But Cross, who has been a part of the business since 1958, has found the best way to attract wholesale customers is through their stomachs.
“The most popular and successful program is our own lunch program,” says Cross, who has done his share of price-based promotions, factory programs such as “buy three, get one free” shocks, redeemable end-flap programs and IAPA (Independent Auto Parts of America) scratch-off coupons programs, which are also a hit with his customers.
“For a certain volume of business that our shop owner customers spend today — which varies with the time of year and product mix — we will buy lunch for a shop tomorrow,” he adds.
The month-long program, which runs between two and three times a year, consists of pizza or sandwiches delivered to the shop.
“It’s a simple program, but a successful one,” says Cross. “Food is always welcomed, and I think the program is a great way to let our customers know we appreciate their business.”
Cross is a second-generation owner who became president in 1972 after his father’s retirement.
“I started working summers when I was 14….I could not get enough of the fact that I was working in a business that catered to cars, and cars at that time were central to everyone’s lives,” Cross recalls. “Back then we had a machine shop operation and learning precision operations in the shop was interesting and exciting.
“I became part of a group of ‘gear heads’ in the community that consisted of local technicians and racers, but I did have other choices for careers which I considered. Given the opportunity that was available to me, the future growth in the aftermarket that was obvious at the time, and the skills and knowledge I had worked hard to acquire, the choice started to become clear to me.”
Today, his two sons, Matt and Nelson III, are also active in the management and day-to-day operations of the store.
“When my father started the business in 1948, we began exclusively as a wholesale operation with retail becoming part of the business mix in the 1960s,” says Cross.
“Retail trade peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, but has declined ever since due to the complexity of today’s vehicles and the onslaught of the large retailers,” he adds. “The line between retail and wholesale business is hard to find….at its peak we were at 50 percent retail, now we’re at 40 percent.”
With more than 45 years of experience in the automotive aftermarket industry himself, Cross says his two lead counterpersons have a combined 55 years of service with Cross Auto.
“Our customers tell us that our experienced sales persons make us the leader in customer service,” says Cross. “All persons who answer the phones here are ASE-certified parts specialists. Customers know they can talk to a familiar voice, and that person is knowledgeable and experienced.”
Cross says they also have the reputation for providing any part or supply when asked.
“We source parts and supplies from new car dealers, tool vendors, tire distributors, even the clubs, like Costco and BJ’s Wholesale,” adds Cross. “We run six full-time trucks, plus our own personal vehicles when necessary.”
Cross Auto also provides flexible payment terms for its professional customers, including daily, weekly, and monthly accounts, as well as credit cards. They also emphasize weekly and credit card terms.
“We also work hard to acquire small fleet and marine business,” says Cross. “We have a complete line of heavy-duty lubes, and we keep heavy equipment filters on our shelves. We have [heavy duty] and marine batteries on our shelves. In addition, to serve our fleet customers, we make hydraulic hose assemblies.”
Cross says parts pricing is always important, and they have to work long and hard to show their customers that they are the best deal in town.
“We have to be there on price and service,” says Cross. “Walking the thin line between price and service is a never-ending challenge.”
As a member of IAPA for the last five years, Cross says he feels it’s vital to have the type of “national recognition” that a program distribution group can offer.
“It’s important that we give our customers a sense that we are a part of a larger organization, and the national warranty and credit card programs provided through IAPA help give us that opportunity,” he adds.
Cross is also looking into the Internet for additional sales opportunities and hopes to have a website soon.
“Our original intent was to reach the consumer with our Internet accessibility,” he says. “But we’re also exploring systems to enable shops to order parts via the Internet.”