One Shelf at a Time

S-T-U-R-D-E-V: A-N-T-S spells Sturdevant’s. We’ve all heard this marketing jingle but how many of you know the story behind the jingle?

Art Sturdevant moved from Nebraska to Pipestone, MN in 1932. That same year he opened an auto electric repair shop. Little did he realize that he was creating a company that would someday be one of the leading auto parts sources in the upper Midwest. In the 1920’s, the automobile business was starting to take off. Art studied the cars just coming out at the time, with help from his older brothers who were already knowledgeable in the automotive trade, and he felt there was a business to be had if someone knew how to fix these new machines. Art’s son, Jack, was only three years old at the time the business was started. Jack recalls his father’s motto, “If it’s electrical, I can fix it.” He was right and the business took off fast.

A couple years after opening their first store, they moved to a larger building. It was a concrete building with no insulation and it had an apartment upstairs. Convenience and the need to save money necessitated that the family live upstairs over the garage. The apartment with no insulation was either too hot or too cold in the Minnesota weather. Additionally, the exhaust from the cars downstairs often filled their apartment. “Dad was successful but conservative,” recalls Jack. Over the years, they stayed in the apartment and saved their money.

Jack went to college at the University of Minnesota. “I worked hard at school and played football for the Gophers back when they were good.” When Jack returned home after his schooling, his parents were still living in the apartment. While attending the university, Jack received an offer to work for a large company
in Minneapolis. “I did not want to work for a large company. I wanted to work in the family business. But, I told my dad that the only way I would come back was if he would allow me to grow and change the company into an auto supply company.” Art’s response was, “We are not borrowing any money to do this. We will work our business, pay our bills, pay ourselves a modest wage and if there is anything left over, we will invest it into the auto parts business.” Jack agreed and went to work for the company.

The company continued to grow and they managed to save up some money which they used to purchase parts. The parts were stored on shelves that Jack and the family built. He jokes that they literally built the business “one shelf at a time.” At the time, there were two other auto parts stores in Pipestone, but Sturdevant’s survived the competition and built the business. After a few years of success and saving money, Jack noticed that Slayton, MN did not have an auto parts store. “We rented an empty restaurant building in Slayton and went into business in 1960.” The Sturdevants took on a partner in Slayton. Having a partner in every store is a concept that would prove to be extremely successful in building their business. The success of the Slayton store paved the way for their next store in Luverne, MN. Staying consistent with their business philosophy, they partnered with an employee from the Pipestone location as their partner/manager in Luverne. “This was a common sense business solution that we follow to this day,” says Sturdevant. “Every store has a partner/manager.” The expansion was strong from then on.

The next growth level of the company came when they ran out of room at their Pipestone location. They needed to expand to hold even moreinventory for their growing business. This is when they made their first “major” purchase in the history of the company. In 1972, they purchased the L&L Motor Supply company in Sioux Falls. Soon after the L&L acquisition, Sturdevant’s purchased Graff Motor Supply; another large company in Sioux Falls. The L&L Motor location had to be moved because the city was undergoing urban renewal in that area. “By then, Dad had confidence and allowed me to borrow some money,” recalls Sturdevant. They moved the store to Norton Avenue and built our first combination store/warehouse. They quickly outgrew that property, and in 1998, they purchased land and built their current corporate headquarters/warehouse/training center/refinish supply center/retail store. At the time, it was all farm ground. Sturdevant purchased the farm ground directly from the owner; a local farmer named Gary Swenson. The 105,000 square foot facility on Shirley Avenue is strategically located near Interstate 29 on the west side of the city. The state-of-the-art warehouse was built with expansion in mind, with the capacity of adding another 55,000 square feet to the facility. The warehouse currently stores more than five million dollars worth of parts.

The growth was not limited to the eastern part of the state. In 1985, Sturdevant’s acquired the Pawnee Warehouse in Rapid City to get a west river presence. “John Sturdevant saw an opportunity in Rapid City. When the Pawnee Warehouse location became available, it was in an old grain building. Pawnee Warehouse had a customer base and we added some additional stores of our own. From the original building, we
moved Pawnee to a downtown location. We just recently closed on a brand new facility.” This new facility in Rapid City is 30,000 square feet and will soon house the Pawnee Warehouse, Refinish Supply Center, and the Sturdevant’s Auto Parts; just as the S.A.E. corporate office building in Sioux Falls is set up. This merger makes the company even more accessible to the customers in the West River region. The Pawnee Warehouse supplies the West River, parts of Nebraska, and parts of North Dakota locations and their customers. The S.A.E. Warehouse supplies the East River, parts of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa locations and their customers. And the expansions keep coming.

Recently a new west river location in Eagle Butte, SD was purchased. In the past year, Sturdevant’s has opened three new locations and decided to expand to the existing S.A.E. Warehouse. These expansions make Sturdevant’s parts and customer service available to more people efficiently.

