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.

“It’s very much a relationship business,” Schlatterer said. “About half of our customers are professional installers, and the other half is end-use consumers.

“Among our staff, we have a number of people who’ve decided to spend a significant amount of their lives with us, and we appreciate it.”

Schlatterer started work with the company 41 years ago as a driver and rose through the ranks. He was promoted from executive vice president and chief operations officer to president and CEO last year.

“We’re a God, country and family kind of business,” Schlatterer said. “If you like that, we’re the place for you.”

The business is closed on Sunday. Store hours Monday through Friday are typically 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with an early closing on Saturdays. The company isn’t interested in extending its hours to chase more sales and conform to such competitive retail practices.

“We are conservative with a good cash flow and moderate profitability,” Schlatterer said. “We have made a living doing what we do well without trying to be everything to everyone.”

Corporate Highlights of Replacement Parts Inc.
(Holding Company of Crow-Burlingame Co. and Parts Warehouse Inc.)

The Little Rock company owns 155 auto parts stores and four warehouses in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Mississippi and provides parts for 125 independently owned Bumper to Bumper stores in eight states.

1919: Crow-Burlingame Co. is launched in Little Rock as an auto accessories and garage equipment business by William Robert Crow and J.G. Burlingame.

1928: An El Dorado store is opened, marking the start of a chain of retail auto parts locations developed over the years.

1932: Osburn Crow & Yantis Co., the largest auto parts buying group in the nation at the time, is formed. The venture represents Crow-Burlingame, Osburn Abston Co. of Memphis and The Automotive Inc. of Fort Smith.

1939: Fletcher Lord, son-in-law of Robert Crow, joins the company. The census of U.S. automotive wholesale firms is 6,982.

1958: A national antitrust action by the Federal Trade Commission requires auto parts companies to split warehouse and retail operations into separate companies. This leads to the breakup of OCY and the creation of Parts Warehouse Inc.

1959: J.G. Burlingame dies. The company store count is at 45.

1964: Robert Crow dies. Robert “Bobby” Lord, Crow’s grandson, joins the company the following year.

1967: Fletcher Lord Jr., today’s chairman of the board, joins the company.

1973: The company enters southern Missouri with the acquisition of Empire Automotive Distributors of Springfield.

1980: The Little Rock warehouse operation at 555 Inc. at 1901 E. Roosevelt Road is bought from Straus-Frank Co. of San Antonio.

1986: Two Tulsa firms are purchased: the warehouse operation of J.C. Hamilton Co. and the 14 stores of Standard Motor Products.

1988: Replacement Parts Inc. is formed as the holding company for the retail and warehouse operations.

1994: A 21-store chain in southwest Arkansas, northeast Texas and Oklahoma is acquired from John Loe. Fletcher Lord dies the following year.

2000: A warehouse and 24 stores are bought from Rankin Automotive of Monroe, Louisiana.

2001: The company merges with Motor Supply Co. of Uncertain, Texas, which brings a warehouse and 14 stores into the fold along with Ken Petersen as a shareholder and director.

2004: Dimmick Supply Co. of Lake Charles, Louisiana, with a warehouse and 10 stores, is purchased.

2005: The 13 stores of Car Care of Lake Charles, Louisiana, are acquired.

2006: Auto Parts & Supply of Tulsa is bought.

2010: The warehouse operation of Herzog Group of New Orleans is purchased.

2011: Ryan Supply of Jackson, Mississippi, is acquired.

Key Non-Family Execs:

Bill Schlatterer President & CEO
Tom Singleton VP Company Store Group
Ginger Guinee CFO & VP Finance
Kenny Payne VP Marketing
Mike Spence VP Warehouse Operations
Brian Dean VP Purchasing

Principal Owners: Fletcher Lord Jr., Ken Petersen, Robert Lord, Robert Raff and the Employee Stock Ownership Plan

The fourth generation of family members at the company includes Fletcher Lord III, vice president-northern sales manager; his brother-in-law Ben Butler, purchasing and inventory manager; and Crow Lord, Bobby Lord’s son, operations manager of the store group.



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