Small but mighty business
From auto parts to fishing gear, Newfoundland NAPA shop provides supplies and smiles to satisfy every customer.By Kristen Lipscombe
Nestled on the quaint north coast of Newfoundland, in a tiny town with a population of just over 1,300 people, you’ll find an extra special sort of family-owned NAPA Auto Parts store.
“We only live in a small area and you really wouldn’t be able to survive just on auto parts alone,” said Lorne Small, who owns DRS Sales and Services Ltd. in Baie Verte along with wife Michelle Small. “We have to diversify.”
In total, there are only about 5,000 people living on the entire Baie Verte Peninsula.
Although NAPA automotive supplies are the small business’s “bread and butter,” making up about 70 per cent of its sales, DRS Sales and Services also provides gear and services for people who work in the local gold mine, run by Rambler Metals and Mining.
“They’re an underground mine, so they have a lot of battery-operated equipment, so you can’t use a combustible engine underneath the surface,” Lorne explained. “So we supply different types of parts, different kinds of oils specific to eclectic vehicles, and they buy safety equipment from us, like masks and respirators.”
“We’re a little bit removed from the major service areas, so we try to do what we can,” he said.
Lorne and Michelle’s professional backgrounds are also unique. He fished crab and shrimp offshore, while she was as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), before they took over the NAPA Auto Parts location 10 years ago this December.
“The owner of the business approached me,” Lorne said, “and we worked something out.” Lorne spent a year managing the store under the former owner, during which time he “learned the ropes” and fell in love with the potential the store had to serve the community in a variety of ways.
When they took over the franchise, they decided to name the store after their son Dylan, niece Robyn and daughter Stefanie, and DRS Sales and Services was born.
“Our family means a lot to us,” Lorne said, although he added with a chuckle that a lot of people call the shop looking for medical supplies since the acronym is the same one used for doctors.
“I would have rearranged the letters a little differently,” he said with a hearty laugh. Coincidentally, Dylan and Stefanie both work as nurses, following in their mother’s original footsteps within the medical field in St. John’s, while Robyn works in retail like her aunt and uncle, selling furniture in Cornerbrook.
But the DRS name stuck, and so too has the business’s reputation for being a fair and reliable shop stocked with everything customers need to get their own jobs done.
“I take care of ordering the parts, keeping everything going, sales calls and trying to find out what the mines need, what the garages need, what other industries in the area need,” Lorne said of his role. “We make sure we’re on top of that so that we’ve always got the parts when they need them, and I work the counter as well.”
Meanwhile, Michelle “looks after the financial side and keeps everybody happy.”
When they took over the business a decade ago, the Smalls decide to build the auto parts shop into a business that could serve multiple industries simply because that’s what the small community needed.
“We grew this business tremendously in the last few years,” Lorne said.
In fact, “it was about $800,000 a year in sales,” when they first started out, but the Smalls have since been able to build their business to $1.5 million in sales as of last year, thanks to making different products and services available for local workers.
That also includes goods for Lorne’s former colleagues in the fishing industry.
“We supply filters and oils and hydraulic parts,” he added. “All this stuff, by the way, comes from NAPA, but people don’t realize just how much NAPA carries. They’ve got a long list of things that they supply.”
Their logo actually reflects Lorne’s family fishing heritage, combining images of a ship’s wheel and compass. “We wanted to incorporate that to let people know that we understand the dynamics of this area and let people know that we can meet their needs.”
And under the DRS Sales and Services banner, the Smalls also sell paint, flooring, scaffolding and other renovation supplies, as well as steel chainsaws for the forestry industry. “We’ve got a little bit of everything.”
Lorne and Michelle enjoy helping their friends in town by providing the highest quality customer service possible.
“When somebody comes in and says ‘I’ve tried everywhere to get this. Can you help me,’ I just want to be the one to fill that need,” Lorne said. “It’s very rewarding.”
The Smalls also run a book exchange in their shop, selling gently read donated books for $1 each and usually donating more than $2,000 annually to different local charities including the town’s foodbank and rainbow crosswalk in support of annual pride activities.
And while this “Small” business is doing big things for the community, “it’s not about making money.”
“I enjoy helping people,” Lorne said. “I don’t want anyone walking out the door with something that they’re not satisfied with. Our goal every day is to make people happy.”
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