In 2001, S.A.E. Warehouse completed a merger of the Northern Sturdevant family stores. The North Dakota and Minnesota locations were established in 1922 by Art’s older brothers. These “Northern” locations are in Casselton and Wahpeton, ND, and Hawley, Elbow Lake, and Wheaton, MN. These locations soon became an important part of the company by allowing Sturdevant’s to supply the northern part of the Midwest.

Sturdevants’ two sons, Tim and John grew up in the business and continue to work for the company. “I grew up with the expectations of my parents to work as soon as I was able to. I instilled that same work ethic in my sons. I did not expect them to work in the business if they didn’t want to, but they both enjoyed it,” according to Jack. Tim is President of the S.A.E. Warehouse in Sioux Falls and John is President of Pawnee Warehouse in Rapid City.

Tim Sturdevant says, “I’ve always been very proud of the company and our great people. It’s exciting to be part of the team as we continue to be aggressive
in the marketplace. Just adding over a million dollars of ACDelco/General Motors OE parts is really fun.”

John remembers growing up in the family business. “I remember my Mother taking us to the shop in Pipestone to have a coffee break with my Dad and Grandpa. My siblings and I would explore the shop and play hide and seek. Eventually, I asked for a job and was put to work. We were very serious about the family business and always took great pride in how we took care of our customers. June 2010 will be my 40 year anniversary of working in the family business. To this day, I can’t smell gasoline, oil and grease without thinking of the first shop in Pipestone.”

Sturdevant’s now has over 40 retail locations across South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, and Nebraska. Part of the Sturdevant’s company is their Refinish Supply Center; the region’s leading supplier of paint, refinishing supplies, and equipment for fleets, manufacturing, and collision repair. Their technically trained, experienced staff is there to help today’s highly sophisticated manufacturing and collision repair facilities keep up with industry trends. Not only does Sturdevant’s supply automotive parts and accessories along with paint equipment and supplies, they also have machine shops in certain locations for customers to get their vehicle engines rebuilt. These machine shops can maintain high performance engines and restore the classics. They work on cylinder heads, block issues and maintenance, crank shafts, connecting rods, and brake turning. Being located in the Midwest, Sturdevant’s has learned to adapt to their customer base. Agricultural parts are also available for the local farmers and ranchers. Sturdevant’s hopes to have the products and services available for local consumers of all industries.

There are other ways that Sturdevant’s gives service to their customers. There are periodic Car Care Checklanes that give customers to opportunity to have their vehicle checked by a trained technician for any problems that may exist. They will also give customers information on how to fix these issues and prevent them from happening in the first place. These checklanes take place during Car Care Month in April. They are free and available to the public.

Sturdevant’s S.A.E. warehouse is the largest supplier of auto parts and accessories in the region. Every year S.A.E. or Pawnee Warehouses host a product show. Over 70 manufacturers participate and over 1,000 customers attend. This is Sturdevants’ mission of keeping their customers informed about what is new in the automotive aftermarket industry.

“I came from a working family. We always had to work. The garage was my playground and I grew up around cars. The auto parts business was a natural progression from our original business. I had a desire to succeed. I just kept building shelves and added auto parts inventory. But you can’t achieve what we have been able to achieve alone. We have many employees that have been with us for decades. We are successful because of our people. There are currently 95 employees working at Sturdevant’s that have been an employee for over 10 years. Of these 95, 36 have been an employee for over 20 years. Our employees are our strongest assets. Our sales team has years of experience and expertise in the auto parts industry. Our philosophy is to help our customers make money. Because of this, you will receive more personal service and attention to your purchase than our competitors.”

Training is another important component to Sturdevants’ success. They have a 2,900 square foot state-ofthe- art training facility at their corporate office. They hold meetings and training sessions for their employees. They also host several technical seminars throughout the year. Last year they hosted 16 separate tech seminars, training 600 technicians.

On time delivery is another important success factor. They offer overnight and in many cases same day delivery, to most of their locations on their products. They also offer a courier service when customers need that occasional piece that they cannot supply from their warehouse. On time delivery would not be possible without computer technology. Sturdevants’ high-speed communications infrastructure is available to speed orders to the warehouse where highly trained service professionals fill the orders and get them to customers fast.

Sturdevants retail auto parts stores are members of PRONTO. PRONTO is a national association of independent automotive aftermarket distributors. This association provides many services to Sturdevant’s stores including nationwide warranty, financing, training, and even roadside assistance. Along with being a part of the PRONTO association, Sturdevant’s has been added into the ACDelco Dedicated Distribution Group, which allows Sturdevant’s to hold a large inventory of ACDelco parts and creates more distribution opportunities. Sturdevant’s also promotes a little fun and games within the company. With customer giveaways ranging from vacations, to NASCAR races and even fishing and hunting supplies, they have the customer’s satisfaction in mind. These giveaways are Sturdevant’s own way of saying an extra thank you to their customers. Without them, their business would not be able to survive in hard economic times. With more consumers fixing their current vehicles instead of purchasing new ones, businesses like Sturdevant’s can strive to meet their customer’s needs.

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