Historically, most wholesalers started out as retailers. Bennett Auto Supply was no exception. However, this Florida-based, family-operated chain of 24 stores with about a 60/30 wholesale/retail ratio has recently tried to reverse this pervasive trend.
“About four years ago we made the commitment that we were going to get more into the retail business,” explains Scott Bennett, the company’s director of operations. Bennett, the third generation of his family to help run the operation since its inception in 1946, figures there is no reason he shouldn’t invest in his retail business — especially with retailers investing in their commercial business and retail items offering a better margin, he says. As a way to grow his sales in this area, he has changed his hours and brought the right staff on board.
Working heavily with product purchasing for the entire chain, helping determine the inventory mix in the various stores, Bennett is very aware that today brings “a different type of retail customer. A retail customer in the past came in and bought brakes, master cylinders…now a lot of them don’t have the knowledge to replace some of these (parts), they’ve gotten so complex. But now they’re coming in and buying air fresheners, vent visors, vent shades: basically add-ons, accessories, waxes, polishes and things of that nature.”
Sure, their “bread and butter” is still wholesale, Bennett explains, “but as we’ve focused on the retail, we now have some specialists out front to try and take care of the retail customers. We’ve remodeled almost all of our (older) stores, and all of our new stores are (particularly) retail friendly; they’re well-lit, they’re all plan-o-gram merchandise-priced — I think they’re nicer than most of your national retailers. We’re also in some markets that put us in heavy competition with those national chains, and they’re all open late, so we’ve changed a lot of our hours. We’re now open till 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 on Saturday, 6 on Sunday — some good friendly retail hours.”
They even sell water, soda and snacks to help appeal to their new audience.
Bennett notes they must be careful how far they go into this market. He says he doesn’t want it to be overkill, but if they can sell some Pepsis while a customer shops for wax, then that’s an area to look at.
The company also utilizes direct mail to inform potential customers of a particular store’s location and services. “You know what kind of people-count you’ve got in (an) area, and most of our cities are pretty substantial,” notes Bennett. “As a matter of fact, we’re just dropping one (mailing) right now to three locations.”
Meanwhile, membership in the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance has given the company more flexibility in pricing. “Our buying group is pretty substantial,” says Bennett. “As we have gotten more retail-friendly, our retail sales have gone through the roof. The vendors that are partnering with us can see the potential there and are keeping us somewhat competitive with the national chains. And as an Alliance member, we are part sponsor of (NASCAR’s) Ray Evernham Motorsports, and (they) actually have a car that will race at three NASCAR events and three Busch races. We did a retail promotion last year where we gave away four tickets to the Homestead year-end race, a weekend package where they got (to go to) our hospitality tent.”
As fate would have it, back when Bennett’s grandfather, Allen “A.B.” Bennett, founded the company in Oakland Park, Fla., he stocked such sundry items as bicycles, groceries and appliances. It seems his stores are once again coming full circle.
The Vital Stats
Years in business: 60
Growth plans: Their stores are concentrated on the eastern coast of Florida, but plans call for expanding to the Gulf Coast beginning this year.
Number of employees: Over 430 total, averaging 18 to 19 at their bigger stores, two to three of those being retail
Wholesale/retail ratio: 69/31 overall, although this varies from store to store
Snapshot: Started by Allen Bennett in 1946 as a Sinclair gas station/grocery. By 1954 he was distributing tires, batteries and automotive accessories to other Sinclair stations in Broward County. Now, it’s headquartered in Pompano Beach, with a 92,000-sq.-foot distribution center.
Affiliation: Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance
Competition: National chains like AutoZone, Advance, Pep Boys
Location/facility size: 24 locations, clustered along 175 miles of eastern Florida coastline between Titusville and Hollywood, the latter in the Miami area. Facility sizes average 6,500 sq. feet with between 2,500 and 3,000 sq. feet of showroom space.