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Mighty turns 50

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NORCROSS, Ga.—Fifty years ago, Mighty Auto Parts started out selling tire repair materials out of its trucks to service stations.

  Today the franchiser has expanded to distributing thousands of automotive parts to all types of car repair businesses and promoting vehicle inspections to help their customers boost service sales.

“Mighty really initiated the two-step—buy it from the manufacturer and take it directly to the installer,” said Gary Vann, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “That's where the MTY came from—Manufacturer To You. The first logo was an MTY and some people thought that it was pronounced 'empty.' So we made it 'Mighty.' We didn't want 'empty trucks.'”

Mighty has grown to 118 franchisees in the U.S. and sells to more than 12,000 automotive service providers, including tire dealerships, new and used car dealers, repair shops and quick-lube chains.

Mr. Vann, who has been with the company since 1975, said the key to the company's success has been adapting to the changing market—”keeping progressive with the changing needs of our changing customer base because now we're selling quick lubes and tire stores and new car dealers and independent garages and fleets—and each of them have a little bit different need. But for all of them the basic need is the right product at the right time that's going to work, and then how to install it and have a happy customer.”

He also said Mighty has set itself apart by focusing on the installer market.

“I think that's what has kept us successful. We've constantly innovated things to help them do their job better. If they're not successful, we're not successful. Because in the stocking business, they've got to have the right parts there and they've got to be able to get to them and install them quickly—things like oil filters and air filters and wiper blades and chemicals.

“And we added all those product lines through the years. We've been very aggressive in adding new product lines.”

The company also has adapted its services to meet various challenges over the years, including more durable parts, product proliferation, longer intervals between oil changes and technology.

With parts lasting longer, Mighty has had to choose its products wisely, Mr. Vann said. “We're in the maintenance parts business, things that wear out, things that have to be replaced. So what we've tried to do is try to find out what are those legitimate products that do wear out, that are critical to the operation of the vehicle.”

Since there is a longer span of time between vehicle visits to garages, Mighty has encouraged its customers to do a better job of inspecting vehicles as they come into their shops and recommending legitimate maintenance services.

“Our sales are fine because now they (shops) are changing that cabin air filter when it's dirty—and a lot of people didn't know they had a cabin air filter 10 years ago or five years ago. They are catching that light bulb that's out. They're testing and replacing the TPMS sensors when they wear out. Those are all services that are required.”

With the growing proliferation of products and the need for inventory management, Mighty used technology to enhance its inventory control program, known as TRIM—targeted registration-based inventory management.

“Our inventory control programs have constantly improved and that's probably the biggest change recently—we're using vehicles-in-operation data today.... We actually know what the vehicles-in-operation are in a given ZIP code. So we can match that to our parts and zero in on what ZIP codes a store is pulling its business from. That is really helping us be more effective in our inventory control,” Mr. Vann said.

In addition to just managing inventory, shops have to sell the inventory, he added.

“That's really been our focus for the last 10 years is to help them with tools to sell their services, not our parts but their services. Sell the cabin air filter service, sell the transmission service in the right way without overselling to the consumers. There's a right way and a wrong way to sell automotive maintenance,” Mr. Vann said.

“A lot of tire dealers are reticent to recommend services since they are so afraid they are going to turn the consumer off. They're actually not doing their customers a service because they are seeing them less these days.... So when they see that car, they got to do a better job of making sure that car is safe and roadworthy and is being maintained so that consumer will have a good experience and maintain the value of their vehicle.”



To reach this reporter: kmccarron@ crain.com; 330-865-6127.
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