Todd Carpenter knew he wanted to learn as much as possible about the automotive aftermarket parts business when he started working in his father’s NAPA store in Minnesota at age 13.
A few, older parts pros could immediately retrieve parts, with the numbers on top of their minds, without consulting a catalog.
“I was just utterly amazed at the information that these guys sucked in,” Carpenter said. “People would walk into the store and ask for parts and a guy would never look up parts. I was just amazed at the knowledge these guys possessed in their heads.”
So, as he swept floors and put away freight, his thirst for knowledge grew. “I started digging in and wanted to learn the numbers,” he said. “I wanted to be these guys.”
These days, for Carpenter, it’s not just about learning parts numbers. It’s the bigger reason he continues to seek out ongoing training today: “If you don’t follow up and take the training, you’re lost. You’ll look like a deer in the headlights.”
For all his work over the years, in addition to his relentless pursuit of continuing education, Carpenter is the 2011 Counter Professional of the Year, sponsored by Affinia, WIX and Raybestos brake and chassis. As part of the Counter Professional of the Year award program, Carpenter and his spouse received an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas to attend AAPEX, as well as receiving industry recognition at the Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association (AWDA) luncheon and a special industry invitation-only dinner.
CONTINUING TO LEARN
Carpenter has racked up more than 460 courses within the NAPA training system over the years. He was 33 years of experience in the parts business.
In his entry for Counter Professional of the Year, Carpenter was asked what he believed to be an important issue facing the automotive aftermarket. “With all the new technologies and ever-changing regulations, anyone in this industry, especially the aftermarket, cannot survive without constant training,” he wrote. “Even the most seasoned parts counter person, or mechanic for that matter, cannot keep up with all the new updates. Our service is the key to keeping the aftermarket successful. I believe anyone can look up a part on the computer, but is it the right part? Knowledge of automotive systems, parts descriptions, and how they function are the most important parts of being a true parts professional.”
In the mid to late 1980s, Carpenter worked in an auto parts store with a salvage yard attached to it. “That was probably the best learning experience I’ve ever had in my life,” he recalls. “For example, you started learning about what fits what and knowing that every GM car isn’t the same but every starter for a 308 is the same.”
“It’s not so much the part numbers but knowing that a part that does the same function can have five different names to it,” Carpenter said. “Unless you know how it functions, you’re lost.”
He has dedicated his career to being the best counter professional he can be. And he’s been hard at work keeping the bar high. He holds ASE’s P2, P3, P9 and C1 certifications and is in the process of becoming AIA certified. He is enrolled in the Automotive Parts Technology program at Alfred State University.
Currently, he is manager at a NAPA store in Pocatello, Idaho, at a location owned by the Dyson Group, which is comprised of 17 stores and five NAPA Integrated Business Solutions (IBS) systems.
He received the national 2011 NAPA/ASE Parts Specialist of the Year Award. It’s the 12th time the recognition has been awarded by NAPA. He is an Anoka Area Vocational Technical Institute (Minnesota) graduate in the automotive repair field. He’s also an Altrom Import Parts Specialist; NAPA Echlin Master Counterperson and Standard Motor Parts Master Counterperson.
In bestowing the NAPA award, one of the Carpenter’s customers had this to say:
“He portrays a professionalism second to none. His knowledge of the automotive industry always seems to amaze me, never asking unneeded questions. I appreciate how he has mentored his employees to improve the overall professionalism and service of the entire store through his leadership. We’ve done business with the local NAPA auto parts location for over 30 years and in our experience, the service has never been better than with Todd as manager.”
For Bob Dyson, owner of the Dyson Group, which owns the store Carpenter manages, that’s no surprise. “There’s an inner drive in him to want to help other people,” Dyson said. “Todd’s a training nut. I think he’s done every NAPA training seminar offered. He just has the need, the drive to learn something new and continue learning. He’s not one to stop learning. He wants to grow personally, as well as help the company grow.”
Each one of Dyson’s 17 NAPA stores is set up as an entrepreneurial enterprise, Dyson said. “We’re constantly trying to push our store managers to that top level. We say ‘yes, you need to train. You need to embrace it,” he said. “Todd did it on his own.”
WHAT’S IT TAKE?
First and foremost, a counter professional has to have a passion for the job, Carpenter believes. “They have to have a passion for the automobile industry. They have to want to learn in the first place. If they don’t have it, there will be roadblocks. Some guys are made to be doctors, some are made to be lawyers and some are made to be parts guys.”
