Exciting updates, strategies, recognition and camaraderie resulted in truly engaging and memorable event.
On February 24-25 NAPA Ontario hosted its 2023 Associate Owners Conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Taking place at the Queen’s Landing, an imposing Georgian Mansion hotel and conference centre, the event featured two full days packed with content and activities.
Things began with an opening General Session on February 24, which included an introduction and update from NAPA’s corporate team, as well as panel discussion, where individual store and business owners got to share their experiences and ideas with the audience.
NAPA Auto Parts Ontario Vice President Jeff Van de Sande, welcomed attendees, and provided an overview of the event’s activities. Additionally, Van de Sande took time to acknowledge the crucial role that NAPA Associates play in the company’s success in the automotive aftermarket. “You are key part of our growth in North America, and we want to make sure we equip you with all the right tools, training and programs to be successful in business.”
Growth in market share
UAP President Alain Masse took the stage next, providing a brief overview of the company’s performance, noting that market share has continued to grow. “This is a testament to you, our associates and our organization working collectively together.”
Masse also acknowledged that while business overall has continued to grow, there are some challenges on the horizon, including a growing number of business owners retiring over the next decade, putting more emphasis on effective succession planning, as well as relatively high inflation and interest rates which are putting pressure on everything, from margins, to product costs, wages, rents, and financing.
Yet on the flipside, organizations like UAP/NAPA are well positioned to help consumers with their car care needs, especially as consumers hold onto their vehicles longer and require replacement parts as a matter of necessity.
Masse said that the key to success going forward is built around three pillars—delivering an outstanding customer experience, driving the market and creating a world-class community. “You should all be very proud [of being able to deliver consistently], an outstanding customer experience by the industry’s most dedicated and trusted team within the automotive aftermarket.”
Interactive panel discussion
An interactive Associates Panel Discussion, presented by Lisa McClelland, Associate Store Sales Manager, featured Jeff Clark from Doug’s Truck & Automotive in Manotick, Kemptville, Ont.; Tim Maille, of Revere Solutions in Sudbury; Gord Sewell from Sewell’s Automotive Supply in the Niagara region, and Dave Ware, of Ware’s Automotive and Industrial Supply in Acton and Georgetown.
The panel focused on a range of topics, including sharing success in their operating areas, key drivers that have been a factor in achieving that, as well as strategies for maintaining consistency in terms of service delivery, the role of outside sales staff, pricing and margin considerations.
The panel also looked at how effective technology implementation can have a huge impact on an individual store’s business—not only in terms of streamlining processes and making order tracking and deliveries much more efficient, but also how leveraging good solutions enhances the confidence of staff members— improving their capability and ultimately the store’s bottom line.
Vice President of Strategy & Growth at UAP, Chris Kinghorn, delivered an update, noting that success over the years has seen both associate businesses and UAP/NAPA at the corporate level prosper.
He also noted that the present represents “a truly exciting time for our industry” and that in 2026 UAP will be celebrating its 100 years in business.
Kinghorn also explained however that the world around us is changing, and the things that “made us successful in the past, going forward, may need to be revised to focus on new things that are going to help us prepare and capitalize on the business climate of the future.”
While Kinghorn acknowledged the benefits of being in a reactionary business—i.e. consumers need items like brake parts for their vehicles, and UAP/NAPA through its corporate and associate locations is able to effectively service that—there is also the opportunity to do so much more. “What we want to concentrate on, is how do we maximize the stores, maximize our business and have exponential growth?”
Doing so, as Kinghorn explained requires the ability to be organized and prepared as a business and network—pursuing an impactful strategy, organizing team members and ensuring sufficient resources are available to achieve those goals.
Kinghorn was followed by John O’Dowd, Vice President, Marketing for NAPA Auto Parts, who provided an overview of some of UAP/NAPA’s latest marketing initiatives designed to help stores and the network deliver optimal results, including the company’s developments in the EV space.
Following the general session, a trade show was organized, allowing associate attendees a chance to meet with suppliers, followed by some great evening entertainment at the Wayne Gretzky Estates winery and celebrity appearances by Canadian hockey legends Doug Gilmour and Jennifer Botterill.
Choices and impact
The following morning, Botterill, a three-time winter Olympic gold medalist, and hockey broadcast analyst, delivered an inspiring keynote address. She talked about choices that we make on a daily basis, and how those choices impact not only our lives, but those of others, both on a personal and business level.
Citing her hockey career, Botterill noted that in handling the expectations of others [when competing at such a high level in the sport of hockey], frequently comes down to choosing to view the circumstances or expectations around you not as a burden, but rather as an opportunity. And the situation applies equally to sports or business.
Many of us could not have imagined what the last few years of the COVID-19 pandemic could have brought, but the key to success is learning to adapt and thrive amid changing circumstances and outside influences.
In training to become an Olympian, Botterill explained, that even though you might feel the odds of achieving such a high standard are beyond your reach, you need to go for it anyway.
She said that when you do, no matter what the outcome, you can feel proud of yourself with the fact that you gave it your all. And often, the outcome is far beyond what you could have imagined.
In Botterill’s case she not only ended up making the Olympic team— she would also go on to achieve some incredible success, including being the youngest member of the Canadian team to win a silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics, followed by three golds at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City (2002), Turin (2006) and Vancouver (2010).
Ultimately, she said, the key to being successful boils down to consistency and collaboration. In practice this can sometimes be tough to achieve, but small, steady improvements each day tend to compound over time and when working with others, the ability find common ground and goals despite age, cultural and life experience differences, tends to exponentially increase the rate of success.
Following Botterill’s keynote, attendees had the opportunity to attend four Breakout Sessions. These focused on Information Technology and retail solutions/requirements for Associate stores, Operational Excellence, as well as NAPA’s High Voltage initiatives—the latter designed to ensure both parts distributors and AUTOPRO service repair locations are ready for maintaining and repairing electric vehicles.
A final general session of the event looked at current supply chain issues, and how UAP/NAPA is helping its associate owners not only meet those challenges, but also enhancing their businesses via new tools and solutions designed to promote growth and opportunity.
An interactive session, with attendees encouraged to ask questions, it was a great way to end the content part of the conference.
Special recognition of service
In the evening of February 25, UAP/NAPA associate owners, suppliers and corporate team members gathered for a special gala dinner. With superb entertainment from Canadian comedian, juggling champion and variety artist Bob Cates, the dinner also served as an opportunity to recognize NAPA associate owners for their years of service to the industry. The awards were as follows:
- 5 years’ service, Ideal Supply, Seaforth.s
- 10 years’ service, Ideal Supply, New Hamburg.
- 15 years’ service, Allen’s Automotive Group, Little Current.
- 20 years’ service, Whyte Auto Parts, Ingersoll, and Ideal Supply, Exeter.
- 25 years’ service, Campbellford Automotive Supplies, Campbellford.
- 50 years’ service, Doug’s Truck & Automotive, Manotick.
- 70 years’ service, Leamington Automotive, Leamington.
In summary, the 2023 NAPA Ontario Associate Owner’s Conference, was a wonderful event, boasting a great setting, great information and support for associates, as well as amazing camaraderie that simply cannot be replicated via virtual meetings. All in all, an amazing experience, and we can’t wait until the next one!