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Service With A Personal Touch

Pete Chapman, store manager at Car Parts Warehouse in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, excels at cultivating relationships with his commercial and DIY customers.

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Get to know Pete Chapman, the 2019 Counter Pro of the Year, sponsored by WIX Filters. Pete Chapman, store manager at Car Parts Warehouse in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, excels at cultivating relationships with his commercial and DIY customers.

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It’s a Tuesday morning in October, and Pete Chapman’s cellphone is buzzing – incessantly. Each time it vibrates, the name of a different repair shop flashes on the screen. “My cellphone is my biggest producer,” jokes Chapman.

The fact that Chapman has carved out an hour for an interview feels like a bit of a coup. On busy days, it’s not uncommon for his customers to wait a half-hour to speak with him – even if another counter associate is available. When I got to the store, he was on his cellphone with a customer, but I only had to wait a few minutes for Chapman to finish up the call.

Chapman joined Car Parts Warehouse (CPW) as a store manager in 2000, when the company purchased Reith Auto Stores. CPW owner Tony Di Fiore Jr., whose parents, Tony Sr. and Carmelina, started the business in 1975, says Chapman has been “a customer-driven associate” from the start. 

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“It’s not only the professional installer that he takes care of,” Di Fiore Jr. adds. “He also takes care of the soccer mom and everybody else walking through the door. And he takes his time with everybody to get them what they need.”

Pete Chapman

Chapman, the 2019 Counter Professional of the Year, sponsored by WIX Filters, has been the manager of CPW’s Warrensville Heights facility since it opened in 2012. It’s not your typical parts store. Essentially, the Warrensville Heights facility is a parts store attached to a 150,000-square-foot distribution center. The 16-acre site also includes a training center, CPW’s corporate offices and a parking lot that looks big enough to accommodate an NFL game.

CPW, a member of the Automotive Distribution Network, has more than two dozen parts stores in Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania. Chapman not only manages CPW’s highest-volume store, but he also is the company’s top-producing counter salesman. Of the more than 125 counter associates in the Car Parts Warehouse family, Chapman’s monthly sales typically are double what the next-highest sellers in the company generate, according to Di Fiore Jr. 

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“He by far exceeds everybody,” Di Fiore Jr. adds. “It’s not even close.”

Chapman says his key to success is simple: If you want to grow your business, you have to “grow your relationships.”

“That’s been my key right there – just the relationships with the customers over the years,” Chapman adds. “And if there’s ever a problem, you never want to run from it.”

In the auto parts business, strong relationships start with the fundamentals of good service – the blocking and tackling, so to speak. For Chapman, that starts with the way he interacts with customers. Retail customers, in particular, tend to be in a state of stress when they’re looking for a part. “Your car breaks down, so I want to make you comfortable,” Chapman explains. “We want to get it right. We don’t want to oversell you and we don’t want to undersell you.”  

Over the years, Chapman has learned to “proof” his work. That means double-checking and even triple-checking the order “if something just doesn’t seem right to me.”

To emphasize the importance of double-checking orders, he uses this analogy: A customer buys paint and supplies at a hardware store (or supplies for any household project), and after the project gets underway, the customer realizes he or she doesn’t have the right materials. There’s nothing worse than having to put the project on pause because you need to drive back to the store.

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“I never want to be that person responsible for holding up a project,” Chapman adds. 

The youngest of 13 children, Chapman grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. From an early age, he was wrenching on cars in his dad’s repair shop, Chapman’s Auto Service. His first job behind the counter was in the parts department at a Hires Automotive Service location in Fort Wayne, where he worked for two years before he and his wife, Laura, moved to the Cleveland area.  

With so many years of automotive experience under his belt, Chapman knows the right questions to ask – beyond the year, make and model of the vehicle – to make sure he understands the customer’s specific needs.

“He gets it right every time,” says Chris Curry, will call manager at the Warrensville Heights facility. “When customers walk away, they leave confident that the part they got is a good-quality part based on their needs and it’s priced where they need it to be at.”

