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Auto-Wares Group of Companies

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Auto-Wares Group of Companies provides automotive aftermarket parts and products and continues to grow after 40 years in business.

By Stephanie Crets

“Auto-Wares’ goal is to be our customer’s best supplier,” CEO Fred Bunting says. “We always want to do business with honesty and integrity – that’s what we’ve been built around.” Family owned and operated in the Midwest, Auto-Wares Group of Companies is focused on providing its customers with all automotive aftermarket part needs and excellent customer service. The company offers more than 1.2 million parts across 500-plus stores with more than 2,100 employees to serve its valued customers.

Bunting co-founded Auto-Wares in 1976 with Dick Collins and Wally Kocar – who are both retired now – in a small, old facility in Grand Rapids, Mich. Since then, the co-founders have grown the company into a substantial distribution network specializing in extensive inventory, product knowledge and full-service programs. “I’ve always enjoyed the auto parts business and it has been a wonderful career,” Bunting recalls.

Specialty Companies

Auto-Wares made its first acquisition in Tri-State Automotive in 1981 and started launching specialty companies to expand into more niche areas of the aftermarket industry. “Thanks to our multiple specialty companies, we have a big, broad basket to sell from,” Bunting says. That basket of hard parts lines are broadened by the following:

* Battery Specialists was created in 1982 to provide batteries and battery components for anything in automotive, marine, commercial or power sports.

* Auto Paint is a full-line, full-service paint body equipment specialist warehouse. It carries more than 100 product lines for paint and body-related items, refreshing its product line or offering a new sale every 15 days.

* Auto Performance has more than 575 different product lines to offer customers products for drag racing, circle tracks, street rods, muscle cars, trucks or engine building product parts.

* From drill bits to vehicle lifts, Auto-Wares Tool offers more than 140 lines of tools and equipment. This specialty company is a member of ATD National Tool Group to provide even more purchasing power and programs for its customers.

* A-1 Truck Parts is a member of the Heavy Duty America/Truck Pride buying group that ensures competitive pricing and complete availability of hard-to-get industrial, heavy-duty truck parts and equipment. For its customers, A-1 can turn HD flywheels, sell rebuild clutches, bend custom u-bolts and make custom hydraulic and a/c hoses of all types, while also offering all types of brake shoes and bands relined via its brake shop.

* Foreign Parts Specialists has more than 200 product lines and more than 150,000 part numbers for 25-plus foreign car manufacturers. It continues to grow as it imports and distributes original equipment (OE)-quality replacement automotive parts for the import specialty repair shop.

* Auto-Wares OE provides parts, chemicals and fluids from Motorcraft, Ford Genuine Parts and ACDelco that retailers’ customers want. This specialty company is also a Ford Authorized Distributor for Motorcraft Parts and Batteries and provides late-model coverage and OE quality products.

With so many specialties to offer its customers, Auto-Wares has grown more than 10 percent every year since its inception. Through launching new side companies, it has expanded its operations from Michigan into Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois, while also acquiring S-G Import Car Parts and United Automotive Supply and Maxi Auto Parts. “We’re always looking to grow,” Bunting says. “We’ve made a lot of acquisitions over the years. We have purchased 52 companies. We’re always looking for more and make more happen.”

Valued Customers

Auto-Wares services about 550 auto parts stores; 180 of those are company owned while the rest are independent retailers. “We also have more than 300 stores in our auto value bumper-to-bumper program and service centers,” Bunting explains. “We service about 30,000-plus commercial accounts from all different types. The independent jobber is especially important to us because 45 percent of our business goes to them. We started out selling strictly to independent jobbers, but company stores became a bigger part of our company over time as many independents exited the business.” AutoWares box

Auto-Wares has 13 distribution centers, along with 900,000 square feet of warehousing space with more than $120 million worth of inventory. That translates into more than 1100 product lines available and more than 100 lines of private-label products, including several choices for customers on major lines with 250,000 stocking part numbers and 3,200,000 interchanges. All major lines are reordered every three to five days. Thanks to this effort, Auto-Wares can ensure its customers will remain well stocked and competitive in the industry.

In 2014, Auto-Wares won the Polk Inventory Efficiency Awards, which reward outstanding aftermarket companies for process improvements relative to inventory management. “We think we’re very good at inventory management because we have to be,” Bunting says. “Managing it is very important to us. We do a good job in our customer stores and our own stores, so we have the biggest, broadest and sharpest inventory we’ve ever had.”

To ensure even better customer satisfaction, Auto-Wares uses more than 70 warehouse night delivery trucks to make 95 percent of all deliveries to its customers before they even open for business that day. To streamline processes further, Auto-Wares sells to three-step distribution, where a distributor sells directly to a store, to a two-step process, which means having products in the warehouse and selling directly to wholesale customers.

“The marketplace just dictated us to change our process,” Bunting explains. “It’s the biggest challenge we wrestle with adding two-step, wrestling with how to do that and to be fair to our long-term customers and be competitive in the marketplace. We’re trying to learn how to do it better every day.”

40 Years

Auto-Wares celebrated 40 years of success in the automotive aftermarket industry in 2016. The company threw a big bash in Lansing, Mich., for its employees, customers and vendors to celebrate everything it has accomplished. These accomplishments include the success of each specialty company; its successful acquisitions; tremendous advances in IT, which allows Auto-Wares to be state-of-the-art in inventory management and match up to anyone in the industry; and how the company has successfully blended all of its 2,100 employees together.

“I’m proud of the company we have built the last 40 years, how Auto-Wares has treated its customers, employees and vendors as friends and family and always conducting business with honesty and integrity,” Bunting says. “We’re still optimistic about the automotive aftermarket, and we think it’s a good place to do business. We think there’s more growth to be had, more acquisitions to be made and new things to learn and develop. We’re still upbeat and operating full-speed ahead on the future.”

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