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Growing The Family Business: Charlie Crouse

For the cover story for the August issue of AMN/Counterman, Editor Amy Antenora spoke with several young aftermarket professionals stepping into leadership roles at their family-owned businesses.

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In Part 2 of our series, we share the story of Charlie Crouse, owner of TBA & Oil Warehouse Inc. in Indianapolis.

Charlie Crouse purchased TBA & Oil Warehouse Inc., based in Indianapolis, from his father 12 years ago. He is the third generation to lead TBA, which opened in 1956. The business, which boasts nine locations and 120 employees, supplies parts, oils, chemicals, tools and equipment to automotive repair facilities such as independent repair centers, fleets, fleet maintenance companies and automotive dealerships.

Maintaining a familial atmosphere is one of the primary tenets of TBA, so much so that they post it right on the company’s website, where it reads:

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“We don’t just have customers, we have partners. We ask our Customer Partners to openly communicate with us regarding any problem – big or small – regarding quality, service, or price. Our small-business intimacy, and the ever-evolving focus on the needs of our Customer Partners, gives TBA insight to understand our partner’s needs. It is somewhat of a collegial atmosphere, where we grow together and continually learn how to serve you better.”

Crouse says basic family values such as kindness and respect are key to his business strategy, whether he’s working with employees, customers or vendors. “We try to be centric around our core values, our mission and our vision,” Crouse says. “We realize that we are all individuals, and we try to do best what we are best at, which is not everything.”

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As a young leader, Crouse says a nimble leadership style and maintaining personal connections are among the ways he tries to maintain the culture his father, uncle and grandfather (Kim, Carl and Bob, respectively) created at TBA.

“We still are personable with every single one of our employees, are available in our office and on the phone daily for anybody, including our customers and vendors, and can react very quickly because we have a lack of hierarchy in our company and culture,” he says.

When faced with a challenge, Crouse says he has a number of great resources – both inside and outside of the family business – that he taps into when it comes to leadership advice: “Certainly my father, who has been in the business for over 40 years, my business partner and friend Ryan Wrege, my wife and my YPO Peer Group.”

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YPO, known as the Young Presidents Group, gives Crouse a different take on things, he says. “It brings a different perspective to me that I can bring back to my business all of the time,” Crouse said.

Crouse also counts the company’s membership in the Automotive Parts Services Group (The Group) and the Aftermarket Warehouse Distributors Association (AWDA) as another strong resource to tap into. “The Group helps us differentiate and be competitive in our industry. Our vendor partners educate us on what we should stock and how to go to market. We are a member of AWDA and I am on the Board of Governors, which is an amazing resource [not just] for myself as a leader, but our company and our industry,” he says.

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With the somewhat volatile job market today, Crouse says giving employees a real feeling of belonging, keeping them involved and in the loop, is key. Boiled down simply, this is his formula for employee satisfaction: “A true feeling of being a part of a team, being thanked and heard, the reward of compensation, and the understanding of where we want to go as an independently owned company.

“We have to educate, communicate and advocate for our team to work at the level demanded by our industry today. We, however, still emphasize how we act and react as family business,” he adds.

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