Partners for the long haul
Littleton, Colo.–It wasn’t necessarily Corey Swift’s plan to partner with O’Reilly’s Auto Parts when he started his shop in a two-bay garage in 1997. In fact, the only thing on his mind at that time was making his first rent payment. But he knew he needed a parts and equipment supplier that would work with him, as he had no credit and couldn’t take out any loans.
As an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store – at that time still branded as Checkers Auto Parts – was the closest to his shop, that was his first call, and with it, not only did he set into motion the makings of a profitable partnership with O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, but he also laid the foundation of a friendship with his future service manager, Gary Rice, that has seen the shop through good times and bad.
“Gary picked up the phone in 1997 and that was the start of our relationship,” Swift said. “In 2008, he finally decided to come work for me with the understanding that one day he’d buy the business.”
The relationship between the two would see the shop through one of its most difficult times as tragedy struck one month before Rice was scheduled to start when Swift’s wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and he proceeded to take one year and three months off to care for her. “Gary was thrown right into the middle of the flames,” Swift said.
As Rice had been a long-time employee at O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, the partnership between the two companies only grew stronger as he managed the business during Swift’s absence and in 2013 Swift Automotive moved into a new, 8,000-square-foot facility with seven lifts, two open service bays and one alignment bay. The shop now averages 350 cars per month with an ARO of approximately $350, and employs two ASE Master-certified and three ASE-certified technicians, and two service advisors.
The partnership with O’Reilly’s continues and the shop is now a Certified Auto Repair member, which Swift said has far-reaching benefits, not the least of which is the nationwide 2-year/ 24,000-mile warranty on parts and labor the shop is able to offer customers as well as kick-backs on parts and equipment purchases, marketing support and continuous training.
“In this business you are learning all the time,” Swift said. “O’Reilly’s offers management and technical training courses four times per year, all of which we attend.”
Rice added that the quality of O’Reilly’s Auto Parts has increased as the company has brought on new lines, geared towards servicing its wholesale customers. “They have diversified their parts lines and the quality has increased immensely. I think the focus of the company has changed, somewhat, to cater to the commercial side of the business.”
Swift added that the exceptional service has been the mainstay and the reason the shop has stuck with O’Reilly’s as its main supplier
“Just because a new supplier opens up and wants to give me 10-percent off on everything it sells doesn’t mean it’s the smartest option. What’s the service going to be?” Swift said. “Bottom line, you have to go with the suppliers who are going to take care of you. Not once have I made a phone call to O’Reilly’s Auto Parts with a problem and had them say, ‘Sorry, you’re on your own,’ which is why we’ve stuck with them.”
Modern communication – modern organizational culture
The land line isn’t dead, but Gary Rice said he’s using it less and less, both for ordering parts and communicating with customers on a daily basis.
“We order 98 percent of our parts online through the Mitchell 1 ordering system,” Gary Rice said, adding that OE franchise dealerships are beginning to catch up with easy-to-use online ordering interfaces, but are still lagging when compared with the aftermarket.
Swift Automotive has its aftermarket suppliers’ inventories uploaded into Mitchell 1 for quick, seamless ordering. Beyond O’Reilly’s, the shop relies on WORLDPAC, NAPA, American Tire Distributors (ATD) and Factory Motorparts (FMP), as well as franchise dealerships for parts. The shop also uses the Mitchell 1 software to communicate with customers – its service advisors have the ability to text and email directly through the program.
“If you’re always on the phone with your parts suppliers, how many phone calls are you missing from your customers?” Swift said. “We probably talk to 50 percent of our customers every day without speaking to them on the phone – it’s text or email, especially with Millennials.”
Internally, the shop has worked hard to retain its employees with an open communication model and by offering employees a flexible vacation schedule.
“We offer paid vacation and holidays,” Swift said. “But, for a small business, it’s also got to be a family-like work environment. I’ll never ask one of my guys to do something I wouldn’t do myself.”
He added that the shop has an employee barbecue every Thursday, hosts an annual holiday party and puts on a car show event for employees and customers each year in August.
The shop also supports its employees with all the shop tools necessary to do a job correctly. It uses Mitchell 1 informational databases, as well as Identifix, Motologic, AllData, and Snap-on SureTrack and pays for the monthly subscription for its Snap-on Verus scan tool to ensure it’s updated with the latest information. Recent purchases at the shop include new AAMCO Coats tire machines, new Challenger lifts for five of its seven bays, and an “on-car” ProCut brake lathe. He sources most of his equipment through O’Reilly’s Auto Parts because of the price-break incentives he’s able to claim as a certified member.