As of June, there were over 9.2 million auto parts stores in the U.S., according to a recent report from the trade publication Automotive News.
But the majority of the stores were run by a handful of giant manufacturers, and only a handful could offer more than a few parts per day.
Many were still operating under tight regulations that limited the amount of parts they could sell and the prices they could charge.
For the most part, this is a good thing for consumers, but it’s also an unfortunate thing for those who work in the industry, who often struggle to find good quality parts.
“A lot of us are really good at making things that we can sell and it takes a lot of time and a lot less money to make a car that is the best possible car for the money,” said Jason Miller, owner of Miller Auto Parts.
Miller’s company is one of the biggest in the country, with sales totaling $8.5 billion in 2016, according to Forbes.
But, Miller says, “a lot of the time it’s just not a good business model.
I know a lot more of the companies that are making money than the ones that are not.”
In some cases, the companies were selling products they made themselves, and not directly from the manufacturer.
For example, at Miller AutoParts, the company is a distributor for Ford, and its product is made from scratch in-house.
“The best part of it is that they are so well-organized,” Miller said.
“They have all the manufacturing processes down to the last piece.
I can’t even imagine working on my own.
We have all these people around us that help us with everything.”
But, even though Miller is a small company, he has been working for the auto parts industry for nearly 20 years.
“We started as a distributor back in 2002, and it’s grown into a global company,” Miller explained.
“This is a very unique part of our business.
There are so many different parts manufacturers, so many suppliers, so much flexibility in terms of making and selling parts.”
Miller, who has been a part-time salesman for 15 years, said he’s never had to pay a premium for parts.
He said he doesn’t make a lot for his own car, but instead relies on the company’s inventory, which is sometimes at the top of the list for him.
“It’s like we’re part of the furniture industry,” he said.
While Miller is happy to be able to offer his services for a fraction of what his competitors charge, he said that is part of why he’s working hard to help improve his business.
“I know it’s a challenging business,” he explained.
“When we have a great product, we’re going to sell it to the highest bidder,” Miller continued.
“If it’s going to be a big company like Ford, then we are going to have to be more selective with what we sell, because there are so few of them.”
For Miller, it’s been a great ride to the top, but he says he hopes his company’s growing pains will soon be an opportunity to make some major changes.
“There’s a lot we could be doing better,” Miller admitted.
“You know, we can do better customer service and make sure the customer is satisfied.
And the last thing I want is to be doing that and have a product that’s not good enough.
We need to make our product better and make it better every day.”
Follow Brian on Twitter at @brianpattrick.