Mark Krasicki has surrounded himself with the people he trusts most. People he trusts to offer customers the best experience they can find. People who strengthen relationships with customers and suppliers. People who have helped deliver 28 straight years of growth. People who help the company find new opportunities.
These people make up the team of The Unified Parts Group, which operates five jobber stores in Saskatchewan.
It’s because of their willingness to take on challenges, find new ways to grow, adapt and respond quickly — be it to a new community, new sector or a global pandemic — that they are the 2021 Jobber of the Year.
The people Krasicki surrounded himself are those with whom he couldn’t have a closer relationship. He has his two sons working beside him — Monte and Trent, both as vice presidents in the company. And as senior vice president and chief operating officer is Scott Shkopich, his best friend since third grade.
“We’re like one big family,” Shkopich described.
Having your kids working in your store is a tradition that probably dates back to the dawn of the automotive jobber. Including someone you’ve known for pretty much your entire life? That’s icing on the cake.
“It’s very invaluable because you always know that he’s got the company as if it was his own and he’s always got the company’s back,” Mark said of having Shkopich next to him. “So it’s very comforting. You know the job’s always going to be done to the best of his ability every time.”
The business owner alone can’t lead the success of a jobber, he added. A strong team is needed.
“You have to surround yourself with good people, trusting people and people that are going to be taking the company in the right direction,” Mark said.
Scott Shkopich, senior vice president and chief operating officer
He places such a high value on having a trusting relationship with his staff because it’s those people who will be charged with building, retaining and enhancing relationships between the business and customers.
“We continue to build relationships,” Mark said as the key to his business’ success. Rarely, he added, has his business lost a customer to the competition. “The only time we usually lose customers is when they retire or pass away.”
The ability to build relationships is apparent to Roy Moussa, NAPA’s western vice president.
“And those relationships don’t happen by accident. They happen because he built trust with his ASP customers, by delivering the best value and service every single day. His team goes far above and beyond the call of duty,” he observed.
Alvin Chibi, general sales manager in Alberta for NAPA Auto Parts, nominated Mark for Jobber of the Year. They’ve known each other for about 25 years, starting back when Chibi was a supplier rep. He’s seen their business grow over the years and how consistently they serve their customers.
“They’re community-minded people; they’re family-oriented people. They built a great team,” he said.
Moussa said the team at Unified can create such great relationships because they can connect with just about anyone.
“They’re so ingrained in their markets that they become part of the fabric,” he added. “So when you think of automotive parts in the markets that they work in, you think of NAPA. That is what has really helped grow that business over the years.”
Monte and Trent Krasicki, vice presidents at The Unified Parts Group
The Unified Parts Group, part of the NAPA family, has five stores in Saskatchewan, with its head office in Prince Albert, the province’s third-largest city.
Mark began his journey in the automotive aftermarket in the late 1980s. He was “talked into” managing a NAPA store in Melfort. While there, an opportunity came up to become the partner of a store in Prince Albert. So he took on the opportunity in 1993.
From there, it was growth.
In August 1994, a second branch was opened in Meadow Lake, about 2.5 hours northwest of Prince Albert. In 1997, the company expanded to Melfort, about an hour southeast of Prince Albert. Two years later, they bought the assets of Fort Ignition from UAP, NAPA’s parent, which had previously acquired the company.
In 2008, they added the Traction banner, which serves the heavy-duty truck market.
In 2015, the company adopted the CMAX banner, NAPA’s line of auto body products.
In 2017, they bought a location in Tisdale, about 90 minutes east of Prince Albert. That same year, they moved into a brand new head office in Prince Albert. In 2013, Mark bought out his remaining partners to be the sole owner of the company.
Then in March this year, the company expanded into the second biggest city in the province, taking over a location in Saskatoon.
The staff at the Meadow Lake location
“We’re just finishing our 28th year of consecutive growth. As an entrepreneur, that’s a pretty motivating thing,” Mark said as to his reason for sticking around the aftermarket. “We’re probably 70-75 per cent wholesale on our mix. We have strong relationships with our wholesale customers. And when you have those relationships, you’re friends with those customers. It’s easier to do business with them and you enjoy going to work. And part of my entrepreneurial side is, obviously, Type A — I like to win. And so we continue to grow with that directive.”
Unified scores itself highly when it comes to building relationships with its customers. And the proof is in the pudding.
