Little Rock's Replacement Parts Inc. Bumping Century Mark

by George Waldon  on Monday, May. 26, 2014 12:00 am  

Replacement Parts Inc. of Little Rock has gone about its business quietly growing into a regional concern. The venture’s wholesale and retail subsidiaries generated combined revenue of $215 million in 2013, its 94th year of operations.

“We’re too big to be a small company and too small to be a big company,” said Bill Schlatterer, president and chief executive officer of Replacement Parts. “Our growth pattern has been through acquisition. The opportunities are there, and we continue looking for them.”

The enterprise, founded on selling replacement parts for cars, trucks and more, is a corporate survivor in an industry marked by decades of consolidation. Its retail outlets fly under the Bumper to Bumper banner and in Arkansas also sport the familiar Crow-Burlingame name.

RPI’s formula for remaining an independent, private company includes a liberal dose of opening new stores and buying others as well as outright acquisitions of competitors in new and existing markets.

The company’s sequential purchase of Rankin Automotive of Monroe, Louisiana, with its warehouse and 24 stores in 2000 and merger with Motor Supply Co. of Uncertain, Texas, in 2001 were momentous steps on its historical expansion path.

“We functionally doubled the size of the company,” Schlat-terer said. “My mission from the board is to sustain and grow the company as a generational business. We intend to not be public and be around for the fifth and sixth generation.”

The corporate roots date back to the early 20th century with William Robert Crow and J.G. Burlingame, traveling salesmen who dabbled in selling cars. That sideline business led to the formation of Crow-Burlingame Co. in 1919.

Back then, cars didn’t come fully equipped from the factory, and selling accessories to complete the vehicle afforded an entrepreneurial opportunity.

In 1923, the partners made a volume purchase of a railroad car full of bumpers that became a pivotal moment.

“That was the same year Henry Ford decided to start installing bumpers at the factory,” Schlatterer said. “They had to start dancing.”

That put the company on the road to selling an ever-growing roster of replacement parts for autos, construction equipment, etc. These days, its warehouses stock upward of 120,000 different items among the inventory.

The continuity of family ownership is maintained through Fletcher Lord, the son-in-law of Robert Crow. The family’s business credo is stamped on the company: It’s not about the parts. It’s about the people, customers and employees.



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