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Architecture + Branding: NAPA Auto Parts brand know-how cleverly coalesces collective of diverse stores into ubiquitous NAPA system

1-Organizing system needed

One of the axioms of vehicle ownership is that, no matter the model, make or vintage, servicing, maintenance work and component replacement will eventually be required to keep it performing optimally. For many retail consumers, such servicing work is the extent of their relationship and exposure to NAPA brand.

DSC12436 NAPA NAPA AutoPro 103 Rue St-Jean Baptiste Est Rigaud QC CA

NAPA AutoPro service center, right 3/4 view, Rue St-Jean Baptiste Est, Rigaud, Québec, Canada

Unlike more consumer-oriented automotive aftermarket supply brands such as AutoZone or Advance Auto Parts that focus mainly on the Do-It-Yourself market, NAPA Auto Parts focuses on both retail and commercial markets, having built a premier supplier status with professional repair shops across the United States and abroad.

DSC07124 NAPA Autozone West Taft Road Syracuse NY

AutoZone, front 3/4 view,  West Taft Road, Syracuse, New York

DSC09394 NAPA Advance Auto Parts Route 11 Mattydale NY

Advance Auto Parts, right 3/4 view, Route 11, Mattydale, New York

The automotive aftermarket parts space is a wide field of various large and small, simple and complex products, with inventories that consist of everything from tail lights to transmissions.

Seeking to address the growing need for an automotive parts distribution system in the United Stated, NAPA (National Automotive Parts Association), a voluntary trade association, was founded in 1925 (source: NAPA Annual Report 2013). In order to continue to respond to this ever-growing demand, NAPA Auto Parts keeps tabs on over 400,000 parts, supplied through approximately 6000 stores across 46 States, of which approximately 1100 are corporate controlled, and 64 distribution centers in the United States (source: mynapa.com/NAPA Annual Report 2013). As SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) turn over at varying rates, and new vehicles and parts become available, having the right parts in stock and getting them to professional customers quickly is becoming an infinitely more difficult and demanding task.

2-Organic growth

Nearing the century mark is a testament to the NAPA brand and the marketplace reputation that it has secured. The marketplace for auto parts has grown dramatically with the widespread adoption of the personal automobile as the primary means of mobility for the masses. As automobile sales proliferated, so did the need for replacement parts.

NAPA NAPA 12 West Howard Street Colfax IA 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, West Howard Street, Colfax, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

The brand grew organically with the burgeoning auto industry, habitually adding partner retailers to the NAPA system. A consequence of this uneven growth resulted in a patchwork of stores that bore little resemblance to one another, and more to their surroundings.

NAPA NAPA 108 Bennett Avenue Webster Springs WV 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, rear 3/4 view, Bennett Avenue, Webster Springs, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

The architecture was more vernacular/local than national/global. The stores served their local community and integrated into their neighbourhoods.

However, some initial retail outposts show signs of age. Small, rustic, homely, and inefficient (space and energy), some of these smaller “local” stores adopted an aesthetic similar to the traditional neighbourhood main street country/general stores.

NAPA NAPA 51 South Main Street Nephi UT 3 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front view, South Main Street, Nephi, Utah (source: maps.google.com)

Stores located in the densely populated areas of cities and towns meant a more convenient location, expedient response time for parts deliveries, better and more frequent exposure to the brand and top-of-mind recognition.

NAPA NAPA 7025 Webster Road Cowen WV 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, left 3/4 view, Webster Road, Cowen, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

As the nation, counties and cities expanded over time, the population poles, those with higher densities ebbed, and relocated further away from traditional town centers into more urban, suburban, and exurban areas.

NAPA NAPA 98 West Main Street Sutton WV 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view West Main Street, Sutton, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, retailing being a fickle thing, tastes can change rapidly.

Laden with stores several decades old in some cases, the NAPA brand does has a significant number of these types of legacy stores that would not, and could not, adhere to modern-day NAPA standards.

3-Sporting the team colours

The motley collection of NAPA Auto Parts stores of disparate shapes and configurations share one thing in common, they all root for the same team.

