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An Interview With NAPA’s Russell Paroff, The 2014 Counter Professional Of The Year, Sponsored By WIX Filters

Paroff has worked the counter at his NAPA store since 1995, but his love of cars began in high school when he pumped gas at a full-service station in 1989.

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WIX Filters, a global manufacturer of filtration products celebrating its 75th anniversary, and Counterman magazine named Russell Paroff of NAPA Auto Parts in Grand Rapids, Mich., the 2014 “Counter Professional of the Year” at the AWDA conference on Nov. 3 in Las Vegas.

Paroff has worked the counter at his NAPA store since 1995, but his love of cars began in high school when he pumped gas at a full-service station in 1989.

From there, he worked his way into the garage and has been a part of the industry ever since. “It’s something that I live and breathe,” Paroff said. “It’s not just a job; it’s a passion for me. This is an ever-changing industry where each day brings me new challenges. To be recognized for my efforts and all of the hard work I have put into my career is an exceptional honor.”

Paroff holds ASE certifications in service consulting, engine repair, suspension and steering, brakes and automobile parts.

In winning Counter Professional of the Year, he received an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas to attend AAPEX and SEMA. Nelson Piquet Jr., driver of the No. 07 SH Racing Rallycross Ford Fiesta ST, was the keynote speaker at the “Night of Excellence” dinner hosted by Babcox Media on Monday, Nov. 3 during the 2014 AWDA conference in Las Vegas, where Paroff was recognized.

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Counterman recently sat down with Paroff to interview him about his career and what makes a successful parts professional.

How did you find yourself in the automotive aftermarket?
I would like to say by accident. When I moved to Michigan, I found a job working at a full-service gas station/garage. I would watch the technicians repairing cars and they taught me how to do light service. As I learned, they would have me help and they would teach me more. In less than a year, I was state-certified in brake repair and engine repair. A position opened up and I moved up to being a mechanic.

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I had always admired the parts people (the good ones) I dealt with. I started to think I would like to sell parts rather than work on cars. Being young and carefree, I decided to try it. I started to apply with parts companies around town. It wasn’t long and I accepted a position the NAPA store that serviced the garage I worked at. I started as a driver and quickly moved up. Counter sales, wholesale sales, wholesale store manager, assistant store manager and, for the past 13 years, store manager. The only two positions I have not held title to are cashier and machinist.
What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
Diversity. Every day is different. Helping people, whether it’s a customer or an employee. As a manager, I can spend my time in the office doing paperwork, out on the counter helping a retail customer, training an employee or even lending a hand in our machine shop. Every day seems to be unique. While some things are done on a routine basis, something new always seems to arise every day.

How you keep up-to-date on the latest technologies?
Training, and that doesn’t always come from a class. I listen to customers both retail and wholesale. I talk to technicians about trends they see. The Internet has become a great resource for learning as well as reading trade publications. When I sell a part, I always open the box and look at it. As new items come out, if I do not know their purpose, I will research and find out what that widget does.

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What advice would you give someone who may be new to this industry?
Hang on and get ready for some fun! I would have to encourage them to never let their guard down, not just to be ready for change, but to be prepared and expect it. It has been just shy of 20 years that I have been in the aftermarket parts side of the industry and I have seen more changes in the past six years than in the previous 14 years. Technology changes, supplier changes, the way the repairs are performed. It is an exciting industry to watch evolve. Not only do we need to embrace the changes, but we have to educate our employees and our customers to the changes as well.

What qualities are most important in running a successful automotive aftermarket parts operation?
Flexibility, confidence, honesty and trustworthiness, pride, dedication, hard work, willingness to help and patience also all come in to play. I am certain I missed others. Flexibility jumps out the most though — you never know what the next customer might want, need or expect. You have to be ready and be ready to react.

Why is it important to you to be ASE certified?
Being certified has different meanings to everyone. To me, I take pride in what I do. By being certified, I am showing that pride and dedication to my customers, co-workers and employees. Not everyone understands what being ASE certified is, but it is an acknowledgement of my knowledge. It is showing that I care about what I do and that I am proud of what I do. ASE does not stop with the passing of a test. They promote continuing education and seek ways to keep current and up-to-date themselves.

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