Getting to know PBS Truck Parts and CommPar
Bill Nolan, president
Please briefly describe the history of your business (a quick summary is fine).
Founded in 1952. Started as a small shop that rebuilt power brake boosters. Shortly after founding, added spring shop to the list of services. The business was purchased by my father in 1973. Began expanding into a broader base of parts sales and drive in service. I joined in 1984 after three years in public accounting. Continued expanding product lines and began to build new stores. My father retired in 1989 after he was diagnosed with cancer. We joined VIPAR Heavy Duty in 1991. Continued to expand into a full line distributor of premium brands. By 2003, four locations in South Bend, Elkhart, Gary and Rochester, Ind. In 2012, opened a second company (CommPar, LLC) in Sterling Heights, Mich. Opened a second store in 2015 in Romulus, Mich.
Please briefly describe your company’s distribution structure: What do you sell, who are your vendors, who are your customers, etc.?
We are a distributor of premium brands. A full-line distributor. Everything except the actual cab, windows and engines. Vendors include: Accuride, Baldwin, Bendix, Borg Warner, Donaldson, Eaton, Exide, Firestone, Goodyear, Haldex, etc. Our customer base is strictly government and commercial. While we have some very large customers, our primary customers are small- to medium-sized companies.
What separates your business from competitors in its marketplace?
WE CARE. Unfortunately, there are very few places you go that you get the genuine feeling that the people serving you care and have your best interest in mind.
How do you believe customers perceive your business?
Obviously, it depends on which customers you ask. We like to think they do business with us because we are service oriented and offer high-quality products at a good value. We are ‘Problem Solvers and Promise Keepers.’
How and why have your customers stayed loyal to your business?
We have a strong relationship with our loyal customers and we are loyal to them. This is one of our core values. Relationships still matter.
What is one thing most customers/suppliers don’t know about your company that would surprise/impress them? (i.e., tell us something about your company we don’t know)
Our current team has been with the company an average of 8.5 years. This includes drivers and warehouse personnel. Our customer service and sales team averages 11 years with us.
What makes your business a great place to work?
We are family. We treat each other as we want to be treated. Core Values: We are Fair; We Care; We are Respectful; We are Loyal; We are Humble; We are Optimistic.
How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?
It is essential to our survival and fundamental to our success.
Do you feel your business is in the position to change with the times? If so how?
Yes. The real key is that the necessary technology is now within our reach. As long as we get good at technology before the disrupters get good at truck parts, we will succeed and thrive. And we are aggressively getting better with technology.
Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?
Start at the bottom and gain an understanding of fundamentals of the business. It is far better to climb the mountain from the warehouse up then to have a helicopter place you at the top. This will help prevent big decision mistakes when it really matters, when you are managing people and processes.
What are your goals for the long-term future of your company?
Since we are in the second generation, we would like our company to be successful for at least 10 or 12 more generations
Why did your company join GenNext? How can GenNext help your employees?
Exposure. The real benefit of GenNext is exposing the people new to our industry to the veterans of our industry. Both types of participants win.
What are the three most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?
- Growing up doing every single job in the company from relining brake shoes and making leaf springs, driver, counter sales, etc., to sales management, accounting/finance management, purchasing, etc. The more you know about what each job requires the better prepared you are to establish expectations and evaluate those reporting to you.
- The day my father quit. I was 29. My father went from uninformed, out of date old guy to a wise sage in a very short period of time. Somehow, we (the company and I) survived my ignorance and naivety.
- The Crash of 2008/2009. Lesson: In times of crisis, hold on to your principles and core values. If you can, you will be rewarded well beyond any expectations.
Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?
Yes. Elmer Bauer – I watched him sacrifice for the good of the whole on several occasions. He was a man of service and was always well grounded and humble. Harvey Peterson – On a daily basis, he demonstrated creativity, innovation and a willingness to change. He also is a man of service and principle. Both of these men left the industry better than they found it. And, both of these men were very sincere when they asked you how are you doing? They would always follow a question like that with deeper and more probing questions that made you know they cared.