‘We’re an essential service’

NAPA Tracadie-Sheila proud to supply safe parts for trucks delivering food and medication to those in need during coronavirus crisis

By Kristen Lipscombe

Normally at this time of year, NAPA Tracadie-Sheila would be busy supplying all the parts needed to keep enthusiastic snowmobilers sleddin’ safely through northern New Brunswick’s vast trail system, still sparkling with the winter white stuff they so love to power through.

Store manager Ted Duguay and his four staff members would likely even be prepping for the upcoming ATV (all-terrain vehicle) season anticipated to come with the eventual spring melt that attracts plenty of muddy fun for some sunnier off-roading adventures.

During the warmer months, of course, there are also tractors and other farm equipment to source parts for, and no matter what time of year, there are always mechanics, garages, dealerships and tire shops looking to track down specific parts they know NAPA Tracadie-Sheila can turn around quickly.

But the recent COVID-19 crisis has made some serious and important changes to Duguay’s annual and daily business plans.

“We’re an essential service,” Duguay, 49, explained by phone from the National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) corporate store he runs nestled in the heart of the Acadian peninsula, where business is done almost exclusively in French, and his team is working hard to supply important “parts for the delivery trucks to keep them on the road.”

“We’re trying our best,” Duguay said. In fact, his dedicated team is usually able to get parts delivered to the store same day or overnight at longest, usually from Moncton, N.B., about two hours away, ensuring trucks are fixed up quickly and back on highways fast to deliver “food, drugs and medication” needed to help residents stay supplied through a difficult time not just in New Brunswick but across the country and around the world.

“Everybody is just thinking about getting foods in the stores,” Duguay said, which means keeping his five-man shop in tip-top shape, from hourly store-wide sanitizations to maintaining proper social distancing with customers.

“Everything must be operating the way you need it to now,” he said, especially in times of local and global crises, which means the focus is completely on health and safety and “nobody’s thinking about buying toys now.”

Duguay’s efficient and effective response to the coronavirus business challenge is testament to his 22 years of experience working his way up at the parts store, from parts delivery to management.

Before breaking into the auto parts business though, Duguay spent about seven years working as an electronics technician, mostly working on video lottery terminal (VLT) machines. But when the provincial government took over VLT management, and his manager turned the location at 3747 Rue Principale into an associate auto parts store instead, Duguay jumped at the chance of learning some new skills and eventually climbing the NAPA ladder to run the store himself.

“It’s a challenge every day. We have to try to get the best thing, the best part possible for the customer, at good pricing,” Duguay said of why he loves working in the auto parts business. “If I order today, I have the parts by the day after, overnight (at latest).”

Duguay’s concern for keeping the vehicles he supplies parts for safe while on the fields, trails and roads is real and valid. After all, he was born and raised in the petite town of Hacheyville, N.B., about 15 minutes from his Tracadie-Sheila store. He’s now raising his two teenage daughters, 15-year-old Elyse and 17-year-old Laurence, with his interior designer wife of 30 years, Janie, in the same small community he has always so cherished.

“Today I am stuck here,” Duguay said with a good-natured, French-accented chuckle of working through what is an extremely challenging time for everyone. “I can’t get out of the province.”

But that’s just fine with him because whether he’s working in store alongside his NAPA Tracadie-Sheila work family or enjoying the beauty of northeastern New Brunswick with his immediate family, for Duguay this unique Acadian community has always been home.

“It’s a very nice place to be in the summer; there are a lot of activities here,” Duguay said of what he loves most about living in this special place full of beautiful vistas and charming people. “There are lots of things to do, from campgrounds, to hunting, to ATVs.”

And of course, living right on the Atlantic coastline is essential for the taste buds, with “good restaurants (serving) seafood (right from) the fishermen.”

But the best part for Duguay is that in Tracadie-Sheila, “everybody knows everybody,” which is exactly why his job as NAPA store manager is so perfect for him.

“It’s every day with customers,” he said with that friendly French-touched laugh. “You have to like to work with people.”

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