DSC12454 2885 Chamberland Street Rockland ON CA

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Chamberland Street, Rockland, Ontario, Canada

Exterior and interior signage promotes the NAPA brand. Many stores are awash in the core NAPA brand colors, PANTONE Reflex Blue, 123 Yellow, and 186 Red (source: NAPA product sales training manual). These core colours are present in the logo and brand signage.

NAPA NAPA 10100 West 49th Avenue Wheat Ridge CO 6 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, West 49th Avenue, Wheat Ridge, Colorado (source: maps.google.com)

In many cases, the Reflex Blue is liberally applied to all exterior walls.

DSC12450 NAPA NAPA 514 Main Street Hawkesbury ON CA

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Main Street, Hawkesbury, Ontario, Canada

In other cases, it is significantly more subdued, or barely registers. Instances where integrating into the surrounding character or design fabric is perceived as desirable, brand elements are often much less ostentatious.

NAPA NAPA 6802 Post Road North Kingston RI 1 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Post Road North, Kingston, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

NAPA NAPA 265 South Main Street Springville UT 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, South Main Street, Springville, Utah (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, there exist several examples of building exteriors finished in a so-called “NAPA Grey”. Notwithstanding, only the blue, yellow and red are considered core NAPA colours.

DSC12498 NAPA NAPA 845 Industrial Road Ottawa ON CA

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Industrial Road, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

NAPA NAPA 5117 E Independence Avenue Kansas MO 3 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Eeat Independence Avenue, Kansas, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

This somewhat clandestine and improvised approach to design is unique as the NAPA brand has less of a command-and-control, top-down all-encompassing uniform design directive. Unlike franchise or corporate owned stores, an overwhelming number of NAPA locations are independently-owned and operated stores, of which the proprietors participate within the NAPA system, sporting some or all of the team colours/insignia.

NAPA NAPA 303 South Main Street Coventry RI 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, South Main Street, Coventry, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

NAPA NAPA 1321 Main Street West Warwick RI 4 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, left 3/4 view, Main Street West, Warwick, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

Enjoying a heady 94% brand recognition, NAPA Auto Parts is one of top brands in the wholesale market (source: napaonline.com). Evidently, gaining the marketing muscle of a national brand and top of mind awareness is a boon to those participating within the NAPA system.

NAPA NAPA 29 North Locust Street Buckhannon WV 1 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, right side 3/4 view, North Locust Street, Buckhannon, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Although faced with a more challenging task of regulating store design than other competitors within the industry, NAPA does strongly suggest preferred or idealized size, layout and general parameters when in comes to new from-the-ground-up stores.

4-Micro-warehousing

In more recent years, more standardization to leverage and maximize the value of the NAPA brand has crept into the system. Consequently, the store design has veered away from inconsistent and eccentric towards slightly more rigid and repetitive.

Guidelines suggest ideal stores have a minimum of 60′ of frontage, range from 5,000 S.F. to 7,000 S.F. including sales area and stockroom, be located on the main/ground floor, and also provide on-site parking for a minimum of 25 cars (source: mynapa.com). Although these guidelines establish a working outline, they do not however dictate design in any thorough manner, as numerous items such as building shape, height, depth, width, floor count, site access, entry/egress, building orientation, to name just a few are left to the individual operator and their design team.

NAPA NAPA 15 Valley Road Middletown RI 4 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Valley Road, Middletown, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, the auto parts supply business does place some constraints on certain building formats. A list of favourable criteria would certainly include items such as main floor/single floor building/retail space, access to a loading dock/receiving area, ample parking for customers, distinct/separate parking spaces for delivery vehicles, easy street access, high visibility sites and main/arterial street access to rapidly expedite parts to commercial clients.

NAPA NAPA 201 East 1st Street Ankeny IA 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, East 1st Street, Ankeny, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

Unsurprisingly, NAPA Auto Parts stores have a predilection for small footprint, squat, low-rise, uncomplicated, unadorned, windowless buildings with simple/basic linear geometries.

NAPA NAPA 240 West Agate Avenue Granby CO 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, West Agate Avenue, Granby, Colorado (source: maps.google.com)

Acting as micro-warehouses, the stores benefit heavily from square or rectangular geometries that function best with linear rows of high-density racking. Divided between retail and warehousing functions, freestanding buildings tend to have a demonstrated gradient of opaqueness moving from the retail to warehouse portions.

