When did Napa Stores get Stupid?

Napa stores used to be THE place for hardcore mechanics to find parts and hardware to repair cars. The counter folks were knowledgeable and didn’t look at you like a beagle when you asked them for some obscure piece of hardware. You all know the look. We get it from the Big-Shiny-Chain-Store auto parts store counter person that would sooner sell you chrome tire valve caps and exhaust pipe tips than a caliper rebuild kit. The vacant stare and smile that says, “I have NO idea what you are saying but I’m smiling because I HAVE to!” look.

I went into my local Napa store to buy a 10mm x 1.0 thread brake hard-line tube nut. I own a flaring tool and had a stripped nut I needed to replace. I was told they didn’t have much metric stuff be she’d look. Their pitiful little kit box (smaller than my own brake parts box) was out of those parts. I asked about just a short piece of 4.75 mm replacement line with 2 fittings. That they had although the lines were not even marked with the thread diameter or pitch of the fittings. Huh?? HOW do you sell stuff like this with NO markings, no knowledge of the hardware?

I think we’ve all seen this decline but there seems to be no place to turn for simple pieces of hardware anymore except the internet.

When we as a country decided to turn the stock market into a slot machine. Companies chase short term profits over long term health because if they don’t, the shareholders get mad.

NAPA can make more profit, short term, by firing all those knowledgeable and relatively expensive counter folks and replacing them with highschool kids who’ve never even opened the hood, but who will work for minimum wage and no benefits. Eventually this will crash and burn, but until then the shareholders will make bank and the execs at the top will get rich beyond their wildest dreams. Nothing else matters.

If we want good service at the parts counter or anywhere else, we have to start demanding it, and part of that requires that we not constantly shop for the lowest price anywhere. I’m much happier giving the guy at the local parts store an extra couple of bucks rather than saving money by getting my parts at some megachain that costs less but hires dopes.

Those moldy-oldie counter people might still be out there somewhere. See if any are at other brand’s counters.
The brand of chain has little to do with that…it’s those people you want to find.

Years ago we had one of those nice NAPAs here.
Manuel decided he wanted to open his own place and quit.
He was able to franchise with Car Quest ( I painted his first store sign on 4x8 plywood )
Well , he took Derrald and Kathy with him…
and those PEOPLE took all of their customers with them to Car Quest.
…today we have NO NAPA !

At our Auto Zone you’ll find Serena Bantea hiding in the back on the commercial desk…in the patrs biz 36 years like me. At O’Reilley’s ask for Virgil. I still lean on Car Quest for my heavy and industrial parts.Here at my Ford dealer they send me all the old ‘‘can you just FIX this’’ people like you.

Even still OUR supply chain is shrinking from what we knew in the 80s. An awful lot of little peices are NOT available to us anymore…even though we knew darn well they used to be.

There is no money in nuts and bolts…It won’t be long before $5 is the minimum price for any inventory item…

Those moldy-oldie counter people might still be out there somewhere.

We have a couple small chain auto-parts stores here in NH (Sanel Brothers, Robins and Towers). Their counter people on average are in their 40’s and been working at these places for years (some more then 30). Mechanics around here NEVER use Pep-Boy type stores. Better parts…much more knowledgeable people. Their only drawback is their hours (7-6 weekdays and 7-2 on Sat).

I need to visit a local place called Bennett Auto Supply more often to see how they do. They are family owned in the southwest Florida area. I want some counter folks with grease under their fingernails.

Most of the chain stores have one knowledgeable (usually older, but not always) counter person and several low wattage versions. Those good folks, unfortunately, can’t make up for a lack of inventory. When no one would consider even trying the simple task of replacing a leaking caliper seal rather than buying a rebuilt one, why stock seal kits?

Around the same time people decided that buying parts online at rockauto or amazon was a good idea.

It isn’t just auto parts. I needed a new 5 cup quad wire rotary sifter for the kitchen and ended up having to special order an 8 cup version through a local mom and pop kitchenware shop to get a decent quality rotary sifter and one that holds more than a scant 3 cups. (Even sifters succomb to metal fatigue and eventual rust no matter how well cared for.) :slight_smile: And thank goodness for a knowledgable mom and pop store that services and repairs older sewing machines. We have become a throw away society and most young people have no knowledge or concept of repairing things. A friend in her early 30’s buys a new cell phone every two years and leases a new car every two to three years yet has trouble paying her rent. She thinks it better to pay about $300 each month to lease a car than to own a car that needs a few hundred dollars each year in service. In very few upcoming years, the people who know auto parts or parts and repair for household items will die off and there will be almost nowhere to get hands on service for just about anything.

I think my Grandmother used to have one of those sifters made in the USA back when you bought unsifted flower or something. We’d go to the corner store and buy coffee beans and I’d watch as she ran it through the coffee grinder. I never understood that then but do now. That was fresh coffee.

I’ll have to admit that comparing $700 a month to $300 is kinda tempting, especially in a down market where investments are not doing so well lately. But putting a pencil to it, even without the excess mileage charge, it really comes out to about the same overall cost either way. Then with all the insurance, maintenance, etc. hassles plus being forced to switch regardless in 3 years, it just isn’t worth it. I think I could kinda explain it if I had to but my mind starts to scramble thinking about car costs and all the different ways to figure it.

