Race sponsorships offer first-place finish

Jan. 1, 2020
Sometimes a national marketing campaign can greatly impact a local store, perhaps even cause its creation.

Sometimes a national marketing campaign can greatly impact a local store, perhaps even cause its creation. Case in point: O’Reilly Auto Parts in Bristol, Tenn. With O’Reilly’s current strategy of sponsoring all sorts of motorsports events across the country, it only made sense to establish a store in the vicinity of a major motorsports complex like Bristol. At least that’s how Store Manager Aaron Tobey first heard about it.

“I was doing an internship at Bristol Motor Speedway,” says Tobey, “and (O’Reilly) did a lot of advertising there.”

When one of their marketing people told him that they were going to build a store in the area, this young college grad jumped at the chance. After attending some seminars at O’Reilly’s corporate headquarters in Springfield, Mo., Tobey entered their managers’ development program as an associate manager in August 2003. Then, on Dec. 19, the new store officially opened. In January of that same year, O’Reilly had opened its 1,000th store in Chattanooga, Tenn.; the 48-year-old company currently has almost 1,400 stores in 25 states, with total annual sales estimated to be nearly $2 billion for 2005.

Outside of another store located about 30 miles away in Gate City, Va., this is the first O’Reilly’s in the Northeastern corner of Tennessee, territory already staked out by national rivals AutoZone, NAPA and Advance Auto. So what does O’Reilly bring to the table to compete? First of all, there’s the high-profile racing sponsorship provided by the national organization.

As Tom Conquergood, a representative for the O’Reilly Motorsports Program, explains, “We try to focus our marketing on motorsports, because that’s the grassroots of a lot of (our customers), whether it be dirt track racing, tractor pulls, circle track, show cars or drag racing.”

This is represented locally by NHRA’s O’Reilly Thunder Valley Nationals and NASCAR’s O’Reilly 200 Craftsman Truck race, as well as being the official auto parts of the Bristol Motor Speedway. During these races, the store will usually sell promotional tie-ins like tickets, shirts and hats.

Another advantage is that O’Reilly’s parts lines are almost limitless. “We can get parts from just about anywhere,” states Conquergood. “As far as I know, we can go as far back as 1938. We have a whole rack of performance catalogs, along with another rack of catalogs for normal repair items.” In terms of range, Conquergood feels that only NAPA is competitive with O’Reilly, although the latter focuses more on wholesale.

O’Reilly has also built an extensive network of 11 regional warehouses. “To give you a ballpark idea of [what’s available to the Bristol store],” says Conquergood, “we have warehouses in Knoxville, Nashville and Atlanta.”

And the computers are linked nationally, with flexible search parameters. “They are pre-loaded with the five closest warehouses,” he continues. “From there you can actually research further and look at other warehouses, or all the stores in your district.”

For his part, Tobey feels their edge is customer service. “We hear all the time that we take care of the customer better than the competition,” he says. In this particular store, there are two delivery drivers, a manager, an assistant manager, a night manager and three parts specialists, “although any of them can help the customer.”

Part of O’Reilly’s dual market strategy, this plan is believed to be the key to much of O’Reilly’s success: providing the best possible service to both do-it-yourselfers and professional installers. “We pride ourselves on our people and their attitude and how we take care of our customers, service-wise,” Tobey continues. For him, a typical counterperson is “someone that’s willing to take care of the customer, someone that understands customer service and someone that is teachable. We’d like (someone to have) parts knowledge, but if they’ve got the right attitude, we can train them.”

As the store manager, part of Tobey’s responsibility is to make sure he has the proper people on the counter at the right times. And, as Conquergood points out, Tobey also has the power to manage his own inventory.

“He can bring in items that he thinks are going to sell bigger and better than others, he can relocate items that are moving more slowly to replace them with something else. If he decides that he can make a good go at making hydraulic hoses, he can bring in a new hydraulic hose machine and maybe do away with his paint line.” The same principle applies to brands. “If Aaron sees he’s selling more Autolites than Champions, he can also adjust his inventory.”

“With the way gas prices are right now,” Tobey notes, “fuel injector cleaners and oil changes are hot retail items right now — basically tune-up stuff: air filters, fuel filters.”

Getting to the proverbial bottom line: whether or not you’re being backed by a national chain, it still comes down to how those resources are applied locally.

The Vital Stats

Years in business: Two years

Growth plans: They would eventually like to open more stores in the area.

Number of employees: 7 full-time, 1 part-time

Wholesale/retail ratio: 50/50

Snapshot of O’Reilly Auto Parts: Opened in December 2003, this store was the first O’Reilly’s in the Tri-Cities region of Tennessee, founded in Bristol due to O’Reilly’s strong association with the Bristol Motor Speedway.

Affiliation: The Alliance

Competition: NAPA, AutoZone, Advance Auto

Location/Facility size: Located in Bristol, Tenn., the facility is approximately 6,400 sq. feet.

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