With more than 400 makes and models of cars in Australia, the aftermarket parts, accessories and service sector is serious business.
While some people may not be familiar with the Bapcor name, most would know the long list of retail, trade, independent, specialist and service outlets within the group. Commencing operation in Melbourne in 1971 as Burson Auto Parts, the business now supplies more than 500,000 different car parts per year around Australia. Darryl Abotomey joined Bapcor in 2011 as CEO, leading the company through an ASX listing in 2014 and its change in name from Burson Group Limited in 2016.
The change in name, explains Darryl, was done to reflect the evolution of the group, particularly after the acquisition of Metcash’s automotive businesses in August of 2015. The Bapcor stable now includes such well-known names as Burson, Autobarn, Opposite Lock, Midas and ABS to name just a few, with supply arrangements and branding support to independents such as Autopro and Sprint Auto Parts.
The growth of Bapcor – even before the acquisition – has been impressive and Darryl sees extensive future growth on the horizon. Plans for the next five years include expanding the Burson and Precision stores from approximately 147 to 200 outlets, raising the number of Autobarn stores from 115 to 200, and almost doubling the number of Opposite Lock outlets from 64 to 120. It’s a bold plan, but one that Darryl believes is possible due to the current strengths and culture of the company.
“We’ve already experienced significant growth over the last 5 or so years and so we’re in a good place to continue,” he says. “The culture of the business and people is incredible and helps drive us all forward.”
“The managers and staff in the stores all know each other pretty well. There is no politics in how they operate – they just want to get things done. They want to help the customers – be it retail or trade – and they see how the organisation can support them to achieve that and work together.”
This ethos is supported through an extensive incentive program, ensuring all staff have an active interest in the efficiency and credibility of the business. In the trade business alone, all people – from the salesman through to the store manager and on to the drivers – are all on some form of incentive.
While there is clear direction from the top, Darryl works hard to ensure there is a personal touch, consistent with the philosophies of the family business. He still sits down every week to write birthday cards for people in the original business and he makes himself available for phone calls from anyone.
“We want all our people to feel like they are part of something successful and growing with a real presence and strength – yet we also want them to have a sense of ownership of their store with a personal connection to see it succeed at an individual level.”
Although there is clear delineation between the retail and trade brands, there is still a strong focus on stocking quality brands throughout all outlets. As Darryl notes, most consumers would not know nor check what brands their mechanic uses when servicing their car; however the mechanic knows that a poorly performing part will reflect badly and so they require trusted brands as much as an informed consumer. It is an interesting example that mirrors Bapcor’s own approach to business.
“Whether it be trade, retail or the service sector, a lot of business is from word-of-mouth. If we stock poor products or don’t provide the service, then we won’t survive. It’s in our interest for our customers to succeed, so we will work with them, and provide a service for them that supports their needs.”
One such innovation for the trade sector is Bapcor’s ‘The Alliance Program’ which offers employment and legal advice, as well as website construction support and promotional items to workshops – mostly free of charge.
“If they buy up to at a certain level, then they get the benefits of that level,” says Darryl. “A number of customers came back and said,
‘What’s the catch?’, but there isn’t one. The whole aim is to make our customers more successful so they can grow their business. Our logic is if they grow their business we are going to get more sales, so it is a win for both.”
Underpinning this connected approach is a strong relationship with suppliers, compounded by the nature of the car industry.
“Every time a new motor vehicle comes out, there are new parts for it. We have to work with our suppliers to make sure that not long after new models come out, they have the parts available for us. It’s the biggest single challenge we have working with our suppliers.”
It takes a lot of energy and determination to run such a business, and Darryl’s passion towards Bapcor is obvious. He says that he will always be looking to develop and grow on the simple premise that “if you can’t improve your business, then you know it’s time to retire.”
“I have never enjoyed a job as much as I do this one, and I think you’d find that from the majority of the people in the business,” he says proudly. “We work with a good bunch of people with hardly any of the politics that you so often get in businesses. We get things done and in a manner which is respectful and fair to all.” Of course, a large part of the objectives – particularly for shareholders – will be reflected in the figures, and with strong financial growth over Darryl’s tenure, he wouldn’t appear to be leaving Bapcor anytime soon.
“We’ve always met our targets, but I get a lot of satisfaction in what we’ve achieved since we floated in 2014. We see such a clear path ahead in what we are trying to achieve and where we want to go, so to see that come together whilst meeting financial and operational targets is personally gratifying, and a credit to all our staff.”