Contrary to popular belief, the strongest distributors are not necessarily traded on Wall Street.
There are those in the market who long for days gone by for those halcyon days I keep hearing about when independently owned stores and WDs could still make a buck in this business.
Many believe that the days of the independent are gone, that the true future of the parts distribution business is among those giant Wall-Street controlled conglomerates that populated the February issues Super Stores list.
In fact, one reader wrote me to complain that our Super Stores list included too many publically held, mega-companies. Where are the family-owned and independent businesses that used to be the very foundation of this business? the reader lamented.
And thats exactly the point of our Super Stores list: Theyre still here.
This readers comment illustrates a great misconception in the industry: That large and small independently owned WDs and store groups are a dying breed. This is hardly the case. Large and small independent stores, store groups and WDs are alive and doing very well in the aftermarket. For every AutoZone, Advance or CSK, there are scores of family owned and independent WDs and store groups that dominate their respective markets, regardless of mass-merchant penetration.
Case in point: I recently attended the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance convention, held in the Alliances hometown of San Antonio, TX. The Alliance is so-called because it is a somewhat recent combination of All Pro, Bumper to Bumper and Auto Value program groups. Collectively, the Alliance has some very strong and influential members.
Of course, some are large, publically held companies like OReilly, which we listed at the number 5 spot in our Super Stores list. But there are others that maintain their independence from Wall Street without giving up their market prowess. Im thinking about such Alliance members as Replacement Parts in Little Rock, AR, with 130 stores and four DCs. On our Super Stores list, theyre in the top 10 at number 9. Then theres number 14 Parts Depot, which boasts 90 stores and 18 DCs. How about Hahn Automotive Warehouse, Auto-Wares, Auto Parts Headquarters and Midwest Auto Parts Dist., which among them operate 266 stores and 31 DCs? All are family-owned or privately held. There are other strong independent distributors in the market outside the Alliance family too: Murrays, BWP, Fisher, Straus-Frank and MAWDI. Even giant GPI is privately held. All told, of the 20 WDs on our Super Stores list, only six are publically held: AutoZone, Advance, GPC, CSK, OReilly and Pep Boys.
And, of course, for every one of these large distributors, there are literally thousands of strong one-, two- or three-location stores. In fact, I had martinis with some of them during the Alliance meeting. These are savvy business owners who know how to run a successful distributorship. I guarantee they will be strong and profitable for a long, long time. These stores continue to be the very solid foundation of aftermarket distribution.