by Jon Mikelonis

Save for Napa Auto Parts and a few small mom and pop shops that have managed to hunker down to secure their local clientele, the real auto parts store is gone. Nowadays, both you and I are left with really just three auto parts retail options: national chain stores like AutoZone and Advance Auto, the internet, and Wal-Mart. Yes, I just said Wal-Mart. Love them or hate them, according to an article from DSN Retailing Today, Automotive (a.k.a. Department 10) at Wal-Mart is believed to outpace segment leader AutoZone in total revenue. Also to Wal-Mart's credit, automotive parts and accessories is a category that other mass retailers have scaled back or eliminated altogether.

But you're right, you won't be able to pick up an idler arm or a set of spark plugs at Wal-Mart. However, take a look at the prices of the commodity items you purchase for your Ford project cars, utility vehicles, and daily drivers. The savings you can realize at Wal-Mart on oil, filters, fuses, solvents, cleaners, and other miscellaneous fluids, is worth the extra trip for tune-up items, especially when compared to national chain stores. Value pricing is what Wal-Mart does best and understanding the needs of the average American enables them to put the right products in front of our faces. Add a dose of Wal-Mart's notorious hard-line supplier pressure and their value pricing on automotive supplies soon become available at their famous "Everyday Low Prices". While Wal-Mart's focus in Department 10 is on welterweight do-it-yourselfers, the stuff those guys buy is still a subset of what the more ambitious performance-oriented enthusiast needs to service their toys.

Location, Location, Location
Piggybacking on the traffic a Wal-Mart store generates within a shopping complex serves as a tractor beam for smaller retailers. This is even placing automotive chain stores like CSK Auto right into the same Wal-Mart-centric shopping complexes. While this is normally a good strategy for a retailer, it only works for those retailers offering something that Wal-Mart doesn't. Regardless, the phenomenon benefits the DIY consumer by making a trip to two retailers for automotive tune-up items, all the more convenient. However, you've got the believe that national automotive chain stores are feeling the drain caused by Wal-Mart's Department 10. For example...

They're not just a hodge podge of automotive products, these six items are some of the best selling tune-up items nationwide. So common they're available at almost every national chain store. What isn't common however, is the price. One particular mass retailer is leaving the national automotive chain stores in the dust. Who else but Wal-Mart.

Comparison Shopping
Let's do some comparison shopping using Wal-Mart, Kragen (CSK), AutoZone, Napa Auto Parts, and Pep Boys. The items shown to the right served as the basis of the comparison. All six products should be very familiar to any do-it-yourself automotive enthusiast. Whether you still use FRAM brand filters or not, probably depends on how much money you've got invested into your project car. No need to email in your outrage yet, because even if you've got a $10,000 stroker in your Falcon, many of us still run throwaway paper elements in our low-budget street machines, daily drivers, and utility vehicles. As for the other items shown, we can bet that you still buy them on occasion if not regularly for use as intended or otherwise. All are staples in the do-it-yourselfers garage or shop.

Prestone Anti-Freeze
With the first formulations sold in cans in 1927, sometimes we can forget the longevity of brands like Prestone Antifreeze/Coolant. The stuff isn't cheap which makes any reason to remove your radiator for a performance upgrade a reason to get out the catch-can. No matter what though, you're always going to lose some anti-freeze during radiator removal. For that reason you can bet there's a bottle of antifreeze in almost every enthusiast's work area, including yours. No sense in overpaying for the mean green.

Prestone Antifreeze Coolant
Pep Boys
Kragen (CSK)
Napa Auto


(Five store price comparison, continued.)






In This Article:
Mom and pop auto parts stores have almost entirely bit the dust which means hospitality and service are no longer a priority to most consumers. Subtract service from the automotive parts equation and you are left with only one attribute to choose your vendor. Price. With that said, the price comparison data in this article shows that Wal-Mart, love them or hate them, may become one-half your local auto parts store.

With 593 stores in 36 states, Pep Boys is the only national chain serving all four segments of the automotive aftermarket. However, when placed head-to-head against Wal-Mart, the price of their commodity auto parts just doesn't stack up.

If there is one thing NAPA does right, it's blend the feel of a hometown auto parts store with Wall Street buying power. Amazingly, they maintain this hometown feel with over 6,000 stores. At NAPA, I am often surprised by what they have in stock for some of my own 70's vintage Fords. However, just because they got my rotor in stock doesn't mean I'm going to buy Brake Cleaner at NAPA's retail prices.

Kragen, also known as Checkers and Schucks, has 1,307 stores in 22 states across the western United States. Parts counter service is hit-or-miss depending on store management. However, pricing is always a "miss" when compared to Department 10 at Wal-Mart. In my hometown, Kragen is brazen enough to park themselves next to the mass retailer that could be sucking the life blood out of them.

With 3,800 stores and a strong emphasis on commodity parts and accessories, AutoZone is most threatened by Wal-Mart's "killer" pricing. Some speculate that Wal-Mart's Department 10 alone outpaces AutoZone's total revenue.





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