Wholesale: Having the right parts when customers call

Jan. 1, 2020
Burlington Foreign Car Parts may have started in the back of an air-conditioned van in 1973, but it has come a long way in the past 32 years.

Burlington Foreign Car Parts may have started in the back of an air-conditioned van in 1973, but it has come a long way in the past 32 years. Although the company is still an import specialist, Burlington Foreign Car Parts has been focusing on its expansion into the domestic market. After supplying the import market for decades, adding domestic parts has proven to be a challenge, especially when it comes to the large amount of part numbers, keeping up their inventory and stocking the products their customers want.

The domestic business has been growing steadily and remains the primary focus for the company’s growth. Burlington’s purchase of Plattsburgh Motor Service in New York, a domestic operation that is about 75 years old, accelerated their move into domestic parts.

“Our goal is trying to combine what they did well with what we do well, and do both,” says President and Co-owner Tom Glaser. When it comes to combining import and domestic products, “the biggest thing is proliferation of part numbers and trying to keep up with it. But I think one of our strong points is doing that.”

With an ever-expanding inventory, new technology plays a big role in helping the company reach its goals. When Jon Anderson, general manager, joined the company in 1980, the inventory system consisted of plastic-tabbed paper inventory cards and pricing done with a calculator.

Not long after, the company used a Data General CDX Parts Handler system as their first inventory control system. It required someone to manually back up the system — each night using 12-inch floppy disks and at the end of every month, which took about eight to 10 hours.

Although that employee could rely on job security, the company needed to find a better method.

Enter IBM in 1991. When the AS/400 (now known as the iSeries) server was introduced, it made a huge impact. When questions about the system’s Y2K compatibility came up seven years later, Burlington started looking for a new application provider and selected Distribution Service Technologies (DST). The decision was based primarily on the requirement to stay with the IBM iSeries.

The company installed DSTWare — a comprehensive management system designed for taking, making and processing orders and for managing inventory, accounting and reporting — which has been beneficial as they continue to expand.

The combination of IBM reliability and DSTWare functionality has paid off with significant benefits for the automotive parts distributor.

Stock replenishment is automated and comes from a centralized server, which expedites and ensures the accuracy of buying for all six of Burlington Foreign Car Parts’ locations without over- or under-stocking.

Service to their roughly 2,000 primary customers has improved by always having the parts available. Automated multiple purchase orders with the same vendors ensure that only the needed parts are ordered and delivered on a schedule that’s best suited for the company. And any store within the enterprise has the ability to transfer inventory from one location to another.

After installing DSTWare, the company says they were carrying between $100,000 and $200,000 less inventory — 5 to 10 percent of total inventory — than they previously held, while sales continued to grow.

“It’s enabled us to stock a broader line of parts, but really, the order turnaround time has gotten better. We can lower our inventory costs while increasing our coverage,” says Glaser.

When making the jump to becoming a full-service domestic distributor, having the right parts when customers need them is the key; they influence what the company stocks, and it has been a struggle as Burlington tries to combine import and domestic offerings.

“We’re parts people, not real technical,” Glaser admits. “DST has this really nice system that helps on the buying and inventory side of business. We thrive by having the inventory on the shelf. Being able to stock six locations out of one warehouse is the biggest thing that has helped us.”

With technology, products and people — many employees have been with the company for an average of 15 years — Burlington Foreign Car Parts is taking the right steps to make its future in the domestic market as successful as its past with imports has been.

The Vital Stats

Years in business: 32 years

Growth plans: In the short term, Burlington Foreign Car Parts would like to finish its domestic coverage: in the long term, continue with the slow and steady growth the company has experienced over the years, and possibly add new locations.

Number of employees: 50-60

Wholesale/retail ratio: 90/10

Snapshot of Burlington Foreign Car Parts: Tom Glaser started the company in April 1973. He kept his Volkswagen parts cool in the back of an air-conditioned Dodge van and worked on developing a wholesale business as Volkswagen garage repair specialists. Six years later, the company opened its first store in Shelburne, Vt. It measured 4,500 sq. feet and allowed the company to expand and stock additional parts, including some Japanese and European parts. During this time, the company continued to deliver throughout Vermont and also opened a retail counter. Throughout the '80s and '90s, the company added warehouse space, opened new stores in Vermont and began stocking parts for domestic cars ? a line that keeps expanding.

Affiliation: IWD ? Auto Pride

Competition: No one in particular. Five or six local domestic operations are trying to expand into the import market, as well as people who ship in from other places.

Locations/Facility size: The main location and primary warehouse in Shelburne, Vt., is about 9,000 sq. feet. The other locations also hold stock and vary in size ? the four in Vermont average 3,000 sq. feet and the new Plattsburgh location is the largest at 20,000 sq. feet.