By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
The U.S. auto parts industry is in good shape, having pulled in $41 billion in sales last year.
In Tupelo, Mid South Auto Supply is carving out its own piece of the market.
Charlie Kinney, the company’s president, owns four NAPA Auto Parts stores in Northeast Mississippi – Tupelo, Baldwyn, Booneville and Corinth – and another in Jackson, Tenn.
And he’s looking for more.
“I think we can grow to 15 or 20 stores,” he said.
Kinney also looks to expand the Tupelo operations, building a new facility to serve as a redistribution center to his stores.
More than 21,000 auto parts stores are scattered across the country, employing more than 316,000 people, according to IBISWorld.
There’s plenty of competition in Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi, too, but Kinney said Mid South stands out with its NAPA affiliation.
“We’re also the only locally owned auto parts store in Tupelo,” Kinney said. “You’re dealing with people you know and not some corporate office.”
Recently, the Tupelo NAPA store was named the “Store of the Year” for NAPA’s Memphis distribution center, which serves more than 180 stores in five states. The Tupelo location was picked over nine other finalists representing Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.
And earlier this year, Mid South Auto Supply won the “5-Star Award of Excellence” from NAPA, its highest honor.
Kinney said all the recognition is a reflection of his company’s 50 employees.
“One of the biggest things we have going is that we have good people,” Kinney said. “Our staff really cares about helping our customers and that makes a huge difference. With our strong team, our business will continue to grow.”
Michael Addison, who heads outside sales for Mid South Auto Supply, said experience and consistency are key factors.
“For example, in our Tupelo store, there’s not a person who has less than 20 years of experience,” he said. “We have people who know parts and service.”’
And it helps to have a strong brand to rely on.
NAPA is part of the Automotive Parts Group, the largest division of Atlanta-based Genuine Parts Co.
GPC, founded in 1928, also has an industrial replacement parts division, an office products segment and an electrical/electronic materials business.
The company posted record sales and earnings in 2012, with sales increasing 4.5 percent to $13 billion and net income rising 15 percent to $648 million. The Automotive Parts Division accounted for $6.3 billion of sales.
Genuine has the third-largest market share of the auto parts industry in the U.S., behind Advance Auto Parts and AutoZone. O’Reilly Automotive is fourth.
For Kinney, there’s no better choice than NAPA. But then, he’s a little biased.
His ties to the company go back to when he was a teen. He was helping out in his family’s business when at age 16, a NAPA store was put up for sale. They bought the business, and Kinney started learning about the auto parts industry shortly thereafter.
But three years later, he chased a dream to be a singer in Nashville. That career didn’t quite pan out, and he went back to work – for NAPA.
After eight years, the company’s district manager sent Kinney to a new location – San Diego.
“When you grow, you move,” he said.
Indeed, postings followed in Toronto and Phoenix.
It was at that last stop where Kinney and his wife decided to try their hand at store ownership.
And in February 2009, Kinney bought his four Mississippi NAPA stores, and later added a Jackson, Tenn., location.
They chose to move to Tupelo, where the store on Harmony Lane also serves as a warehouse for the other stores.
“We fell in love with Tupelo,” Kinney said.
Two years ago, Kinney added Addison, who handles outside sales for Mid South Auto Supply.
“He’s my right arm,” Kinney said.
While walk-in retail customers are an important part of sales, finding and opening commercial accounts also is critical, and that’s the major role Addison plays.
“We look at our customers as family, as a partnership, not just a vendor,” Addison said.
Said Kinney, “We’re not in the auto parts business, we’re in the people business.”