Knecht’s Auto Parts

At counter with customers choice 5

Knecht’s Auto Parts believes in empowering its managers to make decisions, which encourages employee retention and benefits customers.

By Jim Harris

Knecht’s Auto Parts has been a household name for car enthusiasts and motorists throughout Oregon for nearly 70 years. “We’d had a path beaten to our stores for decades,” says Kevin Sabbato, president of the Springfield, Ore.-based retailer. “We’re the neighborhood auto parts store that’s been there for decades; for our customers, we’re the place they remember because they went there with their dad. That familiarity is a big positive.”

Founded in 1947, the company today operates 21 locations in Oregon. Knecht Auto Parts’ longevity has not only earned it loyalty from its customers, but also many of its employees. “We are still family owned and operated, and that carries some weight,” Sabbato says. “Several of our management-level employees have been here a long time – we have someone on our counter who’s been here for 37 years, and 5 who’s been here for 15-20 years.”

Sabbato represents the third generation of family ownership in the company, as he is the son-in-law of Wally Knecht, the son of company founder Nate Knecht. He credits the company’s retention of longtime employees to its family based culture. “We’re just super-straight with people and treat them fairly,” he says. “We expect a lot out of them, and reciprocate their loyalty – when something comes up, we take care of our staff with time off or other support.”

Fostering Loyalty
Employee loyalty has been fostered by part by the autonomy given by the company to its managers. “We give our managers a ton of rope when it comes to the decisions they can make at the counter without having to call the corporate office to get an okay,” Sabbato says.
“Our store managers are ‘macro managed’ – managers are treated equal to upper management.”

The independence given to managers benefits customers, as managers have the ability to override corporate policies regarding returns and can also make decisions regarding pricing. Knecht’s offers a price match guarantee policy that offers discounts on items that can be found at a competitor for a lower price; managers are empowered to offer these discounts at their discretion.

“We put all of our decisions in the hands of the store and its employees,” he adds. “Sometimes our stores do things that may not make sense because it’s easy for the employees or store manager and is in a customer’s favor. At times we will take back an ‘alleged defective’ when there is clearly nothing wrong with the part.”

In addition to the price match guarantee policy, the company offers the same level of discount to individual customers as it does to mechanics and auto shops. “We are pioneer when it comes to discounting,” Sabbato says. “Back when we had only one store, the employees of the logging industry traded with us, and we would discount items to them as if they were the company they worked for. Commercial account discounts were passed on to their employees.

The company also fosters repeat customers by laying out its stores in a similar manner, making it easier for customers to find items even if they’re visiting a different location. Knecht’s Auto Parts merchandises its parts in tiered, three-dimensional displays as opposed to using peg hooks. “We’ve put a lot of thought into how easy it is for our customers to shop,” Sabbato says.

Making Improvements
Knecht’s Auto Parts stores continue to find ways to foster customer loyalty. This is critical to the company, as it has seen a significant amount of competition in many of the markets it operates in, even in towns with populations as low as 5,000 people.

“We’re constantly trying to improve our product offering to make sure we have the most current product inventory,” Sabbato says. Knecht’s Auto Parts is using data from R.L. Polk and Company to stock parts based on the make and model of cars registered in its market. The company is also mining data based on parts that are being ordered from local mechanics.

The company is enhancing its marketing efforts including using targeted digital advertising. “If you’re a target customer in our market, we can put an ad in front of you that will hopefully get you in our stores,” he adds.

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