Rose Motor Supply beats back chain store competition with custom service
Hutchinson, Kan.—After almost a century of serving the community, Rose Motor Supply has built a reputation as the go-to place when one needs a little more assistance or a hard-to-find part than a chain auto parts store provides, Keith Rose said.
“With us being outside a metro area, there is a large demand for our services, such as making air conditioning hoses, hydraulic hoses, and air hoses, and battery cables,” he said. “Our machine shop is popular for services such as turning brake rotors and drums, grinding flywheels, hydraulic press work, and cylinder head work.”
Rose and his brother, Scott, are grandsons of Albert Herman Rose Sr., who founded the store in 1921 and moved it to its present location a few years later. They have owned the business for more than 20 years, after their father, Bill, and their uncle, A.H. “Babe” Rose Jr., passed away.
“I’ve had customers who’ve lived here and moved away to a big city,” Rose said, “and they come back after 10-12 years and say, ‘There’s no real parts houses in the big cities.’ I’ve heard that many times from various customers.”
The store has doubled in size in the past 20 years to its current 150-foot by 150-foot storefront in downtown “Hutch,” as the locals call it, the wide showroom providing ample space for tools and equipment, from Crescent wrenches to specialty automotive tools and air compressors. Tools and equipment now make up about 40 percent of Rose’s inventory, he said, and he also does a brisk trade with railroads and construction companies, with all types of fasteners, including nuts and bolts, also being a popular draw.
“People are just amazed if they haven’t been in a store like ours,” Rose said. “We really try to have the product on the shelf when the customer comes through our door the first time.” The brothers divide their duties much as their father and uncle did, with Scott working mostly behind the scenes with keeping the books and ordering parts, and Keith being the main face of the company at the counter.
“We have a lot of customers who do things the traditional way,” Rose said. “They tell us what they want, we look it up, bill it out, and send it over to them. But more and more shops are ordering their own parts online.”
Rose said his main supplier, Auto Plus in Kansas City, offers online parts lookup and ordering to his shop customers.
“Our customers can log on and look parts up and see our inventory, and they can also see Auto Plus’ inventory in Kansas City and Mason City [Iowa],” Rose said. “We have quite a few customers doing that.”
Rose admits he feels some pressure of the buying and marketing power of big-name chain stores, but the store has carved out its niche of providing expert service, with a staff of 10 that boasts a tenure of between 20 and 40 years of experience, except for Rose’s son, Ethan, who at 21 is now the fourth generation in the business and has worked on the counter for three or four years.
Moreover, he said, his business feels the pinch of local cyclical economic conditions.
“We have enough diversity between farm, industry, individuals, and shops, that we usually stay pretty busy,” he said. “The farm economy affects us more, I think. The farm economy was really good for four or five years, but in the last couple years it hasn’t been, and it’s affected everything around Hutch, for sure, although I’m sure it’s more widespread than that.
“With us being independent, we deal mostly with Auto Plus, but we buy quite a bit from Jobbers Automotive in Wichita, and Warehouse Inc. in Hays. Those are our three main sources.”
Rose said it could be tricky to predict what inventory is needed without Auto Plus’ help. Over time, he has ordered less direct, and relied more on daily stock order deliveries, which also ease the burden of not having to stock 10 pieces of a part that may not sell quickly.
“We’re kind of known for having older stuff, too, so we’re more apt to keep something than send it back,” he said. “But Auto Plus has been good about taking [slow-moving or obsolete inventory] back.”
The parts strategy fits in with being a problem-solver for his customers, Rose said.
“People know if they need something — such as a water pump — for a piece of farm machinery that was built out of something else and they’re not really sure what the motor is out of, they can bring the pieces in and we’ll match it up,” he said. “We don’t always succeed, but more times than not we do, whereas a lot of places wouldn’t even try that; they’d say, ‘Go to Rose.’ That all takes time, and it’d be much easier to just be selling popular parts all day long and not having to match things up and make things work. But that’s kind of what we do.”