EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — There are rows of metal shelves in the warehouse at Crown Auto Parts, stocking automotive paints and thousands of car parts to fit various makes and models.
Particularly in the past two decades, changes in the auto industry and the proliferation of makes and models of cars meant the business needed more inventory, said Bob Smail, 62, of Absecon, who owns the longtime local business with brothers Bill and Rich Smail.
The automotive industry is constantly shifting, as manufacturers’ innovations make vehicles and their technologies more complex — and make repair work more likely to be done by a mechanic than at home.
Crown Auto Parts Inc. has witnessed and adapted to these changes since it was opened in Pleasantville in 1966 by Smail’s father and two partners. The business sells retail and wholesale.
Nationally, the automotive aftermarket industry had about $286 billion in sales in 2010, according to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association. The trade group represents an industry encompassing replacement parts, products and services for vehicles after the original sale.
Automotive paints have always been a part of Crown Auto Parts’ business plan, since the three brothers’ late father, William Smail, noticed an opportunity for it in the area, Bob Smail said.
The shop sells and mixes its own paint colors in-house and sells commercially to the body shop and collision industry, including in Atlantic and Cape May counties.
The store also sells related products such as thinners, sandpaper, masking paper and tape.
“We got into it mixing paint. If a body shop needed a custom mix and didn’t have it, we would mix it ourselves. And we cut our teeth on that. We have grown to the point that’s probably 60 percent of our business,” Bob Smail said.
The shop, which moved from Pleasantville to Egg Harbor Township in 1974, still enjoys a decent amount of walk-in traffic, but that has also changed as more repairs are being done by professionals, Smail said.
“That trend has kind of gone away a little bit. The average person finds it kind of difficult to fix a car now,” he said.
“In the ’70s and ’80s, vehicles were simpler, and there was more do-it-yourself business,” he said. “People could change belts, filters, wires — all the simple parts of the engine of a car people would work on. … Cars were easier to work on. The technology of the automobile changed,” he said.
The Smail brothers grew up working in the family business, although they had different careers. Bob Smail was an Atlantic City police officer before buying into the business.
“It takes a desire to work hard, put a ton of hours in. You’re married to it. We’re open seven days. We close a half a day on Sunday,” he said.
His advice for operating a business such as Crown Auto Parts: “Being not just knowledgeable on your products but having a good financial background. Not only are you trying to sell your products and make new customers, you have to be on top of new laws and taxes. I’d recommend someone getting into this business or any business, you need financial management skills.”
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