make sure you get them the right stuff at the right time so they don’t have to make another trip back to the store. You go out to their car if they want to show you something or if they need something. You go the extra mile. And after a while, they start asking for you.
“It’s about taking care of the customers. That’s pretty much all I do.”
When it comes to taking care of customers – making sure they have what they need to complete the job the first time – Shambro sets the standard within the store and throughout the district, according to Perez.
“Let’s say a customer is looking for a new battery,” Perez explains. “Before selling them a brand-new battery, he’s going to ask some questions, and he’ll probably go out and test the battery, the alternator or the starter. Before he sells anything, he’ll try to diagnose the problem to make sure they have the part they need to do the job right. No sense selling a battery if it’s going to come back.”
One of the hallmarks of a Counter Professional of the Year is consistently going above and beyond for the customer. That’s standard practice for Shambro, who often visits customers after clocking out. Mike Ignoffo, owner of Iggy’s Muffler in Norridge, Illinois, has been a beneficiary of Shambro’s willingness to go the extra mile when needed.
“He does it all the time, to be honest with you,” Ignoffo says. “If he doesn’t have a part on hand, he says, ‘Let me see who has it.’ He finds it as fast as he can and he gets it here.”
Ignoffo is one of those customers in the neighborhood who has known Shambro for decades.
“I trust him,” Ignoffo says. “A lot of times I’ll ask him [about a part] and he’ll say, ‘This works fine. We’ve been using it a long time; I’ve tried it and it always works out.’”
With more than 40 years of experience in the parts business, it might be tempting for Shambro to rest on his laurels, especially when it comes to training and education. However, that’s not the case. “It seems like his motto is to try to learn something new everyday,” says Perez.
To stay current with the latest automotive technology, Shambro maintains his ASE P2 certification and his O’Reilly CPP (Certified Parts Professional) designation.
Perez emphasizes that Shambro is always eager to share that knowledge and expertise with other employees.
“Randy is a great mentor,” Perez says. “He coaches all the new team members who come aboard, and he leads by example.”
The qualities that make Shambro a model co-worker are the same ones that drive him to provide outstanding customer service on a day-to-day basis, according to Perez.
“He doesn’t just care about the customers – he cares about everybody in general,” Perez explains. “He wants to help anybody in any way that he possibly can. He’s the kind of guy who sacrifices a lot. He’s willing to change schedules for somebody who needs to have a certain day off. He not only helps out at this store when we’re shorthanded, but he’ll help out other stores that need help if somebody calls off. It’s the way he is. It’s in his heart. It’s the way he was built, in a manner of speaking.”
It also helps that Shambro has found his calling. There’s a well-worn Chinese proverb – attributed to Confucius – that goes like this: “Choose a job that you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” That certainly applies to Shambro.
“I love what I do,” he declares. “I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I love taking care of customers.”
So what’s next for Randy Shambro?
At 66, Shambro says he isn’t quite ready to retire just yet, although he considers the Counter Professional of the Year award to be the crowning achievement of a long and rewarding career.
Recently, someone asked him if he planned to ease into retirement, perhaps as a part-time delivery driver. It’s fairly common to see older, semi-retired parts pros take part-time jobs as delivery drivers. But Shambro doesn’t see that as a viable option. “I’m a counter guy – I’m not a driver,” Shambro says. “I’ll do this until I can’t do it anymore. That’s how much I enjoy it.”