Sturdevant’s enters third generation
Auto parts store serves six states
November 22. 2012 6:00AM
A third generation has taken over Sioux Falls-based Sturdevant’s Auto Parts, which has grown from humble beginnings to nearly 50 retail stores in six states.
CEO Tim Sturdevant now serves as the top executive, following his father Jack’s death in late September.
“I’ve learned an awful lot from him through all the years, and that is just the guiding principles,” Sturdevant said, adding that his father taught him to do business with honesty, integrity and respect for customers.
It has been a winning formula for Sturdevant’s Auto Parts, which marks 90 years in business this year and has stores in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming.
“We also distribute to about 50 independent auto parts stores beyond our own stores,” Sturdevant said. “So there’s nearly 100 auto parts stores that we’re distributing to.”
Tim’s grandfather, Art Sturdevant, and great-uncle Charlie began doing business in Wahpeton, N.D., in 1922. A store remains at the original location.
In 1932, Art Sturdevant opened Sturdevant’s Auto Electric, a repair service in Pipestone, Minn.
Jack Sturdevant began working with his father in Pipestone in 1950.
The company expanded to Sioux Falls in the early 1970s and continued to grow.
“My grandfather, my grandfather’s older brother, we’re riding on their shoulders yet,” Sturdevant said. “But Jack really had the vision to take us a from a service business for primarily repair and service to building the business.”
The company has grown by 50 percent in the past 10 years. Sturdevant credits employees and store partners for their success, adding that the average person works 11 years for the company.
“We have very low turnover, and that is key,” Sturdevant said. “To give good customer service, you’ve got to have those employees that work well as a team and take care of those customers.”
The auto parts industry is often identified with distribution and sales, but it’s really a service business, Sturdevant said.
“Yes, it’s an auto part or paint or body that we’re delivering to our customer, but there’s so much service that goes into just finding the part, getting the correct part, getting it to them, taking care of them,” he said.
Sturdevant’s also uses a partner ownership concept at retail stores, a structure Jack Sturdevant started when the company began to expand beyond Pipestone.
“The manager of the parts store, we like them to be a partner with us in the business,” Sturdevant said. “They generally have 25 percent interest in that store. And we help them get in to the store.”
The concept works well for those in line to take over a store when an existing partner decides to retire, he said.
“And these are folks that have worked for us for 15, 20 years already, so it’s just a nice, natural transition as the next generation or the next person fills those shoes,” Sturdevant said.
Chris Bixenman, store manager and partner in Rock Rapids, Iowa, has been with Sturdevant’s since 1981.
“Sturdevant’s takes good care of their employees, and the company is small enough that they appreciate the people that they have,” he said. “I think primarily they get good people, they retain them, and it makes it a good company to work for.”
Loyal customers also have contributed to Sturdevant’s success over the years.
Terry Connell, owner of Connell Car Care in Luverne, Minn., is from a family with a third-generation relationship with the Sturdevants.
“It’s actually been a relationship of pure car guys,” he said. “They’re all about car parts, and we’re all about fixing and selling cars. They’ve always had the right stuff when you need it, and they’ve moved with the times as far as their inventories have gone.”
Similar stories have helped grow and sustain the business, said Sturdevant, who now is selling parts to the grandchildren of customers he served growing up in Pipestone.
“It’s hard to put a value or express your gratitude for all those years of taking care of them and them taking care of us, giving us their business,” he said.