Mike's Auto Parts
By Virginia Bruce, editor
When Pat Mahoney started his auto parts business in the early 70s, he wanted to call it Pat’s Auto Parts, but unfortunately someone else had already used that name. “My given name is Patrick Michael Mahoney, so I just went with my middle name and it became Mike’s,” he recalls. He was only 20 years old when he bought an empty building in southeast Portland and opened the doors on his first business.
He got into the auto parts business even earlier. “I was fifteen years old, a high school student without a job or direction but full of ambition. Our family was poor and anything I wanted, I had to earn. My father suggested that I speak to Tom Kreuder, who operated an automotive shop and gas station a block from where we lived. He ran his business for 40 years at that location and was known for detailed quality work. My father called him a master and said I could be his apprentice. I worked there through high school learning mechanical and business skills. When Tom Kreuder’s health deteriorated further he decided to turn the business over to me to operate. That was one of the scariest days of my life. He told me that I was to collect and deposit the daily receipts, then I had to pay all of the bills, including rent to him!”
Mahoney continues, “After a short time helping me during the transition he was hospitalized and I was on my own. I was able to double the revenue the first year. After he was doing better he came back to help me with pick-ups and assist me with my bookkeeping chores.”
Pat Mahoney helps a customer at his Cedar Mill store
Since those early days, the auto parts business has been greatly affected by computerization. “We used to keep all our inventory on cards, and every night after we closed we went through and updated it. Now we belong to a Co-op that has an inventory of about $8 million dollars and we get deliveries to our store several times a day, six days a week. In our computerized auto parts system we have over 800,000 items we can draw within a couple of days or about 125,000 items the same day, within hours most of the time.”
The Co-op is made up of local independent auto parts stores. They maintain a warehouse on Swan Island, “sort of like Western Family in the food business,” he explains. This arrangement allows Mike’s and the others to be highly competitive with the chain stores. “Chain stores aren’t as big a problem as most people think since they can’t compete with the availability of our system,” he says. “Their pricing is only image and perception. I read that they are paying almost six figures to a pricing specialist to research where they can charge higher margins to their customers, and then advertise they will match prices when they get caught over-charging!” In fact, chain stores sometimes get parts from Mahoney and the other co-op members because of their flexibility and the good relationships they have with manufacturers and distributors.
Mahoney says that finding and training staff is the most challenging part of running an auto parts store. “You have to be part bartender, and part doctor. People come in when their car isn’t working right, and they’re not always in a good mood. You listen to their stories and diagnose their problems,” he explains. “Finding employees with listening and problem-solving skills is most important. A lot of people know about cars, but that doesn’t mean that they’re nice people,” he laughs.
Mike’s specializes in helping people who work on their own cars. These are mostly what Mahoney calls “daily drivers.” And some of their customers have “project cars.” A few days ago he had a call from a guy who was working on a ’64 Ford Galaxy. “I had his brake shoes in stock!” he exclaims. They also do a lot of business with larger commercial accounts—manufacturers and other businesses that have a staff maintaining fleets of vehicles.
In addition to stocking parts and supplies for auto repair and maintenance, the folks at Mike’s can perform a test to see if your charging system is working properly, test your battery, and read the OBD-II check-engine-light codes. They’ll also install windshield wipers, “because it’s faster to do it than to explain it to someone!”
With the recent rise in gas prices, Mahoney says, “I see a trend toward better maintenance—paying attention to previously neglected or delayed servicing of simple-to-do things like air filters, tire pressure, fuel filters, and oxygen sensors. I also see customers of all ages and genders tackling more automotive servicing tasks themselves, since I hear them complain they don’t have the money to have the service performed for them.”
The recent road construction hurt their business, he says, because, “there were times when customers would go out of their way to shop elsewhere because of the long waits during the construction period. Now we and our neighboring businesses have to do a job of retraining customers to come back to us since the construction issues are over.”