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Auto parts biz expanding
O'Reilly is latest store to open on Northside in the Boro
W BIZ AUTO PARTS 02
O'Reilly Auto Parts retail service specialist Sean Etzel installs a new battery for customer Scott Waters, right, Monday. O'Reilly opened last month and is one of three auto parts stores within a quarter mile of each other on Northside Drive - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

      Even though the economy remains mired in a recession, one sector is continuing to experience steady growth. Large scale auto parts retailers are continuing to build stores, expanding into small and midsize markets across the country, including Statesboro.
      Recently, an O'Reilly Auto Parts store was opened on Northside Drive making it the fifth auto parts store in a 1.5 mile stretch of roadway. The others are NAPA, Advance Auto Parts, Mallard's, and AutoZone.

      "We have wanted to be in the Statesboro market for a number of years," said Brett Wasdin, district manager for O'Reilly Auto Parts. "Statesboro has seen steady growth, and really hasn't been as impacted by the downturn in the economy as some other areas. We feel Statesboro is a really good market."
      In the last several years, Statesboro has seen an influx of auto parts retail outlets including AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts, and now O'Reilly. According to Napa Auto Parts store owner Clyde Redding, the model for auto parts distribution is changing.
      "It used to be that most auto parts were sold by independent dealers," Redding said. "That means it was a three stage distribution process. In our case, NAPA sells the products to us, and we turn around and sell them to the customer. There are three parties involved. Now, distributors build company stores and sell directly. The price points are the same for the customers, but it is becoming a two stage process versus three."
      Redding's father J.P. Redding founded the Statesboro NAPA store in 1941. The store is now owned and operated by Clyde Redding and his brother Jimmy Redding.
      "We have been in business for almost 70 years," Redding said. "We probably have over 300 years of auto parts experience within our staff, and frankly that is the key. Computer programs and software are very helpful, but you still have to have so much product knowledge to service certain types of accounts. You have to give great customer service. That is what it is all about."
      Statesboro Advance Auto Parts general manager Ben Benique also feels that customer service is the differentiating factor.
      "You have to greet everyone with a smile regardless of what they need or how much they are going to spend," Benique said. "I have been in this business for 17 years, and it is my career. I love it. I love helping people. You need to understand your product, and be there to help."
      Benique compared his job and that of his staff to a bartender.
      "So many of our customers come in with a real problem," he said. "Something is happening with their means of transportation, and that is very serious. It affects their livelihood. So, we listen to their problems, and try to help them solve their problems as inexpensively as we can, while making sure that they have exactly what they need."
      According to both Benique and Wasdin, their stores have well over 100,000 different products in inventory.
      "We have over 165,000 different products in our Statesboro store," Wasdin said. "We tend to carry less accessories and more parts than other retailers."
      According to market analyst IBISWorld, overall revenue for the auto parts store industry eclipsed $39 billion in 2009. Bloomberg - Business & Financial news recently reported that AutoZone (NYSE: AZO), which operates more than 4,300 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico and is the country's biggest auto parts retailer, expects to add another 140 to 160 in the next 12 months. Advance Auto Parts (NYSE: AAP), the second-largest retailer of automotive replacement parts and accessories in the United States, is also in an expansion mode. It currently operates two stores in Statesboro.
      Wasdin said some of the growth in his industry can be attributed to the length of time the average consumer is keeping their automobile.
      "Ten years ago, the statistics were that the average car owner would keep their vehicle for 7.1 years," Wasdin said. "That has increased to 10.3 years. If you keep a vehicle that long, it will obviously need some maintenance, and people are trying to do some maintenance and upkeep themselves."
      Redding said he has seen a lot of change in his industry. "The mom and pop stores are less and less," he said. "Again, the key is the distribution process. Being an independent retailer, we don't have the same profit margins, but that is just the way it is. We love what we do, and have been at it for a very long time. I can't imagine doing anything else."