LITTLE CURRENT–For Reuben Allen, owner-operator of Allen’s Automotive (NAPA Auto Parts Allen’s Automotive Group) along with his wife Sharon, the February 20 opening of their new location on Highway 6 in Little Current is not the culmination of a dream but a continuation of the journey. “We bought the land 12 years ago now for a new parts store but I was always sidetracked,” he said. “A year went by. I bought out my competitor.”
The store on Water Street was growing too small. “We were doing two-and-a-half times the amount of sales now,” Mr. Allen explained.
His wife Sharon encouraged him to build the new store. The Allens have been able to increase inventory to almost $1 million compared to just over $400,000 in the old location, have added two new employees and are looking at adding a third. There are currently 16 employees between the Little Current and Manitowaning locations.
Manager Rick Thurston was hired 12 years ago. “He’s been an awesome employee,” Mr. Allen said. “A lot of the other employees have been with us for years also. We’ve been able to form a pretty good team. Parts girl Janice has been with us for 16 years. Dave’s been here for 12 and Steve’s on his thirteenth year.”
Allen’s Automotive offers small engine repairs and features lawn and garden equipment but their primary focus is as a NAPA auto parts retail and wholesale store. “NAPA is the largest aftermarket auto parts retailer in the world,” Mr. Allen explained. “You can’t have a better partner than NAPA. We can order parts up to 5 pm and have them in Little Current at 8 am the next day.” NAPA sent over a team to help relocate the store; a fellow store owner from Sault Ste. Marie also helped.
Mr. Allen feels it is important to have a presence in both locations. He can be found at the Manitowaning store on Mondays and Tuesdays and in Little Current on Thursdays and Fridays. He’s usually out on deliveries on Wednesday. “I wanted to get to know the customers in both areas,” he said. “Our goal is to look after our customers to the best of our ability. Without a customer we don’t have a business, so we need to look after them. All customers have a choice so we appreciate them giving us an opportunity. Today with soaring gas prices and how tight the dollars are it’s tough for customers to venture off the Island to get work done. We need to raise the level of what we’re offering.”
The 6,500 square foot Highway 6 location contains a bright and spacious showroom, bulk and auto parts storage space and a space for learning. “I want to train our technicians here on the Island so they don’t have to leave the Island,” said Mr. Allen. “That’s what this room is for. We’ve just installed satellite. We can do online training, discuss problems. Islanders spend enormous amounts of money getting training in Sudbury. It costs $100-150 a day for the employee. And they quit work early so the business isn’t earning with staff gone. It’s been a little struggle and we haven’t got there yet.” He’s hoping to have these new offerings in place by next spring.
“It’s mandatory,” he thinks. “It’s really important to support small shops. I want to help them make it. We need to support each other and trust each other.”
Mr. Allen is “hoping to solidify being the number one parts supplier on the Island” through daily deliveries and the ability to maintain a greater inventory in stock. “It used to be someone could order something and wait a week, then they wanted it overnight. Now they won’t wait,” he said.
“We strive to do the stuff we do best,” he continued. “If you dabble you’re not in the game. If you’re not first or second, you’re last.”
Mr. Allen is a licenced mechanic and auto body repair technician and has owned both a garage and a body shop. He is the third generation of his family to work in the automotive business and has been running the family business since 1980. “There were lots of learning curves and I did many, many things wrong,” he laughed.
He opened his first parts store when he couldn’t find a reliable source for parts. “My business couldn’t grow because I couldn’t get parts on a quick or regular basis,” he said. Ms. Allen left her job at the medical clinic in Manitowaning to run the parts store.
“Without Sharon I wouldn’t be in this position,” Mr. Allen acknowledged. “She ran the first parts store I opened in Manitowaning without knowing a thing about the automotive business. She and the bookkeeper run that store. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off her. I need her each and every day.”
Their children both work at the stores now but he doesn’t think they want to take over the business. “They’re realizing we put in a ton of hours,” said Mr. Allen. But don’t expect him to retire any time soon. “It gets in your blood.”