Oh yeah, I think part of the counter folks issue is that guys that used to be behind the counter were from the old days where they were full service parts folks serving dealerships and shops. Then as they went bust, went to NAPA. Now that they are retiring, where is the pool of people to take their place? They just aren’t there so they do their best. I don’t go in there much any more but I do try to pick the guy at the counter that seems to know more about the products.

My brother-in-law owned 2 NAPA stores in southern Mn like the one Mustangman longs for. He had knowledgable counterpeople who knew what they were doing. (His main man, Randy, was the best! He could find anything for you!) He kept them well stocked.

Sold them 4 years ago. He was noticeably happier afterwards.


He got tired of arriving at his neighbor’s sheds and seeing mail order or big box labels for the big stuff. Oh, they’d show up, “do you have this widget? Do you have that doodad?” Everything else? Big box or online “because it’s cheaper.”

By the way. Have all of the avatars been reset? Do I have to load mine again? Oh! There it is!

Never mind. :smile:

@Mustangman, that store won’t improve unless you complain to someone. By your description, I’d guess that was not the store manager. You might find the manager and make a constructive complaint. It’s hard to tell whether it is an education issue or hiring policy issue with this one incident. I’ll be charitable and guess a little education could improve the counter help at this store. Or you could check out that other parts store you mentioned.

no place to turn for simple pieces of hardware anymore except the internet.

There’s been a similar skills decline at NAPA in my area. In fact several of the NAPA stores have been purchased by the chain stores. And the others are not nearly as good as they were before.

You may have accidentally hit on it though, the internet may actually be the reason. diy’er folks with busy schedules may now prefer to order the parts mail order via a very comprehensive and unambiguous internet catalog rather than having to drive to the store only to discover they are out of that part. Or purchase the part from the store, only later to discover it is not the part they asked for. With fewer customers asking for parts at the counter, stores like NAPA can’t afford to pay for skilled counter help.

In my area there are a few locally owned auto parts stores left, and those are the ones I do business with. The guys behind the counter there definitely know what they are talking about. Comparing a chain store in my area to a locally owned parts store is like comparing apples to Studebakers.

@DrRocket is dead on correct re the local parts stores with knowledgeable staff. Local stores cannot compete on price on all lines while they support the nit picking details.

True story. I once called the regular parts store and ordered a water pump-note; at that time the counter man must jump to the catalog of rebuilt water pumps first. After stating the engine size he cut me off and asked how many heater outlets were on it and when I answered he just hung up on me without ever asking who I was. Not long afterward the delivery truck arrived with the correct part and I continued on. Weeks later I was in that parts store and asked the parts man about the pump and he just matter of factly said that they were very busy and he didn’t have time for any small talk and guessed that the part was OK since he got a core back and he knew who I was so I didn’t need to introduce myself. Now that’s a Pro.

Maybe this particular NAPA store is an aberration? There are 2 NAPA stores here. The older, established store is pretty good and the countermen are seasoned vets so to speak. I remember seeing some of those guys back in the 80s at now defunct parts houses; likely run out of business due to the odorous AutoZone business model. One of them was in the parts business as an independent back in the late 60s.
A guy can ask for an AN fitting or a Heim joint and not get a vacant look… :slight_smile:

The other NAPA store seems to pattern itself more like an AutoZone with a lot of lighting accenting chrome widgets and so on.

Here I thought I was progressing by now knowing what an avatar is and you throw in a heim joint. I’ve got that blank stare. Now Heimlich maneuver I understand.

Here’s your Heim joint. Right handy little pieces of hardware.

Ah ha, like a go kart tie rod end. I know what those are, just never knew they were called that.

Interesting discussion. Times have definitely changed.

  • The pool of mechanically skilled workers has been drying up for years. (Due to various reasons including cars being more reliable, the pastime of today’s youth is no longer hanging out at the local garage learning how to fix cars, those garages are disappearing, cars are becoming appliances.)

  • Lower prices on the internet (e.g. rockauto.com) have cut into the profits of the local auto parts stores, forcing them to run lean to remain profitable.

  • Today’s buyer is more informed and has many more choices than the local auto parts store.

I remember knowing which local auto parts stores had the sharp skilled counter help. And I miss those days of buying from and working with them. Those days are gone.

Tell Me how to do the Avatars.again please,anyway we have a good NAPA store,the older counter Guy is a very pleasant ,knowledgable person,the new Guy tries,but just doesnt have it,around here we have the old school and fix anything mechanics(be amazed at what they can do) and the OBD techs,you get an old hands on Guy or Gal behind the counter,you are probaly going to come out alright.For the the most part now,the big chain stores are getting pretty expensive on everything.

As I’m reading this thread, I notice a NAPA add right below the topic box on the right side of the screen and another running across the screen under the comments. What a hoot!

Near my neighborhood, there are two parts stores, one an Advance Auto, the other an O’Reillys. I do two or three simple repairs a year plus oil changes, so I don’t do as complex stuff as a lot of the other posters on this board. For what I do I can find knowledgeable folks in both stores, although not everyone. Seems like the manager or assistant manager is knowledgeable plus one or two employees that seem like they do a lot of auto work.