WHY DID I CHOOSE AUTO PARTS ?
Well When I was a young girl I used to watch Charlie's Angels I loved the cobra mustang that Farrah drove the show was ok but that car was life to me. Started my career at 17 yrs. old working for a FORD dealership worked my way to a heavy truck parts person I worked the shop counter selling parts to the techs. I learned my stuff right from the source. The feeling I get when I can find something for someone is unmatchable by any other feeling. I have since then dedicated my life the be the go to girl for auto parts and performance. I have drag raced my car in the TV show pinks 2 times and loved every second. met some great people; and going 10 seconds in a quarter mile what a ride!!!! TRUE MOTOR HEAD CHICK at heart! now after owning FLEETWOOD AUTO PARTS for almost 10 years we are living the dream here in Fleetwood!!! Thanks to all of you who make my dreams possible. we share the passion for speed and autos, trucks, boats, atv, utvs, and bikes. Hell; anything to go ZOOM! ZOOM! yahooo. CEO/President Michele Degler
The FAP and Safe&Sound Story
•Publisher: Network Magazine Vol. 4: Issue 2 summer 2009•
For Michele Degler, it was her fascination as a little girl with the "Charlie's Angels" TV show, specifically, the late Farrah Fawcett's sexy Mustang Cobra, that planted the seeds for her desire to pursue an eventual career in the automotive aftermarket. Stephanie Bice admittedly grew up with something to prove after her grandmother refused to purchase the Matchbox cars that she'd picked out, buying her Barbie dolls instead. Today, Degler and Bice are successful independent aftermarket business owners in
Degler, a Uni-Select USA customer, owns Fleetwood-Pa.-based Fleetwood Auto Parts. Her best customer-and best friend-is Bice, President/Co- owner of Safe&Sound Automotive in nearby Kutzown, Pa.
Degler started off as a cashier at a local Ford dealership before becoming the heavy-duty expediter for the business. While perusing catalogs one day she noticed the great price they were getting on Permatex gasket makers. I was thinking that I could sell Permatex outside our offerings to retail customers, so I started calling independent jobbers," she says.
Jim Grimm, the owner of Hyde Villa Auto Parts in
Grimm was so impressed that he called Degler two weeks later to discuss a partnership in taking over for a couple who owned Fleetwood Auto Parts. For Degler, that would mean the realization of a dream.
“I had been telling people for a long time that I wanted to own a parts store because I wanted to run the business like I believed customers really wanted; with friendly service and greeted by an owner and employees who knew your name and your car when you walked into the door. I felt that I could provide that personable, knowledgeable customer service that is lacking in so many areas of today’s retail.”
Naysayers told Degler for years the odds were against her but she was not to be denied-even if it meant calling off her engagement.
When my fiancé initially questioned my decision to buy a parts store, I told
“The store was my dream before I met him- In the end, he decided that I was cute enough that he was going to take me and the parts store- it was a package deal !"
Only fitting for a couple, who fell in love while repairing a fuel leak on
In 2000, Degler secured a $75,000 loan from a venture capitalist and took the plunge-she bought Fleetwood Auto Parts against the advice of friends and her parents. At the time, the store was doing $18,000 a month in sales. Within two years after Degler took over, that figure was up to $80,000 a month. By 2004, after it was evident that Michele's vision of Fleetwood Auto Parts was a proven, successful reality, her husband; Bryan Degler; quit his job to join his wife as co-owner of the business.
Degler was more than happy to offer that same kind of financial help when Bice, her friend and former part-time employee at F1eetwood Auto Parts, wanted to start her own service dealership. Bice had left Fleetwood Auto Parts to work as a receptionist for an independent service dealer. When that business changed hands, Bice agreed to stay on if she were promoted to service manager-and if the new owner listened to her ideas- Like Degler years earlier, Bice had been making mental list of what her ideal service dealership would be like if she was in charge. A year later, nothing had changed, so she decided to set out on her own.
Bice humbly says, “I just wanted to open a place where I felt people could get the service that they deserve.”
After hearing Stephanie’s ideas and her business plan, Degler took equity out of her house to help finance her business.
Along with her business partner, full-time AES certified technician Rob Schaffer, Bice met with Richard haug, who was planning to retire after more than 25 years as the owner of Haug Automotive Service.
Haug did not want to entrust his shop; and the customer relationships he had built over the years; to just anyone. After Bice and Schaffer shared their experience and business philosophy, Haug felt confident he’d found the right people to take care of his customers. Haug comes around the shop to visit nearly every day, which was invaluable in the early days of Safe&Sound Automotive.
“Haug gave his stamp of approval to his customers, credibility that helped us largely retain his clientele,” Bice says. “Still, as much as Haug has built a good name with the business, it was important for us to establish our identity as Safe&Sound Automotive, a name which speaks to a line in our mission statement: ‘dedicated to your safety.’”
The two friends have grown closer as there business have taken off. Although Michele and Stephanie don’t see each other socially as much as they’d like, they enjoy traveling to automotive trade shows, such as the recent Network National Convention in
“Michele realizes the commitment it takes to run a successful business,” Bice says. “Some of my friends don’t understand that I’m working 60-plus hours a week and raising a family, so that doesn’t leave a lot of free time. That’s one reason that makes our friendship so special to me.”
Degler and Bice agree there are advantages and disadvantages of being business owners in what has been traditionally a man’s industry, especially in this rural area of
Says Degler. “We both get ask a lot, ‘Does your husband own the business?’ or ‘Did you take over for your father?’ Usually I just hand them my business card that reads ‘CEO/President.’ At first, I probably felt like I had something to prove, like they were testing my knowledge. But I’ve learned to leave my ego at home. I want to show our men customers that I know what I’m talking about, but not at the expense of their dignity. I don’t want them to feel like I’m this rude, know-it-all woman talking down to them… that’s how I think some male employees treat female customers at other parts stores.
As a female I provide personable, attentive service that our male customers appreciate. I always remember the details about a customer. Women are gossipy, so we’ll hear if a farmer’s cow got out, or we’ll notice that their wives planted a new flower bed in their front yard and we’ll comment on that.”
Bice, who serves as the service manager of her six-bay shop, jokes that she’s been able to build a rapport with her male clientele since buying the business more than two years ago despite her “feeble female mind.” She attributes that in part to her willingness to admit when she doesn’t know the answer to a technical question and instead deferring to techs Schaffer and Derek Moyer, who combined offer nearly 50 years of automotive experience.
It’s the bond with their female customers that separates Degler and Bice from their male counterparts.
“I think female customers feel more comfortable talking with me.” Bice explains. “They’re not afraid to ask questions like they might with a man out of fear they might appear stupid. They’re very up-front with me, saying, ‘I don’t understand. Can you explain it to me?’ If they understand the repairs, they’re more likely to get them done and continue to maintain the vehicle. We’ve had a lot of females refer their friends to our shop.”
Male and female customers alike also appreciate the two business owners’ commitment to building customer relationships based on honesty and often a little ingenuity, Degelr says.
There’s a huge difference between a true mechanic and a parts replacer,” she says. “A true mechanic and a true counterperson will always strive for the solution, not necessarily the sale. Sometimes a canibbling pin here or a little muffler fluid there, and you’ve got it fixed for the customer. Or maybe they only needed a diode rather than a new alternator. The customer will always remember that. And when they truly need a part, they will come to you because you didn’t rail them at the counter when they came in and asked for a part they didn’t really need.
We strive to make customer… not sales. When we keep our eyes on the relationships with our customers and earn their trust, the sales just come.”
•Publisher: Network Magazine Vol. 4: Issue 2 summer 2009•