DSC09470 NAPA NAPA Route 11 Syracuse NY

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view,  Route 11, Syracuse, New York

The front portion of the store, which serves the retail component, typically has a high incidence of glass and two-way visibility, emblematic of countless retail operations. Additionally, the vast majority of NAPA signage is located towards the front of the store.

NAPA NAPA 190 East 100 North Payson UT 3 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front view, East 100 North, Payson, Utah (source: maps.google.com)

The back of the store, which accommodates the warehouse and office/support spaces, has a tendency to be devoid of windows, surface relief, or memorable design features.

NAPA NAPA 1142 13th Street Nevada IA 4 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, left 3/4 view, 13th Street, Nevada, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

The rudimentary approach to store aesthetic understates the complexity and planning underway inside. Excelling at operating a hub-and-spoke network, the NAPA Auto Parts stores are supported by strategically located expansive distribution centers that can supply the stores in a timely manner to respond to immediate client needs.

NAPA NAPA 411 N Midler Ave Syracuse NY 1 https___maps.google

NAPA Distribution Center, right 3/4 view, North Midler Avenue, Syracuse, New York (source: maps.google.com)

NAPA NAPA 201 Shawnee Avenue Kansas City MO 6 https___maps.google

NAPA Distribution Center, front 3/4 view, Shawnee Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, as the Internet has revolutionized other industries, the established NAPA distribution network will likely require continual refinement and improvements to fend off the competition from newer online retailers such as Amazon, Partsgeek and Rockauto. However, with a plethora of well-stoked micro-warehouses supported by distribution centers, the NAPA inventory and distribution system is well suited to deliver on the promise of having the right part in the right place at the right price, right now!

5-Driverless future

Much has been written in the media about the lacklustre appeal of the automobile with the younger generations. Unlike their parents and grandparents, Generation-Y and Millennials are not infatuated with cars, driving less, and many are not bothering to get a driver’s license (source: USAToday.com). Seemingly rejecting car culture en-masse for Internet connected technology; many are choosing to avoid the hassle, cost and environmental impact of car ownership, opting instead for other mobility modes such as walking, cycling, public transportation, and car-sharing programs.

DSC12509 NAPA Car2Go Service

Car2Go vehicle (Car Sharing Service), Montréal, Québec, Canada

DSC12517 NAPA Vrtucar Car Sharing Service

Vrtucar vehicle (Car Sharing Service), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Additionally, advances in self-driving autonomous cars by Google have made the prospect of a driverless future perhaps much closer than once believed (source: cnbc.com).

The changing landscape for the automobile industry, perhaps more than competitive pressures, will have huge ramifications for businesses such as NAPA, which rely heavily on automobile sales and ownership to keep their business model viable.

NAPA NAPA 2919 South Duff Avenue Ames IA 4 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts,  front 3/4 view, South Duff Avenue, Ames, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

The widespread acceptance of the automobile and the freedom that it promised lead to the ensuing development of a “car culture” in the United States that once seemed unshakeable, surviving fuel rationing, myriad legislations, environmental demonizing and skyrocketing fuel price spikes. That unflappable resolve may not translate to future generations that have shown more interest towards information technology than the automobile.

Perhaps, the sight of groups of men, clustered together, with their heads under the hood of the newest vehicle on the block might disappear altogether from the neighbourhood visual lexicon. Likewise, the bonding experience between father and son, in garages big and small, performing basic maintenance on the family car, or working together rebuilding a long-term project car.

Then again, the twilight for these oft-repeated scenes of a romanticized past might not be so near.

NAPA NAPA 475 State Fair Blvd Syracuse NY 1 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, State Fair Blvd, Syracuse, New York (source: maps.google.com)

If such were the case, it is likely, that much like back then, NAPA Auto Parts will continue to fulfill the auto parts needs of service professionals and owners, and feeding the passion of gearheads from their diverse and divergent collective of stores.

Happy Father’s Day! I miss you Dad.

 

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.

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