NAPA stores service diverse market

Troy, Mo.—When he’s not overseeing his four NAPA Auto Parts stores in Troy, Warrenton, Elsberry, and Wentzville, Owner Bob Adams can often be found assisting customers behind the counter.

Whether it’s for retail or wholesale customers, it’s what he’s enjoyed most about being in the business since 1975, and it reflects his commitment to servicing his customers in the northwest St. Louis-metro area.

Although most of the focus is on wholesale business, about 30 percent of his sales are retail, Adams said, and it is an area he has grown.

“NAPA has come a long way in getting competitive prices,” he said. “I think that is a segment of the business that has a lot of potential to have the largest growth. We try to keep our sales areas fresh; we keep them priced, and we rotate our planograms to keep them current. When a customer walks in, our counter people are trained to greet them within 30 seconds or so. I think that’s the biggest thing, is to give them the attention they’re due.”

The clean, bright, and spacious retail showroom in the 12,000-square-foot Troy store illustrates the company’s versatility in meeting the needs of varying market segments, including agricultural; heavy-duty; paint, body, and equipment, including several Martin Senour mixing systems; and tools and equipment.

“It’s our biggest advantage,” Adams said. “We’re strong in automotive, we’re strong in heavy-duty, and we’re strong in ag. Everybody has brake pads for a Chevy Impala, but not everybody has parts for a John Deere tractor, or is even able to look them up.”

When Adams expanded the Tools and Equipment line in March, he didn’t just dip his toe into the water. Out front are three large vertical air compressors, ranging from a 60-gallon single-stage to a large-capacity 80-gallon, two-stage compressor. He had lost sales on a compressor before by not having one in stock to replace a shop customer’s broken-down one, he said, and he wanted a full tool and equipment line displayed out front to show his commitment to the segment.

Sales took off immediately, he said, and the placement of everyday and specialty tools by the sales counter encourages browsing by customers.

Programs, distribution focus on wholesale market

The bread and butter of Adams’ operation, though, is in wholesale. Adams got his start in the parts business working evenings and weekends at a NAPA Auto Parts store while in college, and then went on to work for NAPA corporate from 1983 to 2005 in various positions, including field executive and managing company-owned stores, before buying the Troy and Warrenton stores in January 2006.

Adams said he had tried calling on customers himself but soon realized he needed to focus on its operations. The father-and-son team of Randy and Nathan Verdun, respectively, are the wholesale outside salesmen calling on customers throughout his area, and their efforts have also increased the number of shops in the AutoCare program.

“We’re a huge believer in the AutoCare program,” Adams said. “We have 22 AutoCares, and I really think there’s a brotherhood between us and them that keeps us together.”

Most AutoCare shops only skim the surface of the benefits available to them through the program, Adams said, but one primary benefit they appreciate — and one they can sell to their customers — is the nationwide warranty.

“For customers living in our area and working in St. Louis, that’s a huge advantage,” Adams said. “If there’s an issue, they can have it repaired at work at no cost to them.”

Troy store is hub to three stores

Having an extensive inventory of about $2.4 million among his four stores allows for not only high fill rates, but for Adams to buy many of his NAPA parts direct from the vendor, bypassing the distribution center, he said, which saves him anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent. He’s usually buying in multiple pallet quantities, and then ships stock orders to the other stores from the Troy hub store, which has about $1.2 million in inventory.

The Wentzville store, which has about $800,000 in inventory, was the latest store acquisition, in June 2014. To serve the diverse vehicle population there, Adams said, it is now stocking parts from the OEM import parts line from the NAPA-division Altrom Group, and will also serve as a hub store for the other stores, with delivery up to three times a day.

As he looks to the future, Adams has been grooming his son, Brian, to one day take the helm. He, too, worked part-time in counter sales in the business while going to college. He is now floating manager for the company and covers days off for managers and assistant managers, Adams said.

With each store open seven days a week, it could be easy to burn out a manager, Adams said. But his goal when taking over the stores was to allow each of his managers to work only five days a week with no pay penalty.

“When you’re here, I want you to want to be here,” he said. “And it’s the business philosophy that I want reflected in dealing with our customers. Our reason for success is the people we have.”
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Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.