One freestanding, full-time grocery store, Two coffee shops, Three 'Meat-and-Threes,' Four auto part stores
The Citizen examines the recent inundatio of auto parts stores in Madison
story by kathryn purcell
photos by angelina
Madison has one freestanding, full-time grocery store; two if Wal-Mart is counted. Madison has two coffee shops. Madison has three 'meat-and-three' restaurants.
Madison has four auto parts stores, three of which are within sight of each other, and all of which are located along the 441/I-20 Corridor.
All developer-owned, Advance Auto Parts and AutoZone opened within six months of each other, according to Madison Planning Director Monica Callahan. O’Reilly Auto Parts opened its doors in mid-January of this year.
Representatives from both AutoZone and O’Reilly attest that the growing population around Madison is their reason for opening stores in the area.
“For the growth potential,” Shane Dorsett, AutoZone store manager, said.
“Through our corporate, we have all kinds of surveys [that determine where to place stores],” Chris Farrow, O’Reilly district manager, said. “We have a whole committee that comes in and looks at rooftops. Madison is a growing area, and we came in for that reason.”
Further, both seem to be pulling from the same customer base – commercial business.
“It’s about 50-50 [commercial to retail], whereas companies like Advance Auto Parts and AutoZone are retail, while they do offer commercial services,” Larry Sockwell, O’Reilly store manager, said. “We also have heavy-duty parts for everything from tractor-trailer trucks to farm equipment.”
“It’s more of a commercial thing right now,” Dorsett said. “I know there’s a lot of traffic for everybody involved…We’re all getting [retail] traffic from Greensboro and Eatonton.”
Neither of the store managers seems to be fazed by the competition for business.
“It hasn’t really affected us that much,” Sockwell said.
In fact, Dorsett finds the abundance of auto parts stores a positive thing – a chance to provide quality customer service.
“Actually, between Advance (Auto Parts) and I, we work pretty close together,” Dorsett said. “If I don’t have a part a customer needs, I call over there. They do the same thing…Ultimately, it’s about customer service. Finding the part you need shouldn’t be a problem.”
When it comes to customer service in Madison, though, nobody’s been in the business as long as 34-year veteran Bruce Conner, owner of Conner’s Auto Parts.
Conner’s Auto Parts has been in business in Madison for nearly three decades. The location has moved – from downtown to the edge of the historic district – but the face of the business has stayed the same throughout.
“They see the same people here all the time,” Conner said. “I’ve been doing business with the same people I’ve been doing business with.”
Conner will tell you that competition is fierce, but his history with the community is part of the business philosophy Conner is banking on using to compete with the other auto parts stores.
“That’s the biggest difference between us and them – we’re locally owned,” Conner said. “When you’re fighting what you’re fighting down here, it’s hard to survive. You’ve got to work hard…But I’ve been doing business for years and years with people. They become more than a customer, they become a friend.”
And he seems to be right – Conner’s customer base consists of business from “do-it-youselfers,” farmers and area garages, many of whom are regular customers.
“Conner’s will be here because Bruce has been here,” Johnny Youngblood, owner of Youngblood Motor Company in Madison, said. “He takes care of you…He’s probably got 60 percent of the business and he’s going to keep that business. He’s someone you can rely on because he runs his own business.”
So, why exactly are there four auto parts stores in such close proximity in Madison?
“I’ve probably had 20 people approach me about why we’re getting another auto parts store,” Callahan said.
The bottom line is the City of Madison can only allow or not allow auto parts stores in that particular zone.
“We (the City of Madison) can only say ‘yes’ to auto parts stores or ‘no’ to auto parts stores,” Callahan said. “When we choose that zone [in which to allow auto parts stores], it can be one or two or 20. The public thinks we can control the number, and we can’t.”
As to why auto parts stores would choose to construct businesses that close to one another, Callahan alluded to the fact that corporate-owned auto parts stores tend to look to each other when it comes to where to open new locations.
“I do know, having talked to other planners, that auto parts stores engage in head-to-head competition,” Callahan said. “When one goes to one city, the others try to go there too. [This] opposed to, say, when Lowe’s and Home Depot started looking at our city. When one got here first, the other started looking elsewhere…Our demographics wouldn’t support both a Home Depot and a Lowe’s, so it was whoever got here first.”
In the end, despite the number of auto parts stores – one, two or 20 – in Madison, the market will determine who stays in business.
Writer's Note: The legal department at Advance Auto Parts corporate office couldn't be reached for comment as of press time.