Standard Motors Cruising To Victory
The Standard Motor Products Building at 37-18 Northern Blvd.
By Matt Hampton
Being in business for most of a century is by no means an easy proposition. The business world has changed rapidly in the internet age, and the only constant, as with anything, is change. Without the onus of improvement, and the initiative to deliver state of the art technology and service to customers, any industry is ultimately stagnant.
It’s exceptionally difficult, however, to continually revolutionize a company, in particular one that has been at the forefront of an industry for nearly 90 years.
That makes it all the more impressive that Standard Motors has been in business since 1919. The company has been located in Queens for 75 of their more than 85 years, though it serves national and international companies, large and small. Part of what makes it unique is its ability to function in an industry of giants.
Purrs Like A Kitten
Like an engine inside the cars that it serves, Standard Motors itself is a company broken up into two basic parts, Engine Management and Temperature Control, according to Vice President of Engine Management Eric Sills.
The first part represents engine replacement parts: anything that keeps the car moving, the gears turning and the wheels touching the pavement.
This facet of the company has been in business for the long haul, and is the foundation around which the entire company is built.
The other side of Standard Motors, temperature control, came along with the advent of interior climate control inside vehicles. That air conditioning unit in the family sedan doesn’t run by itself, and it’s the people of Standard Motors who make sure your car stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
The sum of those two parts is Standard Motors itself, a self-proclaimed “David in an industry of Goliaths,” a small, family owned company that has had a foothold in Queens for the better part of a century, and a firm grip on the automotive replacement parts industry since its inception in the early part of the 20th century.
Standard is an industry emblem of quality.
It’s no surprise that after being in business for nearly 90 years, Standard Motors knows the industry well enough to fight off the larger corporations and bring quality customer service to the fore.
“Largely the momentum of doing business in New York is the thing that’s kept us in Queens,” Sills said in an interview. It doesn’t hurt, he added, that the head of the company lives in Brooklyn and therefore has a vested interest in keeping the business headquarters close to his own community.
That is one of the things that sets Standard Motors apart, Sills said; its ability to work closely with the community and the industry itself.
“We’re a roll-up-your-sleeve business all the way to the top,” Sills said. “We have always been in the top few in our categories, and right now we are number one in both categories.”
The benefit of being a family-owned and operated company, Sills said, is the ability to keep an ear to the ground, and know the industry from total immersion in all facets of an organization.
“I also think that an important point about our success – we’re family controlled and stable, so we’re not worried about making this quarter’s numbers, we’re not worried about fulfilling a promise to Wall Street,” he said. A multi-national corporation has to worry about pleasing shareholders, making positive gains and working to improve the visibility of the business, constantly growing.
When a business is small and agile, like Standard Motors, the only concern is making good long-term choices, and the stress of the financial markets can melt away, as if it doesn’t exist.
Nearly 400 employees enter under this sign.
A Clear Role
When Standard Motors originated in 1919, it was envisioned as the kind of company that could revolutionize the still young automotive industry.
“It all began back in the early part of the 20th century when cars were breaking down and car manufacturers were not interested in repairing them; they were interested in selling new cars,” Sills said. “Standard Motors started as one of a ton of different small regional companies, and we just continued to grow stronger, as other companies went out of business, or were acquired by other businesses – or by Standard Motors.”
This incubation period for the care repair parts industry allowed companies to decide for themselves what kind of company they wanted to be, and what niche in the industry they wanted to fill. For Standard Motors, the decision was to become a resource for cars across the industry, regardless of type.
“The majority of what we do is we are a full line supplier of replacement parts. We have, within our product portfolio, every part for every car on the road,” Sills said.
The company of 4,000-plus workers, which includes nearly 400 workers in Queens alone, has had to adjust to the needs of a changing industry as well.
The business that came into existence in 1919 could never have foreseen the revolutionary product line changes in the automotive industry – everything from a change in the usage of raw materials to the revolutionary design and implementation alterations in individual models.
“We sell replacement parts for all types of cars, so whatever happens under the hood, we needed to roll with that,” Sills said. “We didn’t want to be the last typewriter company, so to speak.”
Sills also said that Standard Motors has had to change its own methodology recently, because of the way that cars are made and maintained in the modern industry.
Cars, he admitted, are just made better, last longer and accommodate people who don’t have the time to maintain a vehicle in the way that owners formerly did.
“What is happening is that the marketplace is in slow contraction,” Sills said. “The vehicle pop is growing, but there are some powerful trends working against us. Some people never even change their oil; they’ll lease a car for two years and not have to. The amount of vehicle repair being done is way down.”
This has caused Standard Motors to take a long look at its brand and the way it does business. Instead of working solely with auto parts retailers who sell directly to consumers and body shops, Standard takes its business directly to the automakers themselves, selling to companies in Detroit like General Motors. This allows the company to stay fresh and present in the minds of other industry professionals who make crucial decisions about where to buy their parts.
As far as strategy goes, Sills insists that what keeps Standard at the top of its game is its ability to keep its ear to the ground and fully grasp the needs of the automotive community.
“There’s no one answer – there’s no magic bullet. You need to really be focused on your customer, and understand the marketplace,” Sills said. “We have tremendous seniority within our management, and they really fundamentally understand this business. It’s complex. Any industry is complex, but we know it so well that I think our intuition is very good.”
That ability to understand the business brings it all back to the nature of Standard Motors itself.
“We’re much more down to earth and focused on what’s going on in the marketplace – it’s what makes us smarter,” Sills said. “Part of our success is that it’s been an evolutionary type of success – a lot of base hits, no big home runs.”
It’s evident in the history of the company, as well, the willingness to play “small ball” and be the best in a single area, with a single product. If each part in and of itself is the best that it can be, then on the whole, the entire product line, and the business itself, is destined for success, even when it’s a David in an industry of Goliaths.
Sills said he felt confident in Standard Motors’ ability to grow and change in the future, in the new markets that it is currently working toward.
“With history comes credibility, so we’re more in the position of really needing to maintain that image that has served us so well,” Sills said. “We know the business and the customer and we’re very focused at all levels of the company.”