The Witt Family: 90 Years of Automotive Industry Experience
At age 27, Josh Witt owns three NAPA AUTO PARTS stores served by NAPA Ft. Wayne, including the largest Top Store in the country. Josh may be young, but his roots in the automotive industry run deep. In fact, they go all the way back to the 1930s when his great-great grandfather Arthur Witt worked as Sales Manager for Champion Spark Plug. His great grandfather Walter Witt went to work for Genuine Automotive Parts (GAP) and served as the General Manager at NAPA Indianapolis in the 1960s.
He was followed by Dick Witt who bought the NAPA AUTO PARTS store in Warsaw, Indiana, in 1973. That was Josh’s grandfather who let him help out in the store as a young boy dusting shelves and straightening up. Dick Witt opened a second NAPA store in Syracuse, Indiana, in 1983, and a third in North Webster ten years later.
When Dick retired, his son Gary took over the business. Josh spent lots of time in the store over the years with his father and grandfather, taking on more responsibility as he got older. In high school he took part in a cooperative education program learning even more about NAPA store operation. “I always wanted to be involved,” he said. “If there was an owners meeting, I wanted to go. The more I increased my knowledge, the better. I was always learning.”
In addition, Josh had a passion for baseball, playing in college while dreaming of the major leagues. However, the focus of his academic pursuits was business. “Joining the family business was always in the back of my mind,” he said. “When I graduated from college I was ready to devote my time and energy to the stores.”
NAPA Partnership Integral to Success
Josh became the sole owner of the family’s NAPA operation upon his father’s retirement last year. “Going all the way back to the first store my grandfather opened, our partnership with NAPA has been integral to our success,” he said. “NAPA has been around for more than 90 years and has very high national brand recognition. That’s huge for us as a locally-owned business. We offer top quality products and deliver the best service around.”
The Warsaw NAPA is the main store in this group, serving as the hub for the Syracuse and New Webster locations. “We make daily runs to those two stores from our Warsaw warehouse and we make runs to the Ft. Wayne DC twice a day,” Josh said. “You have to have the parts customers need to be successful.”
Starting in early 2019, he began using Pulse to help manage inventory. Pulse is NAPA’s inventory assortment modeling system that leverages multiple data elements from various data sources such as parts failure rates, weather, geography, and what parts sell in similar stores across the country, to make inventory recommendations.
“The data was eye-opening,” he said. “The industry is changing and Pulse helps us keep on top of that. The parts business is different now than it was when my grandfather started. In the old days, vehicles had about 30,000 parts. New vehicles today have only 8,000 because so many things have become computerized. In the next 25-30 years, there will likely be more changes. We’ll change the parts we’re stocking to keep pace with the industry.”
The Largest Top Store in the Country
While NAPA’s strength has always been wholesale, there’s strong competition on the retail side. To help independent store owners put the power of retail on their side, NAPA developed the Top Store program to leverage the NAPA brand and deliver the consistency of a chain retailer.
Josh said, “We were seeing decreasing retail sales year after year and we knew we had to make a change. In 2018, we converted to Top Store at our Warsaw location and today it’s the largest Top Store in the country.”
To become a Top Store, specific fixtures, flooring, graphics, display units, and counters are required. Planograms must be 100 percent correct and up to date. That’s because Top Store is not just a store re-set; it’s a holistic change program. The Retail Basics are critical and the entire store team must be ready to take full advantage of the overall program.
Josh said, “Top Store has had a big impact on our business. We have all the major competitors right down the street, but our sales are telling us customers like to shop here. We are currently in the process of converting our North Webster location to Top Store as well.”
Growing into the Future
Josh has plans to grow the business even further. “When I have an option to grow and am able to take advantage of it, I’ll do it. My goal is to expand to as many as 40 stores, possibly in multiple states. I believe it’s attainable. I’ve got years of family experience to draw on,” he said. “I’m young, motivated, and have a long runway ahead of me. I believe, if you’re not growing, you’re slowing.”
Dan Wilson said, “The Witts have been part of the NAPA family for generations. We are proud of what Josh has accomplished this year. He’s what the next generation of ownership looks like.”