“I think it definitely has to do with our relationship-building with our customers,” Shkopich said of the reason they stand out from their competition. “How we treat them, what we do for them and how we go about helping them when they’re having challenges and helping them solve their problems. We want to be their problem-solver and help them with those issues.”
Because, after all, you need to have a vested interest in helping your customers grow. “Because if they grow, you grow as a company,” he added. “It becomes twofold.”
Their customers aren’t just customers in the traditional sense either, Trent noted. “They become a friend around here and that’s why we keep them life-long.”
No matter the challenge — a pandemic, a recession — the company manages to find ways “to persevere and to continue to grow and to continue to provide value to their communities. That is what has been special,” Moussa said.
“The formula is actually quite simple to say and incredibly difficult to execute: Create a value proposition that means something to your customers and deliver against your promises every day. If you can do those two things you will win,” he added. “Mark has found a way to do that in every market and, quite frankly, in every segment of the business that he works in.”
The staff at the Tisdale location
As noted, Mark has surrounded him with people personally close to him to bring professional success to his company.
Both his kids grew up in the business. “Well, from Grade 9 to Grade 12, it wasn’t voluntary,” Trent joked. “After that it became voluntary.”
He decided to stick around because he enjoyed what he was doing and saw an opportunity to be part of a great company that happened to be run by his father. “We work well together as a family,” he said of the dynamic. “There’s always ups and downs but it’s really great.”
His brother Monte had a similar story. “I’d get picked up by a delivery vehicle and brought to the store to work. I grew up in it and enjoyed doing it,” he said about turning a high school job into a career. “Then I slowly progressed in the sales side and enjoyed that part.”
When it came time to expand the business on the auto body side, Monte jumped at the chance to lead that growth.
Mark convinced Shkopich to join him around the year 2000. He was working in the business world at the time. Shkopich started off working in the store and in outside sales.
“It was about 2008 when I moved in to be Mark’s righthand man, and we’ve continued to grow from there,” he said.
The staff at the Melfort location
For Chibi, the family aspect shines through in the company and with the customers.
“These are truly local Saskatchewan born and bred people,” he said. “They are a very, very close-knit family. And that’s the way they treat their customers as well — as family.”
Chibi used the example of the NAPA privilege trips. Mark’s team brings along many customers and they spend almost all their time together — be it eating dinner, having drinks or enjoying the pool. “They have fun together. That’s the mentality that they have.”
At the end of the day, they’re genuine, Moussa said. “When they give you a promise, they fulfill their promise. They’ve got a tremendous amount of pride in what they do.”
But, Mark pointed out, the success of The Unified Parts Group isn’t because of the four of them. They have a strong team of people from management all the way down.
Brock Nahorniak is the company’s general manager, while Ken Hambleton handles warehouse and logistics. Both are key members of the senior leadership team. Then there’s also administration manager Denise Bremner, who has been with the company for 26 years. Meanwhile, Shelley Shirley has been the branch manager in Melfort since 1997. And that type of tenure is typical, Mark pointed out — many staff members have been around for 15-26 years.
“They’ve done a heck of a job through this pandemic that’s for sure,” Trent said of the staff throughout the company’s five locations as they dealt with the effects of COVID-19.
“The pressure on the counter staff at all locations was tremendous and they handled it like heroes and what really helped us step through,” Mark added.
The staff at the Prince Albert location
Indeed, working through COVID-19 has presented a unique set of challenges, whether it’s for delivery staff, those on the counter or the leadership team.
For example, it was sometimes unpredictable as to what measures shops were taking in protecting themselves and clients, so caution and flexibility were needed.
“As an outside salesperson, you never know from shop to shop what it’s going to be like,” Shkopich said.
“For a while, there was a lockdown everywhere. But when the lockdowns started to slow down, our essential business team was able to start resuming normal business,” Mark explained. “For our walk-in DIY groups, we had protective Plexiglas at all locations, along with masking and social distancing, and a really regimented cleaning schedules.”
In terms of shifting how to do business, much of it switched to using the telephone. For a company that values in-person engagement, it was a change. But they were quick to adapt to those challenges.
“I had some video conferencing, but a lot of our customer base isn’t into the video conferencing or the virtual meetings yet. So a lot of it was just keeping tabs with them by phone,” Mark said.
And Unified saw double-digit growth in 2020, despite the fact that driving slowed to a relative crawl and aftermarket retail numbers tumbled that year.
