Adding new SKU a day keeps the competition away at Powertrain

Garden Grove, Calif.—Ron Hart, president of Powertrain Industries, said his business has seen a 20-25 percent increase in the past two years for a number of reasons, including listening to what his customers say, and adding breadth to the product line by adding a new SKU every day.

“We have about 1,500-1,600 complete driveshafts and we can make a driveshaft to customers’ specifications in 24 hours,” he said.

Hart said another factor is, four years ago he started buying other driveline shops in the local area that were a good fit.

“Now we have six Southern California locations, from San Diego to Santa Barbara, which has been part of our growth strategy on a local level,” he said.

Hart said the repair and parts side of the business often times feeds the manufacturing side of the business on a national scale because the needs of those six shops are very similar to the needs of the other shops he services.

“That makes it much easier to create new products that fit the needs of other driveline shops,” he said.

“Two years ago, we added a Virginia Beach, Va., location that does all of the manufacturing and parts shipping for us on that side of the country,” Ron’s son, Bryan Hart, vice president of marketing and business operations, said. “And it’s grown to be our number two location.”

The company also has manufacturing facilities in Springfield, Mo., and Spring, Texas, which means they can get products to customers in two days or less, he said.

“So, there are actually two sides to our business,” he said. “Our roots are still as a local driveline repair shop, started in 1968 by my father-in-law, Ron Tomlinson, who was a rep for a U-joint manufacturer out of Ohio, which we still operate.”

Hart said the owner of the vehicle can come to the counter, see Armando Elias or Danny Paz, branch manager, and get their driveshaft fixed, but auto shops and mechanics are typically who brings in the shaft from the vehicle on their lift.

The manufacturing side of the business began when Tomlinson saw a need through his customers to include driveshaft repairs and rebuilding, Hart said.

“Ron realized that sometimes you can’t just sell U-joints, you have to fix (or remanufacture) the driveshaft, and that requires welding, balancing, and special techniques that the mechanic can’t do, so he decided to open a small shop called Driveline Specialist.”

Hart said he joined the business in 1979 and started at the most difficult place to work at a driveline shop: the front counter.

“You are constantly being tested on your knowledge of the specialty you’re doing, and I had never even changed a U-joint in my life so had to learn it very quickly.”

It was a “tap dance” between working the front counter and working in the shop, he said, knocking out U-joints and balancing driveshafts.

“I actually had Bryan do the same thing,” he said. “He started out at the front counter where you have to learn your business traits.”

Before moving into management, Ron Hart spent five years in other positions, including outside sales and developing a sales program.

“About 20 years ago, my father-in-law passed away and I wound up buying the business from the family.”

In 2009, Bryan Hart came on board after graduating from Cal State San Bernardino with a major in business management and marketing.

Hart said a lot of its customers have shops that are unique, they’re not just doing Ford pickups, so from the beginning, the company has offered components and complete driveshafts for non-typical vehicles, including foreign vehicles, including those that have non-repairable units.

In the early 1970s, Hart saw an opportunity expand the product line by working with a European company to build driveshafts with replaceable U-joints for the German-built Mercury Capri that was popular in the U.S. at the time.

“The Capri really was one of the first cars that we saw, other than BMW, that had the non-replaceable U-joints,” he said. “We had a source in the U.K. to build the components with replaceable U-joints and we started importing those.”

So, Hart said he developed a database of all of the driveline shops in the U.S. at the time and sent them out a flyer announcing the new products.

“I identified about 400 shops,” he said, “and that was really the start of what has become the business model that we’ve grown into today.”

“We then added Nissan, which was Datsun at the time, then Toyota, Mazda,” he said, “and all along we did remanufacturing of Mercedes-Benz and BMW shafts, which is probably the strongest line we have.”

Today the company has expanded into a full line of products for domestic and imports, has partnered with top parts suppliers, and sells to about 1,200 driveline repair shops in the U.S. and Canada, Hart said.

“We have also developed our own Accupower Driveshaft Balancer, which we have sold to many of our customers, and includes on-site training by Brian Arvizo, our GM of production,” Bryan Hart said.

“At the end of the day you have to understand the customers’ needs and give them the right solution for their problems, not just build a driveshaft,” Ron Hart said. “It’s a specialty and not everyone is aware of the requirements in putting together a driveshaft.”

Parts & People

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