It must run in the family. Having come into the business through his father’s NAPA store, Carpenter’s son now wants to join the industry. “I told him not to look at a car as a whole but look at it in bits and pieces,” Carpenter said. “The new guy coming into the business should look at it that a car can be broken down and understand how each of those pieces works. That makes it easier to understand how to sell the parts.”
While he feels counterpros don’t necessarily need a mechanical background to be successful, “knowing how the systems work is important. It helps a lot. It will help you in the long run making the sale to someone.”
Carpenter describes his management style as one that begins with him and his duties. “I treat everybody who works for me the same. I don’t pick and choose favorites. I don’t say ‘you do what I say.’ I clean toilets, I run deliveries. If I’m going to do it and I have a million other things to do, I expect you to do it. If you do your job and do the best you can, I won’t complain. I’m just looking for an effort. I’m not looking for miracles.
“I look at other people and their abilities and want to be able to do the things they can do,” Carpenter said. “I want to be the best I can be in the business.
Counter Professional of the Year Finalists
It’s not easy to sift through the countless Counter Professional of the Year nominations each year and choose a single recipient. Counterpros are constantly raising the bar. Each year, the staff of Counterman magazine identifies those who are worthy of recognition. For 2011, Todd Carpenter, manager of a NAPA store in Pocatello, Idaho, was chosen as recipient of the Counter Professional of the Year award, sponsored by Affinia, WIX and Raybestos brake and chassis.
Here is a look at those who made it to the final round.
Mike Sheldon began his aftermarket parts career more than 23 years ago, as a driver right out of high school. He takes pride in concentrating on customer service and customer relations.
When asked his opinion on the three biggest issues facing the automotive aftermarket, Sheldon cites the business management acumen of smaller shop owners. “Too often our customers are excellent mechanics, but fall behind when it comes to growing their business,” he said. “I would like to see our industry spend as much time training our customers on business management skills as we do training them on the latest vehicle technologies.”
He also said he believes the aftermarket needs to do a better job of disseminating new vehicle technology information to all.
Lastly, he believes the public still maintains a negative view of technicians. “We, the industry as a whole, need to work harder to promote the professionalism of our mechanics and the fairness of their business practices,” he wrote. “Today, many technicians are college educated with certifications on many different makes. However, the public still has a negative perception of mechanics and sometimes a lack of trust in their ethics.”
Eagle River, Wis.
Skip Bueschel began his career in the automotive aftermarket more than 33 years ago when he began turning wrenches right out of high school. “In 1986, I was recruited to join the parts business. Since then, I have worked my tail off locating parts for my customers,” he wrote. “I often tell them there isn’t anything that can’t be found or made to get the job done.”
In 2005, Bueschel was selected by Automotive Parts Headquarters as store manager of the year. “My favorite part about being a manager is setting and reaching goals,” he wrote. “With the right mindset anyone can accomplish anything.”
Bueschel feels the biggest issues facing the industry are technician training, parts proliferation and alternative fuel vehicles. “As vehicles become more complicated, we need to do a better job of educating our No. 1 customers — automotive technicians,” he wrote. “If they are unable to work on a repair, we are unable to sell them the parts for that repair, leading to more business for the OEs.”
“Parts proliferation continues to be a hot subject throughout the aftermarket. Once upon a time, one part would fit multiple models. Now, you are lucky if that same part fits multiple years,” he wrote. “Lastly, alternative fuel vehicles are the wave of the future. The aftermarket needs to be at the forefront of this cutting-edge technology. Training classes and webinars are great, but we need to do more to be proactive and gain more hands-on experience with this drastic change in the market.”
Dennis Wood’s colleague, Anton Parisi, submitted a nomination on his behalf. “He has been the top counter person in this location for over 20 years,” he wrote. “All our customers within 15 miles all count on Dennis to get them what they need. He is the catalyst that drives this high-paced store.”
Wood’s location has four full-time and one part-time counter people working at the store. “When the phone rings, I would say at least 75 to 80 percent of the calls are for Dennis,” Parisi wrote. “His knowledge is unsurpassed. He is also very fast at what he does. He averages 120 to 150 invoices per day.”
Wood is constantly staying up to date with the latest training, including NAPA’s in-house educational opportunities.