Chapman also is a “maestro” at managing the other counter associates and drivers, Curry points out. On Saturdays, it can get so busy that the lines stretch out the door. That’s when Chapman shifts to the role of an orchestra conductor, directing the other counter associates to help the next person in line – and managing logistics for the delivery drivers – as he’s taking care of customers and, of course, answering phones.  

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“He doesn’t miss a beat,” Curry says. “Pete is more than cool under pressure.”  

Invested In Relationships

Chapman’s commitment to customer relationships extends beyond the parts counter. He goes out to dinner with customers, and invites them to his home when he and Laura are hosting a get-together. 

During the holidays, he sends dozens of Christmas cards to his customers, and delivers personalized gifts to his top accounts. He hosts an annual Christmas Eve fish fry at CPW’s Warrensville Heights facility, where he and Laura cook 40 to 50 pounds of catfish for his commercial and DIY customers. 

Throughout the year, Pete spends time with his customers at basketball, baseball and hockey games, thanks to CPW’s sponsorship of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Indians and Monsters. He credits Di Fiore Jr. for making those opportunities available. Says Chapman: “Tony has put me and the other managers in a nice spot.”

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Saying thank-you to customers is a familiar practice for Chapman. Growing up, he remembers his late father being the recipient of gifts from his parts suppliers. As the owner of a repair shop, his dad “was always the recipient of something,” from confections to Indy 500 tickets. 

“And I just saw the way that the different parts stores and vendors took care of him,” Chapman says. “They weren’t buying him. They were telling him ‘thanks.’”

His parents, Elvin and Mary Chapman, were big influences on his life. Years after their passing, they still are. Every day, Chapman says he lives by the principles that they instilled in him. Among other things, they taught him to be fair, treat people as equals and always follow the Golden Rule. 

“In the course of a day, I don’t have any indecision,” Chapman says. “There’s never a point when I think to myself, ‘Should I do it this way or should I do it that way?’ I already have the answer.”

‘A Higher Gear’

If it isn’t clear already, Chapman’s success hasn’t happened by chance. As Di Fiore Jr. is quick to point out, Chapman is “a stand-out-from-the-crowd associate” who often is the first person to show up for work and the last one to leave. His colleagues describe him as “dedicated,” “customer-driven,” “patient,” “committed to success,” “meticulous” and “professional 120% of the time.”

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For Kent Mesnard, CPW’s controller, the classic image that comes to mind is Chapman standing behind the counter with the work phone in one hand and his cellphone in the other hand, and Chapman somehow being able to lean down and type into the computer. Mesnard has even seen Chapman set the phone down and walk to the warehouse to find a part. “He’s a great representative of Car Parts Warehouse,” says Mesnard. 

Curry marvels at the fact that Chapman doesn’t even have a stool by his counter station. “In four years of working with Pete, I’ve never seen him sit down,” Curry explains. “He’s always standing up and he’s always on the move.” Not surprisingly, Chapman says he starts each day with a workout. 

As successful as he’s been in his three decades in the auto parts business, Chapman believes he’s just now hitting his stride.

“I’m in my fifties now, and I feel like I’m finally putting it into a higher gear – meaning I’m much more confident in my approach. Most times when someone walks through the door, if they tell me the type of car they have, I have an idea of the problems that those cars have. So I have an idea of where we’re going to go with the conversation.”

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Still, Chapman says he learns something new every day. And Chapman is quick to express his gratitude to the Di Fiore family for putting their faith in him. He has never forgotten what co-founder Tony Di Fiore Sr. said to him when Chapman was managing a different CPW location: “Run it like it’s yours.” When Chapman was tapped to run the Warrensville Heights facility, Tony Di Fiore Jr. told him: “Let’s see how far you can take it.”

“It’s been a joy to work for the Di Fiore family,” Chapman says. “It’s a business, obviously. But they bring some of the same family atmosphere that I grew up with.” AMN

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