Kulvir Singh (left) and Jag Dhaliwal show off the new showroom at Robin’s Auto Parts. They have been building the business up since they bought it in 2012, and this year have joined Vast Auto as an Auto Value member.
By Allan Janssen
The courtship lasted about seven years, but it was never really in doubt that Robin’s Auto Parts in Brampton would eventually fly the Auto Value flag.
On Friday, Jagvarinder (Jag) Dhaliwal and Kulvir Singh, who purchased the small jobber store in the highly industrial area northwest of Toronto in 2012, made it official.
The signs are up, the software is in place, and the showroom is open at the newest Auto Value store in Ontario.
Dhaliwal and Singh had been looking for a business to invest in, and they considered a lot of options. But one of Singh’s friend, a garage owner, told them a struggling parts store on Melanie Drive might be for sale. They looked into it, and sure enough, the owner of Robin’s Auto Parts was contemplatingretirement. The entrepreneurs made an offer and soon found themselves in the parts business.
Almost immediately they started working with Paul Bradley, then a business development manager for Vast Auto Parts in Ontario. They had a lot to learn, and Bradley was a willing teacher.
More importantly, he says, they were eager to learn.
Paul Bradley, Vast Auto’s regional sales director for Ontario (far left) and Jeff Cunningham, business development manager (far right) congratulates Kulvir Singh and Jagvarinder (Jag) Dhaliwal, partner owners of Robin’s Auto Parts in Brampton.
“When they took over, it really wasn’t much of a store. It was on its last legs,” says Bradley. “Right away I started working on bringing Jag and Kulvir into the automotive business, and helping them understand what the parts sector is all about, the various product lines and players that are out there, and all of the programs designed to help them grow their business.”
At first Dhaliwal and Singh acted as free agents, purchasing parts through a variety of sources, including Robin’s old supply chain. But each year Vast earned more and more of their business, eventually going from second call to first call.
Bradley worked hard to build a relationship.
“We hit it off quite well,” he says. “The main counter guy, from theold Robin’s days, was still with the company, and I knew him from before. And we found that we were able to work more closely together and bring the new owners up to speed.”
To understand the parts business, Dhaliwal spent time on the counter, fielding calls from repair shops.
“He already knew a lot about cars,” says Singh, “but he had to understand how the shops worked and the parts they need. That helped a lot.”
Bradley (by then the Ontario regional sales director for Vast) and Jeff Cunningham (the new business development manager for the area) arranged clinics by major parts suppliers to teach Dhaliwal and Singh what goes into modern parts, how they need to be sold, and what a balanced inventory looks like.
Together the four of them worked to update the company’s computer system, installing Vast’s Eagle inventory management system, its Elite Extra dispatching system, and the Net Value online parts ordering system that allows Robins’ 300 or so wholesale customers to order parts through Robin’s inventory or directly through the Vast warehouse.
They also started working more closely with those customers, explaining why quality repairs are not built on cheap parts.
“Some customers always want the cheapest parts possible,” says Singh. “We want our customers to sell quality parts. It is better for them, it is better for their customer, and it is better for us. We have to figure out how to discourage those who want only cheap parts.”
It boils down to educating repair shops, says Cunningham. Unfortunately, it’s a message that doesn’t always get through.
“A lot of time, repair shops sell to price,” he explains. “They have to have the cheapest part available because they have competitors who are also low-balling the job and they just want to get the job. Once they’ve quoted a low price, now they’re stuck. They need cheap parts to achieve that price point. They’ve backed themselves into a corner.”
Cunningham says educating the customer means explaining why installing quality parts allows them to stand behind their work with a generous warranty. It not only attracts a higher quality of customer, but builds loyalty and satisfaction. The part lasts longer and prevents related problems from developing.
“That’s something we’ve worked with Jag and Kulvir on,” says Bradley. “They’ve changed their assortment to lean towards quality parts, and sell them effectively to their customers. When you’re installing quality, you have a lot of resources behind you.”
It has also started to resolve the other big problem in the auto repair industry: overdue accounts.
From left, Jag Dhaliwal, Eric Bains, Deep Gill, Abhinav Kaushal, Sukhdeep Singh, Kunal Verma, Kulvir Singh.
“Selling the parts is not hard, and delivery is very easy,” says Singh. “But recovery is a big problem. It depends on the personal habits of the customer. Some of them have the money, but they just don’t want to put their hand in their pocket and pay it. Other people just don’t have it because they’re not running their business well.”
They have offered their customers help in understanding the money end of the business. And they’ve put their money where their mouths are by updating their inventory with quality parts that are relevant to the local market.
Updating the store’s inventory took some time, because a lot of it was obsolete. Dhaliwal and Singh expanded the business, renting an additional unit in the industrial building they’re in, expanding their footprint to 3,500 square feet, and filling the shelves with more than $600,000worth of products.
The expansion also gave them some room for a new showroom, and a more attractive customer-facing counter. Piece by piece, Bradley and Cunningham helped put the new Robin’s together.
“It has taken a long time. We’ve been working together since 2012, and we’ve asked them many times to come over as Auto Value members. They just didn’t feel the timing was quite right,” says Bradley. “And that’s OK. Our objective at Vast is just to support the customer. Whether they’re a banner member or not, they’re a Vast customer.”
Dhaliwal says he and Singh wanted to keep their options open in case they wanted to expand rapidly or open a second location. But any doubts they may have had disappeared as they continued to work with Vast. They stepped closer and closer to membership until Bradley pointed out that the last thing missing was a sign out front.
This year Dhaliwal and Singh agreed the timing was finally right to join the Vast family.
“It takes time to build relationships and trust,” Bradley allows. “We’re thrilled to welcome them into the family. And we’re very excited about what’s in store for them.”
Dhaliwal says the personal touch was what made Vast so attractive to them.
“We have been working as a family,” he says of the growing relationship between the companies. “We were never interested in working with a company where there are a lot of channels to go through in order to get something done. When we have a problem and we call Paul and Jeff, the first thing they say is ‘Your problem is solved.’”