During the course of his career with Genuine Parts Company and NAPA, Frank Bowen has moved from one side of the country to the other, starting in Portland, Oregon, with stops in Anchorage, Alaska; San Diego, California; and Columbus, Ohio; before circling back to Bend, located just a few hours from where he started.
“When my oldest daughter was six years old and about to begin grade school, I realized our family had already moved four times,” Bowen recalled. “An opportunity came up in Bend to buy the NAPA AUTO PARTS store there. Having lived and worked in Portland, I knew Bend was a cool place. I knew I could build a good business there. So I decided to become a NAPA store owner.”
That was 20 years ago. Today, Bowen’s High Desert Automotive Supply includes three NAPA stores—in Bend, Redmond, and Madras. In addition, there is a large machine shop with five people on staff at the Bend NAPA that does work in all three markets.
Behind Every Successful Owner is a Great Team
The original Bend store didn’t come with a great location, but it did come with great employees. And while Bowen’s team numbers nearly 50 today, he said out of an original group of 13 employees, 8 are still with him.
That includes the Hess family. Bill Hess, his son Brent, and grandson Tucker, all work at High Desert Automotive Supply. Bill is now well past traditional retirement age, but still enjoys working full time. Brent started as counterman and is now assistant manager at the Bend store.
Tucker, who wasn’t even born when Bowen took ownership of the Bend NAPA, has been working at the store part-time during the school year and full-time during the summers since high school. He is currently in the Automotive Technology program at Central Oregon Community College in Bend. Bowen is on the program’s Advisory Board and High Desert Automotive Supply provides a full scholarship every year.
“I’m lucky to have the Hesses,” said Bowen. “They’re a true car family. In fact, Tucker is named for Preston Tucker, an automobile designer and entrepreneur. There was even a movie made about him—Tucker: the Man and His Dream.
“Gary Snair was a counterman when I bought the Bend store. Today, he is general manager-heavy duty. Don Malnar was a salesman and is now sales manager. Loren Hamman was the machine shop manager on day one and is still running it today. When I came on board, Joyce Golding was a delivery driver and is now my office manager.
“Rob Pomerenk didn’t work at the Bend NAPA when I bought it. He managed a competitor’s three-store group in Washington. I had known him a long time and we were friends. I asked him to join me here and he did. He’s the general manager and has been my right hand man from the beginning.
“When I bought the Redmond operation in 1998, Eric Olson worked there. Today, he’s an outside salesman in Bend.
“When you add up all the years those folks have in addition to all my other employees, that’s more than 600 years of parts experience in our organization. You’ve got to have great employees to be successful. And I take a lot of pride in all of mine.”
While Some Things Change, Others Stay the Same
During his 20 years as a NAPA store owner and a career in the automotive parts industry that’s even longer, Bowen has seen a lot of changes.
“When I started in the business, most of the stores still had card desks. It’s hard to imagine operating like that today. Then TAMS and computers came along, and the old-timers hated it. But now none of us can live without technology,” Bowen said.
“For example, PROLink has made a huge difference in my business. Almost half my orders come in electronically. My sales guys carry iPads with them. So that eliminates a phone call to the guy on the counter. The sales person can see exactly what we have in inventory and show the customer.
“Something else that’s relatively new to NAPA is Altrom. It’s been a really great line for the import specialty shops as well as the dealerships and better repair shops including one of our best AutoCare customers. You don’t always appreciate the difference programs like PROLink and the Altrom line are making until you look at the reports at the end of the month. Then you realize, it’s just amazing.”
Bowen said business may always be changing, but there are three constants behind every successful NAPA operation: good-looking stores, a huge inventory, and great people. As for Bowen, he and his NAPA stores are going strong and have been NAPA Five Star achievers 11 times throughout their 20 year history. And while he said it’s likely he won’t be running the show when he’s Bill Hess’s age, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. “I’ve always loved what I do here and I still enjoy it today.”
More than 90 years ago, the National Automotive Parts Association ("NAPA") was created to meet America’s growing need for an effective auto parts distribution system. Today, 91% of do-it-yourself customers recognize the NAPA brand name. We have over 6,000 NAPA AUTO PARTS Stores nationwide serving all 50 states with a unique inventory control system that helps you find the exact part that you need.