Standing tall in the fluids market
Lake Oswego, Ore.—From an urban setting near downtown Portland, General Automotive Supply Co. relocated to a quiet residential/commercial neighborhood in 2015 and has continued healthy growth, even though the company is some distance from its longtime location.
Founded in 1946 by Benjamin and Frieda Cohen, the grandparents of current owner and president, Jason Altman, the company today has its fifth generation family member, Zach Altman, Jason’s son.
“In the beginning, my great-grandfather was the bookkeeper, so we have quite a family tradition here at General,” Altman said.
At a Glance:
- Warehouse size: 60,000 SF
- Inventory: Exceeds $1 million
- SKUs: 20,000-plus
With the move south to Lake Oswego, Altman said he was able to secure a substantially larger facility to house large inventories of virtually all types of oils, fluids, chemicals, lubricants, waxes, greases, and related products. Many of those products, such as engine oils, hydraulic fluids, antifreeze, exhaust fluids, solvents, and other products arrive by the truck load. “We have dozens of pallets of some products at any given time, as we sell large quantities of products like Delo and Valvoline.
While General stocks more than 200 product lines, about 20,000 SKUs, most of the sales involve “consumables,” Altman said. All products are barcoded and scanned to better control inventories and allow for more efficient order fulfillment.
Over the years, most hard part lines have been sold off, but there are lines that do well, including Trico wiper blades, Reese hitches, Equus gauges, Gorilla Glue, safety products, K&N filters, paint, gas cans (sell hundreds each month), Wilmar Tools, RV products, brake lines, Deka/East Penn batteries, and more. The company recently added brand Pico of electrical wiring components to its product line.
With some 800 customers in his data base, Altman said they service a variety of accounts throughout Oregon, Washington, plus Idaho and California, including automotive jobbers, retailers, hardware stores, truck stops, municipalities, and specialty accounts. With three outside sales staff, a wide territory is covered in Oregon and Washington states. General provides daily delivery to the greater Portland and Vancouver areas, plus Salem, Albany and points south twice a week, and north to Chehalis and Longview two times a week. “Plus we ship hundreds of packages a week via LTL trucks.”
The most popular fluid product sold by General is diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). “We are at the point of receiving two truckloads of DEF each month and will likely see an increase in that in the near future,” Altman said. “We average 2,000 2.5 gallon unit sales a month, not including our 5-gallon and 55-gallon drums sales. Chevron DELO is now over 6,000 sales of the gallon products a month, but we also sell 5-gallon containers and 55-gallon drums. In addition to Chevron, Valvoline and our private-label Pronto brand are big sellers, plus we sell specialty brands such as Lucas Oil and Red Line.”
In the past two years, Altman said General has expanded the Valvoline program, which includes motor oils, gear oil, and greases. “We also began carrying cleaning solvent and have it available in gallons, 5-gallon pails, and 55-gallon drums.”
Washer fluids and hydraulic fluids are also top sellers, as is Technical Chemical Co. products that include brake cleaner, brake and power steering fluids, and R134a A/C refrigerant. “Hydraulic fluid is huge for us and we generally carry 35 pallets with some 1,500 buckets in stock,” Altman said.
Another popular product is Power Punch oil treatment. “Power Punch has been one of our most popular brands for years, and when the company became available I purchased it in 2017. General buys the same as any of the company’s distributors so we don’t disturb the market.”
While Altman was raised in the warehouse distributor side of the aftermarket, and began full time at General in 1990 (sole owner in 2014), he also has a good grasp on the jobber business. He has owned an auto parts store inn Castle Rock, Wash., for years, and purchased the long established Stuart’s Auto Supply store in Salem, Ore., on June 1.
For decades, Altman was active in the former Oregon Automotive Parts Association (OAPA) and was that group’s last president in 2005-2006 as OAPA merged into the Northwest Automotive Trades Association (NATA).
“The fluids/chemicals/oils market has been flourishing over the past several years, and I am hopeful it will remain so,” Altman said, noting that diesel fluid products are booming with increased diesel-equipped vehicle sales. “We added a lot of new products in the past few years and it’s fun to see each of the lines growing.
“I love our customers and vendors; without then we would not be here today. Next year will be our 75th anniversary, and my grandmother’s 100th birthday, so we will celebrate throughout the year and have an open house and trade show at the warehouse.”