“The only report card with anything in business is results and we experienced over a double-digit growth during 2020. Many of the things that we implemented and approaches that we took helped us achieve those results and give us the confidence — financially, morally and business-wise — to take on another challenge like we did in Saskatoon,” Mark said of their expansion this year. “Even under a pandemic environment, we were able to persevere and continue to grow our business and grow our industry and our market.”
The natural follow-up question is: How? The company had always been ahead of the curve in technology. The pandemic just forced the team to lean on it a little more. The infrastructure was there; it was just a matter of maximizing its capabilities.
“It made us make sure that we were on top of our game and that side with our customers and our staff,” Trent observed. “I think that helped us to grow as well. We really relish that side of it.”
Being part of the NAPA family certainly helps, Shkopich pointed out.
“Being part of NAPA with its attraction programs, having the CMAX banner, having our suppliers support us — that has helped us grow. They’re always behind us. They’re a big factor and helping us achieve our success in where we want to go,” he said. “Yes, we’re self-driven but they’re also a big part of our success story.”
The staff at the Saskatoon location
The Unified Parts Group has invested big time in technology over the years. Rather than apply cookie-cutter systems in the company, they’ve created their own in some cases.
“We created our own CRM program that helped communicate between our sales team, our senior management team and our branch management team. That was something that we implemented that specifically works for our group,” Mark said.
While Genuine Parts Company — which owns NAPA Auto Parts — has a server solution in place for those who own multiple stores, Unified added its own on top of that. The five stores can connect with each other quickly to check on whatever they need in other locations.
“So when you’re in the head office branch or in a hotel or wherever you are, you can be basically doing anything from your laptop that you would normally do inside the office of one of the stores,” Mark said.
Customers can also connect directly to the store online and place orders. So instead of the outside salesperson taking the order on their tablet or taking notes, they can guide the customer to place the order themselves.
As noted, the company had video conferencing technology in place already, but kicked it up a notch as the pandemic made face-to-face meetings impossible.
“During that time, we’ve also been able to recognize how important it is for all aspects of our company — not only the sales division, but even with ops or administrative staff — that we’re trying to make sure that our people are using
as often as possible,” Mark added.
The company also didn’t sit around and let things get stale during the pandemic. On the body shop side, for example, the company implemented software that allows staff to monitor levels of liquids remotely. Checks are done twice a week and orders are taken as needed without having to be onsite.
The Unified Parts Group’s head office in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
During the early days of The Unified Parts Group, you could say the company dabbled on the auto body repair side of things. They had a little more than a handful of customers. But in their never-ending quest for growth opportunities, they saw potential in the body shop side of the aftermarket.
“It kind of got to a point in some of our locations where we had the majority of the market in the automotive side already and we needed to look at something different to grow in,” Monte explained. “And that was something that we had lightly touched before. We saw opportunity there and decided to go for it.”
The company now serves 27 body shops. This side of the business represents 20% of Unified’s revenue, according to Mark.
“We dealt with a couple larger shops already and we continued to see growth with them. Through conversation, we just explored the opportunities that were given to us to go into some of the other shops and build the relationship from there,” Shkopich said.
“They’ve done incredibly well at growing their business on the CMAX paint and body side,” Chibi praised. “They bring different thoughts and innovations to their business all the time.”
Industry, community involvement
An important consideration for the Jobber of the Year Award is how much they work to improve this industry and their community. The Unified Parts Group is fully dedicated to both.
On the industry side of things, the company is involved with the Automotive Industries Association of Canada’s Saskatchewan board, the Entrepreneurial Organization, the NAPA Associate Advisory Council and the Saskatchewan Association of Automotive Repairers.
During a time when right to repair is a critical issue and when business in general is changing, being part of these groups is essential, Mark said.
“What’s important is to grow as a company and to grow professionally and as an individual,” he said.
In the community, the company is a member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Chamber of Commerce and a major sponsor of the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. They also help with local charities and food drives, local minor sporting teams and events like car clubs in their communities.
From Mark’s point of view, every community needs businesses to be philanthropic and support local initiatives. If businesses like his don’t support minor hockey or charity drives, then they don’t prosper.
“We’re lucky that all our locations are in very progressive markets and progressive communities. We want to continue to support them,” he said. “Hospitals, health care, long term care — those are the types of things that’s also high on our radar. Being community-based and community-minded has been part of the culture of our corporation since Day 1.”
Simply put, they’re community leaders, Chibi said. “They have team members working in each of their communities and living in each of their communities. On the business side, they’re leaders; on the community side, they’re leaders as well.”