The leading full-line undercar and underhood auto parts warehouse in southern Michigan, Motown Automotive Distributing Co. has more than 50 years of experience in the automotive marketplace. The company uses that experience to better service its customers. 

“We were one of the first companies in our area to go to the two-step distribution model in the 1980s, and that was when we decided that we would give full service to the installer,” owner Jim Sechrist says. “We have very good inventory control and make sure that the installer gets close control of their inventory.” 

One-Stop Shop

The company traces its roots to Elwood Sechrist’s 1952 founding of a tool and die shop, Elray Machine Products. In 1971, the company expanded into aftermarket auto parts as Motown Automotive, starting with engine parts and growing to become a full-line warehouse. 

Motown Automotive’s customer service helped it earn recognition as a premier auto parts warehouse distributor. Among the many awards it has received throughout its history are the 2013 AAIA Head of the Class Award and the 2012 Counter Professional of the Year Award. 

The company now has 11 warehouses strategically located throughout southern Michigan and more than 50,000 quality parts in stock. It also has an e-catalog so suppliers can order parts online. This footprint allows the company to supply all of its customers’ auto parts needs.

Motown Automotive’s goal is to manage its customers’ inventories so they can focus on servicing automobiles. The company has worked to build a professional, values-based, solutions-focused organization. It is a member of the Federated Auto Parts group, which is one of the largest auto parts marketing groups in the country. This alliance gives Motown Automotive the power to purchase and market quality products and to supply them to customers at competitive prices.

Federated Auto Parts “helps us go to market,” Sechrist says. “They allow us to choose our own manufacturers while still supporting us in marketing and buying power. They also have a cooperative warehouse that buys container quantities, allowing us to buy less than container quantities at good prices.”

As a specialist in undercar and underhood parts, Motown Automotive has built a product catalog that has anything the undercar and underhood installers may need. By stocking anything that will wear out on a car, Motown Automotive can be a one-stop shop to its installer customer base. 

The company’s product offerings include premium brand-name products and quality high-value products. It stocks parts related to ignitions and filters, belts and cooling, fuel and emission, electrical, heating and air conditioning, brakes and wheel bearings, chassis and steering, exhaust, engine, drive train, and vision and miscellaneous parts. 

Changing Times

Sechrist says Motown Automotive must remain nimble to keep up with a changing industry. For example, there is much more competition for two-step distributors to deal with in the modern age. This means Motown Automotive does not have as large a price advantage as it had in the past. 

“This has made it harder to compete on price, but we have built a great reputation and are the only true distributor in our marketplace where the key customer is the installer,” Sechrist says. “Whatever they need, we will be willing to stock and provide to them. We have around 230 trucks and distribute from our locations and offer 30-minute delivery to installers.” 

The company is also investing in its internal infrastructure as part of an effort to improve productivity. In the past year, Motown Automotive installed a new computer system. Although it has taken time to get that system operating at its optimum efficiency, the idea behind the system upgrade was to ensure that the company can have better and faster access to information.

“It is critical that we can get instant access to information such as pricing on all part numbers,” Sechrist says. “Having access to that information is a key part of our ability to stay competitive, as we must be able to react quickly to price changes and make sure that we are on top of items that need to be stocked.” 

In the not-too-distant future, Sechrist and his two brothers will be turning the company over to the next generation of the Sechrist family. After 45 years in the business, they are ready to oversee the succession transition and allow the third generation of Sechrists to take control of the business, which they hope to have complete by the end of 2015.  

As the next generation steps to the forefront, Motown Automotive knows that competition is continuing to increase and customers don’t want to stock as much inventory. Customers are also shopping prices. In an environment where installers can check prices very quickly and are more apt to gravitate toward the lowest prices, competition is much more difficult. 

But Sechrist knows that Motown Automotive operates in a people business. He says it has always been this way. He is confident that the company will continue to succeed because it goes to great lengths to take care of its customers.

“They know they can get right to top management for quick decisions whenever they have problems they need us to solve,” he explains. “Whatever the issue, be it defective parts or labor claims, we will make sure the customer is treated fairly by us and by the manufacturers. That ability to think quickly, to be flexible and to treat our customers right are the key areas that help us win marketshare.” 

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