By Pat Lee
Sometimes you really do have to make lemonade when life hands you lemons, something steve harris knows only too well.
Harris of Gander, NL, had trained to be an auto mechanic but found the job market tough after graduation.
“Back in the late ‘90’s you couldn’t get a mechanic’s job,” he remembers.
After working for a bit in Nova Scotia, then back in his native Newfoundland, including a stint in the aerospace industry before that dried up too, he was finally on the path to the career he now enjoys as manager of a Bumper to Bumper auto parts dealer.
Harris said he worked his way up from doing deliveries, to working behind the counter at a NAPA-affiliated shop, to being promoted to manager at Newhook’s Auto Parts in Gander about a decade ago. “I had to look for a way to stay in the automotive industry,” the manager said. He hasn’t looked back since. A few years ago the opportunity for the parts dealer to join the Bumper to Bumper network arose, a move Harris was keen to see happen. He said he knew it was the right move for the business having experienced the benefit of being part of a network while working at a NAPA store. “I talked to the owner (Rex Freake) and said, this is our opportunity to grow within the industry.
“I looked at it as a win-win situation because before that we didn’t have an identity. From community to community, province to province, nobody really knew who we were, except the people in our community. So that’s why we switched over. It gives us stronger brand recognition.”
Bumper to Bumper is a Canadian auto parts distributor that has been in business for 50 years. Better known in western Canada, Bumper to Bumper is one of the country’s largest auto parts networks with 72,000 square meters of warehouse space in 160 stores and 4,000 affiliated mechanical shops. Harris said being part of the Bumper to Bumper network also gives them a competitive edge in purchasing in order to sustain the large inventories now required in the industry.
“One of the biggest changes is how much inventory you need to have now to supply people,” he said. “Inventory is key. The ones who have the inventory are the ones who win.” The parts dealer serves a wide community beyond Gander with clients coming in from up to two hours away as well as serving garages in many far-flung small communities.
Harris also helps out at Lewisporte Auto Supplies in Lewisporte, also owned by Freake. The father of two boys said he still likes to tinker with his vehicles but is happy to have found his place in the industry even if he’s not working under the hood. “I like the fact that it’s challenging and things are changing so much. You can never say you know it all.”