Despite rampant consolidation in the U.S. auto parts retailing market, the big players have not achieved more than a 30% market share of the do-it-yourself vehicle maintenance business, according to recent market research. In 1991, the 10 largest auto parts store companies in the U.S. operated 3,643 stores. Today, the top five companies operate 8,356 outlets, according to Lehman Brothers Equity Research. Across the U.S. auto parts chains have strategically positioned stores on main thoroughfares, often within sight of each other, like fast-food restaurants competing for drive-by customers. "You can compare prices and, if one’s lower, the other is always willing to meet or beat the other’s price," says Mike Allen a retail customer and backyard mechanic. The top of the industry has consolidated in recent years and many large successful companies bought out smaller ones. "Amid the growth and consolidation, pricing for consumers has remained competitive among the industry’s players," says Brad Thomas an analyst with Lehman Brothers. The parts industry is only minimally affected by economic fluctuations since two-thirds of parts sales are non-discretionary. In other words parts that are broken/worn out must be replaced. "If you need a starter (for your car), you need a starter," says Thomas. Among the do-it-yourself auto-parts retailers, the top five companies generate only 30% of total sales analysts say. Not only are the large chains such as Autozone and O’Reilly Automotive competing for these customers but auto-parts wholesalers such as NAPA and retail stores like Wal-Mart are also trying to attract these consumers. Darrell Wensil, owner and manger of an auto parts and accessories business in Florida says he can’t compete on price with the big chains but he carries some products the big companies don’t. "They send me customers for things they don’t have or don’t want to bother with," says Wensil. The top two part-stores, Autozone (3,219 sores) and Advance Discount Auto Parts (2,500 sores) had a combined $8.6 billion U.S. in sales last year. Allen states his loyalties are based on his experiences with products and staff, pricing and convenience of store locations.