Industry Insiders: Shannon Nordstrom on Business and Tech Adaptations
We recently connected with Shannon Nordstrom, Vice President and General Manager of Nordstrom's Automotive INC., to discuss the importance of refining the auto parts business into a system of businesses, flexibility with technological changes, and an inside peek into Nordstrom's radio show, Under the Hood. Part 1 of 2 is below.
Hollander: Thank you for sitting down with us, Shannon! Can you tell us about yourself to start?
Shannon Nordstrom: I’m from Garretson, South Dakota. Our business, Nordstrom's Automotive, is built on the same family farm that the last three generations of my family was raised on. I am the Owner and General Manager, with my parents, Art and Marie Nordstrom, who founded the business. My dad is the President of the Board, while my mom is the Secretary and Treasurer. I have two older sisters. We all grew up with cars. I raced ATV’s cars at racetracks, on the TT flat-rack, ice, and motocross tracks. We may have wrecked a few cars, and we were all involved with what we called the “Funny Farm”. We grew up in this crazy world where we were always doing 14 different things at once.
My wife, Tamie, and I have been married 20 years. We have three children: my 16-year-old son, Riley, my 14-year-old daughter, Madisen, and my 8-year-old daughter, Ava.
My parents started this company in the late 1960s out of necessity. My grandfather, Walter, was a very well-recognized local farmer in Garretson. At a young age, my Mom and Dad found themselves being asked to take over and manage the family farm when Walt passed way at 53 years old. But this really all started when we had to get a pick-up for the family farm. My parents knew that my father could hot rod and fix mechanical issues in cars, so they decided to purchase a wrecked Ford pick-up from Arndt’s Wreck King, which was one of the original salvage yards in Sioux Falls. My dad used the truck for quite awhile before realizing he could sell it. This turned into a business. My dad got to the point where he couldn't repair enough vehicles for the people who wanted them, given he was offering such good savings on a quality vehicle. He then started reselling wrecked vehicles and helping people figure out where they could do the same things themselves. It led to having these vehicles around with extra parts.
Hollander: Can you tell us more about how you decided to carry on this business?
Shannon: My sisters and I grew up in the business--it's what we did: cows, crops, and cars. Like anyone, when you are around something that much, it sticks to you. My interest in doing this came from a love of vehicles and an interest in how all these different makes and models were put together. I probably haven't done as much repairing or dismantling as others have done, but I love trying to figure out how things work, even though I can't always make them work myself.
Hollander: Do you still repair cars on your own?
Shannon: I do, but not a lot of the heavy lifting! I farm out a lot of the frame and paint work. I enjoy taking them apart and doing the airbag systems--figuring out the small details. Some of the work requires a professional, but I try to do as much of that as I can. I still enjoy hobbying on Trans-Am’s and have a small collection. It's always been a love of mine. I also still enjoy working on ATV’s and have recently started trail riding on snowmobiles, something we never did when we were young.
Hollander: Is that something you also do with your children, or that you are grooming them for?
Shannon: Actually, not as much as you would think. My son does some part-time work at the business in the summer, but he hasn't shown a huge interest. He's a teenager and is interested in other things. He loves technology and is busy with school and sports. He is a great thinker and I think the world is at his feet once he makes a choice to apply himself towards one of his loves. My middle daughter loves being around the business and the cars, but the verdict is still out. One day she might want to be a marine biologist, a doctor the next, or she might want to run Nordstrom's—all options are open for her and the others. Our little one is just having fun being cute. I don't think I can pin down any of them yet, nor do I want to. My parents never did that to me, and I don't plan on doing that to them.
My parents were always very open for us to explore what we thought was interesting and what we wanted to do. Before getting involved with Nordstrom's, I studied Telecommunications and Electronics. Between farming and the car business, my parents were giving equal time to both businesses. When I came back from Tech School after about 8 months, I called them and said, “Hey, is there any chance I could come back and work in the business?”. We didn't know exactly what that would entail, but my goals were to build up the parts business by modernizing and automating it. Back then, it was as simple as trying to get an interchange system. We had no interchange or car system, just a bunch of vehicles and a lot of knowledge. It made it very difficult to imagine the business getting any bigger.
Hollander: We know your business is a bit different from other salvage yards. Can you dive into how it differs?
Shannon: Nordstrom's Auto has a lot of diversification. Since we started in the repairable business, we always had a love for selling repairable cars. That's changed incredibly over the years because of the heavy influence of the auction companies. Access to the salvage for reselling repairable cars is a lot different than it used to be. Our mix of vehicles includes more high-mileage second and third cars, or we sell more vehicles with mechanical damages. We still are involved in late model repairables, too, but not near as many as in the beginning when we used to sell up to 50 units per week.
We have also had a Service Center for more than 20 years where we would reinstall mechanical parts. Originally, this was put in place because there weren't a lot of people excited about installing used parts. We've installed thousands of engines and transmissions over the years, so the Service Center is still an active part of our business. We have four people running a separate business as Nordstrom's Installation and Diagnostic Center.
But we also still sell the repairables. In 2007, we started and opened up a Stealth Self Service, called Ewe Pullet Self Help Service Used Auto Parts. In trying to name it, we had a contest among the employees and one manager recommended that name, like the sheep and chicken. He was being smart and funny, and we said, “You know, we kind of like that.” Everything in our Ewe Pullet uses the harvest theme. If you look on our website, you see a lot of little clever plays on words and things that we have done with it for marketing. Embrace what you are and where it all started!
We also ship out a lot online, whether it's through eBay or other shopping channels we work with. Shipping parts has been a large part of our business for about the last 15 years. We ship out hundreds of small packages each day and also 10-25 LTL Freight items, also.
Hollander: Can you speak more to how you've stayed up-to-date technologically, especially with the advancement of the Internet in the auto parts industry?
Shannon: We've always tried to stay ahead of the curve. We registered our website, nordstromsauto.com, in 1998. We were ahead for awhile, but then were passed by a lot of people, so we have been doing things recently to really step up our game in the tech department.
The original effort, with no Interchange on the parts department and no card system, led to us getting a Fast Parts System back in the day. Eventually, the Fast Parts got a license from Hollander to use the Interchange. In that whole process, we became like drones to the Hollander numbers. I would join my parents at the upper Midwest Tradeshow, and there was always a Top Gun Contest about the Interchange. I found myself winning that contest 7 out of 10 years--I was a book worm on the Hollander Interchange. But It was after one of those shows that we got back, and our Fast Parts System literally had a power supply meltdown with flames shooting out the back. I called Hollander and said, “Okay guys, what are you going to offer?”
Through these interactions, I got to know people at Hollander, and they asked me to be involved in a Find and Sell Committee early on as they were designing the Powerlink of today.
This concludes part one of our interview with Shannon Nordstrom, VP and GM of Nordstrom’s Automotive Inc. To learn more about his business, please visit www.nordstromsauto.com