Fred Barron celebrates 50 years as a NAPA AUTO PARTS store owner this year. However, his relationship with NAPA and Genuine Parts Company (GPC) goes back even further, to his college days in fact. While attending Texas Christian University he worked for GAPCO, the Midwest Group before it was purchased by GPC. His job was to unload tailpipes that arrived weekly in a 40-ft. truck.
“My job was to get up in the trailer, offload all the tailpipes, and put them up. I started the job weighing 197 pounds and one year later when I got married I weighed 175,” Barron recalled. “You might say it was a good exercise program.”
Barron stuck with the parts business while attending graduate school at the University of Houston. He worked as fleet salesman for the Houston DC from 1963-1966, followed by a year-long stint in Amarillo, and then it was back to Houston as territory sales manager calling on Houston store owners. In 1969 he accepted the operations manager role at the San Antonio DC where he held the position for two years. In April 1971 he bought his first NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
“I always planned to own my own business one day,” he said. “I had some money saved and with the help of my dad and the bank, I bought my first store in Odessa, Texas. When I took over it was practically defunct. There wasn’t even a bookkeeper, so my wife Beverly stepped in and took over many of the day-to-day office responsibilities until we got the business on its feet. I learned a lot that first year and the bank decided I knew what I was doing. I was able to buy my second store in December 1972, in Brownfield. I’ve been adding a store to the group about every two years since.”
NAPA Dallas General Manager Gary Kniffin, said, “Fred Barron has been a true partner to NAPA and GPC for 50 years, and he and his team do a great job of professionally representing the NAPA brand.”
25 Locations Across 1,600 Miles
Today, there are 25 Barron Service Parts stores across West Texas and eastern New Mexico. Three standalone paint stores and two IBS locations are part of that total.
“I’ve been able to grow reasonably fast thanks to a good relationship with GPC and SunTrust Bank (now Truist),” he said. “We’ve bought Greenfield operations, existing NAPA stores, and some well-run independents we’ve changed over to NAPA.”
Barron’s stores span a 1,600-mile area. “Our stores are in smaller markets and most are quite a distance from the DC. For example, Dallas to Pecos is a 420-mile haul. So we run staggered shipments every night to Big Springs,” he explained. “There, we change trucks and drivers and they move out to make deliveries to various stores. In the last couple of years we’ve been operating what eventually will be four hub stores with our own delivery system that allows us to get more parts to customers so they can repair more cars. We’re running like mad to maintain our volume and conduct our business.”
The Changing Parts Business
Not surprisingly, Barron has seen many changes in the parts business since he bought the first Odessa store 50 years ago. “When I started we were using card tubs to order every night,” he recalled. “Over the years, there has been a steady progression of technology. We have 300 computers today and employees that are IT savvy. Today, no one can imagine operating a business without computers.
“The right inventory is also critical. We Pulse all of our stores. When you put money in inventory it gives your counter people a better opportunity to sell something. We buy about 70% of our merchandise on a direct basis. Our main buyer has been with us for 35 years and another has been here 20 with about 40 years in the parts business altogether.
“We have a sales person at most of our stores and two battery specialists who service customers in and around Abilene. We’re selling a truckload of batteries a week or about 20 flats. That’s some serious volume.”
Another significant change Barron has noticed over his time as an owner is greater competition. “There is an increasing number of retail players in the parts business,” he said. “It it behooves us to get our stores in better shape with more attractive sales areas to attract more retail customers. We’ve invested money to add more physical space to our stores in order to serve the changing market.
“A lot of our fleet and commercial customers who shop with us come into our stores and buy items right off the floor. It’s important for us to provide them that opportunity and a good shopping experience. We have the ability to service the largest to the smallest fleets, plus agricultural customers.”
Paint has been a fairly recent addition to Barron Service Parts’ business. “The volume potential and additional gross profit is a welcome asset. I must add that paint knowledge is imperative and we have knowledgeable folks operating in this arena,” Barron said.
‘We also make hydraulic hose. We’re a multi-faceted supplier and I love it. All these things help segregate us from the retailers.”
“Barron Service Parts fully supports the NAPA programs and they truly dominate their markets,” said Kniffin. “It is an honor and a pleasure to be associated with such a great organization and a great leader like Fred.”
The COVID Challenge
COVID brought its own changes to the parts business and the world in 2020. Barron said his stores followed all the recommended CDC precautions. They also took advantage of the NAPA programs including the rollout of Buy Online, Pickup in Store (BOPIS), Curbside Pickup, Deliver from Store, and the nationwide activation of NAPA Xpress (NXP).
Barron said, “We have a full-time tool and equipment representative that operates a fully inventoried tool truck, calls on customers, and handles all equipment bids. In addition, we’ve had tools & equipment shows over the past 25 years. But last year with COVID, that didn’t happen.
During the pandemic Barron Service Parts was able to keep all its employees on the payroll. Barron said, “There were no salary cuts or diminished time. If employees requested time off or part-time work for personal reasons that was fine. We’ve got to be a patron of our people to carry them through these difficult situations.”
Barron has always believed in hiring and fostering good employees. “My business has always been non-discriminatory. The only thing I’m not blind to is performance,” he said. “I’m interested in professionals who can bring it to us in spades. You can have pretty stores, adequate inventory, but you need good people to be successful. We offer our employees a good salary, health insurance, profit sharing, vacation pay, and career opportunities.”
Barron Sees More Growth Ahead
While Barron said his business hasn’t expanded over the last year due to the tough economic conditions, he is planning for growth and is currently looking at an opportunity to add more stores. “This year will be a comeback for us. Our relationship with NAPA and GPC is good and I feel very secure with our personnel operating our business.”
As for himself, Barron isn’t planning to step aside. Although he’s working fewer hours these days, Barron said, “I’m going to run this thing until I run out. It has been a wonderful business career and I thoroughly enjoy what I do.”
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.