Some Super Thoughts

Feb 5, 2010

A lot of you had something to say about the Super Shops articles we ran in January, (Super Shops: Then & Now, Performance Business, Jan. 2010.)

Some fondly remember shopping at their local Super Shops outlet. Others were employees who got their start in the industry wearing those iconic yellow, brown and red shirts.

And several used the rise and fall of the national performance parts chain as a stepping stone to bigger discussions concerning the state of the market today, including at least one chat room thread we came across.

Bob from Chicago called one day, explaining he’s a 67-year-old Chevy performance shop owner. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, he wasn’t thrilled to be fighting for customers with places like Super Shops or mail order catalogs, “but at least we could compete,” he says.

Then the discussion turned to the current lack of speed shops in once-thriving hotbeds such as Chicago and Detroit. He points the finger at Internet sales with no sales tax dooming the small independent shop, and fears for the future health of the overall market because of it.

Here’s what a couple more of you had to say:

“I remember Super Shops really well. I used to work for their major competition, Service Center. It was a memorable experience to say the least. Sadly, like Super Shops, Service Center went under as well. I think there are three stores that kept the name-one in Modesto, Calif., run by Bob Gaines, one in El Monte, Calif., run by Richard Salcido, and one in La Habra, Calif., run by Bob Sebring. Most of the other stores have changed their names. In fact, when I worked for Service Center, I started in Oakland. The closest Super Shops was in San Leandro or El Cerrito, but when I transferred to So-Cal I worked right across the street from one in Torrance on Hawthorne Boulevard. It was pretty neat going to the Friday/Saturday night street races and seeing the guys out there sometimes. I do remember a little bit of a rivalry, but for the most part we were friends and racers. Thanks for reading.”
C. Ray Jenkins, sales technician, Chris Alston’s Chassisworks

“It was interesting reading about Super Shops. A couple of things slipped through your editorial cracks. Harry Eberlin was an egomaniac. The demise of the company was directly related to his reckless spending. He was building a multimillion-dollar house on the ocean, and purchased the house across the street so he could oversee every detail of the construction. How much money did that siphon off the company? The purchasing crew began letting their personal likes/dislikes influence their buying decisions. So, while the competitors of Super Shops were thriving, the Super Shops customer base was shrinking. In short order they literally had nothing relevant to sell. Bankruptcy hurt almost every supplier in this industry, but it also cost us small guys commissions and lost earnings. Not quite the Cinderella story in Performance Business. FYI, J&M Speed Center is back to one store. Phil Braybrooks is gone, but his daughter Lisa runs a tight ship. She actually listens to the reps who come in, and tries the things that are selling well in her competitors’ stores. Harry won a battle or two, but Phil won the war.”
John Julis, manufacturer’s rep, J&J Marketing

“Just read the Super Shops story and it really brought back a lot of memories. I worked as the sales manager for B&B Performance back then and we were the West Coast factory warehouse for Moroso. I remember going to Harry’s home in Newport with Dick Moroso to discuss funding/sponsorship of one of the car giveaways. I really enjoyed the article and the old photos. Great story!”
Joe Wingate, vice president/senior consultant, Great American Group

“You know, it’s funny how it all played out. I still keep in touch with some of my fellow former Super Shops employees. Turns out, most of them landed elsewhere in the automotive industry. The district manager who moved me to Memphis with Super Shops is a district manager for AutoZone. A year or so ago, a former Super Shops store manager came to work here at the Arizona corporate office. We have had many discussions about the old Super Shops days. I still remember when I interviewed at Super Shops and the manager told me that they pay minimum wage and I laughed thinking he was joking. For some reason, I was able to convince myself that it made sense to sign up anyway. Having gone from a speed shop to a performance manufacturer (Comp Cams) to an automotive retailer with over 4,200 stores, it’s amazing to think and talk about the differences. It was interesting when a couple of years ago, one of my buddies (also a former Super Shops employee now working for Dana) sent me an email link to the new Super Shops franchise site. I dug around a little and found my old name badge and some ugly old brown stickers. I also still remember my employee number, as do all the other folks that I still keep in touch with.”
Wade Hunter, AutoZone

“Your articles on Super Shops brought back great memories for me. I, too, drove to my local Super Shops after getting my license. Mine was on Federal Highway in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Later on, after working at a major auto parts and service retailer, I was invited to join the Super Shops team and managed several stores in Florida up to their closing. I will forever cherish those days of filling nitrous, installing great wheels and tires, offering advice and bench racing. Most of all I miss the people. I have never and probably never will work with nicer, more passionate and knowledgeable people. Something is truly missing from the mail-order speed part experience. Toward the end, mail order posed the biggest threat, but the customers still came to our stores when they needed personal advice or just to show off their completed project. If you do print this, I would like to thank by name the folks that taught me so much and provided that great experience. I still remember my employee number and most of theirs. Thanks to Jeff Stake, Bruce Banker, Eric Irwin, Tracy Black and Rod Williamson. GOOD TIMES!”
Michael Ritchie, AutoZone Merchandising, Memphis, Tenn.