OUR 2014 LARGE BUSINESS OF THE YEAR
Smith Auto Parts was named our Large Business of the Year in January at the Dinuba Chamber Annual Banquet. We shared the story about how this business started a true story of entrepreneurship demonstrating a set of business values, that we all look up to.
The business was purchased in 1933 by 18 year old Elmer "ET" Smith for $15. The business was in a 30' x 100' dirt floor building, with 20 wrecked cars out back in a chicken-wired fenced area and a few tools. The $15 represented one months rent and the banker took the money, shook his hand and kicked out the delinquent tenant....and that was the beginning of Smith Auto Parts.
This was a one man wrecking yard from 1933 - 1942. ET was a hardworker, he would go and pick up old cars and trucks and salvage the parts, building up his inventory. He set a goal to build 2 - 6' x 12' shelves and fill them with salvaged and rebuilt parts. He was on his way, he had inventory to sell.
In 1942, he got a draft notice and December 7, 1942 as he reported to the recruitment office he was going to ask for a deferment, since he was the sole support of his family, but Pearl Harbor had been bombed that morning and the recruiter said "Sorry son, if you had come in yesterday it would have been granted".
ET took the next two weeks to gather up all of his inventory, stripping all of the cars and trucks of anything that could be sold, he put everything onto a tarp on the dirt floor and wrapped it up to keep it safe from the rain falling from the leaking roof. He sold all of them to his part supplier for $9,000 and gave the money to his mom to take care of the family while he was off serving in the army.
He found out paratroopers got $60 a month compared to a foot soldiers pay of $15, so after boot camp, he met and married his wife and signed up for the paratroopers. He was a paratrooper 1942 -1946, going all over the world, behind enemy lines, he had no need for money so he had his checks sent to his wife.
When he returned to Dinuba another part store had opened under the same supplier he had used, so he had to start over with a new supplier, no history, no credit. But Mom had saved the $9,000 he had left and his wife had saved all of his checks, so he had capital to reopen that 30' x 100' dirt floored store on South K Street.
ET began again, building the business back up, he worked long hours by himself until 1951 when Ron Cochran, a 15 year old kid that worked for George Zarounian, came to pick up a part for George and saw ET was alone. He shared his work history, starting in 7th grade, he worked 10 - 12 hour days for the Kalendars, how he had bought his own car at age 14, a '41 Chevy and how he would like to work for him. ET said nothing and Ron went back with the part to Zarounian's lot, where George was waiting for him and called him into the office, stating ET had just called. Now Ron thought he was going to be fired, but instead George said you better get over there he is willing to pay you a $1 an hour. So that is how Ron Cochran got started with Smith Auto Parts. Ron like ET wasn't afraid of hard work, he studied and learned the business, every part of it.
In 1955 ET bought Kerman Auto Parts, he now had 7 employees and 2 locations. In 1965 he opened his third store in Reedley. Ron became the outside salesman and collections person, a job he really didn't like, but ET knew he could handle. Ron would go out visiting businesses until he got enough money to cover what ET needed.
In 1981 after 50 years, ET was ready to sale the business and Ron was ready to buy it. ET remained on until Ron bought him completely out in 3 years. After retirement he continued to be the patriarch of the business, imparting wisdom and sharing great stories.
Smith Auto continued to grow under Ron's leadership. A small machine shop was purchased in Visalia, later a second location would be purchased for a larger part store and corporate offices. Decker Parts of Fresno was purchased in 2008 and according to Ron you need to own you property so just like all of the other locations, when the lease ran out he purchased the Fresno location and eventually purchased the whole block. The latest acquisition was the Merced Store, giving Smith Auto Parts great coverage for the Central Valley.
The Dinuba store has 17 employees, who have been with the company from 7 - 40 years. Employees are F/T, get benefits and are treated like family. After all this is a family business, Ron owns 51% and his sons Randy, Ryan and Troy own the rest. They started in the business when they were young. Just like their Dad and ET, they know how to work hard and smart.
Ron shared that he keeps the competitive edge by buying direct by the truckloads and being part of a cooperative to keep costs down. Smith Auto Parts is ranked 3rd out of 2,300 Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance Dealers, the largest auto parts distribution network in the world. Smith Auto Parts warehouses all lines for the six company stores and makes daily deliveries to al locations. Today Smith Auto Parts serves 100 communities, from Delano to Modesto, with four daily deliveries to Oakhurst.
Just think $15, a 30' x 100' building, 20 wrecked cars, ET Smith's and Ron Cochran's hard and smart work, Smith Auto Parts has grown from 1 employee to 165 employees, one warehouse, six company stores, 115 vehicles, and three complete machine shops.
Thank you for continuing to call Dinuba your hometown! Thank you Ron, Randy, Ryan and Troy for leading by example, showing a business model that demonstrates entrepreneurship, leadership, commitment to community, loyalty to staff, while providing a full line of quality products at competitive prices and great customer service!
REMEMBER TO SHOP LOCALLY AND SUPPORT GREAT BUSINESSES LIKE
SMITH AUTO PARTS, INC.
Miss Dinuba Pageant
September 19, 2015
Second Runner-up Annysa Ramirez Miss Dinuba 2014 Maddi Tuttle First Runner-up Katie Morgan
We are pleased to have 13 young ladies running for Miss Dinuba this year. The girls have already attended several events and have begun putting together their platforms, deciding on their talents and preparing for this life changing experience as Miss Dinuba contestants. We hope you will join us at the pageant on September 19, 2015 and show your support for the girls, the pageant and scholarships as a sponsor of the 101-year tradition, that continues to promote personal growth, community involvement, and teamwork in our young woman. If you have time drop by the Dinuba Chamber office and see our Past Raisin Day Queens and Miss Dinubas, you will see some very familiar faces and know that programs like these are the basis for great leaders and community-minded citizens, that continue to give and contribute to make Dinuba and their communities the best they can be!
Scenes from Miss Dinuba Pageant 2013