FOUR DECADES OF SUCCESS
Andrew Schram recently celebrated 40 years with Burson Auto Parts
There are precious few identities in the Australian automotive aftermarket industry who can honestly state that they have really seen it all during their careers.
Last year marked the 40th year of the career of Burson Auto Parts’ senior executive management team member, Andrew Schram. Over the course of that career, Andrew also served as an Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) President and was a member of the AAAA National Council for more than a decade. It was no surprise then that he would be inducted to the AAAA Hall of Fame in April of 2017.
From the establishment of the very first Burson Auto Parts store in 1977, through to the opening of the 160th in 2017, Andrew has been at the forefront of ensuring that Australia’s automotive repairers’ have access to the broadest range and highest quality automotive parts, tools and equipment available.
Andrew’s started his automotive industry career as a teenage apprentice motor mechanic, gaining his full qualification four years later. He decided he preferred the management side of the automotive repair and service industry and managed service stations for the next two years, with these early years in the automotive trade giving Andrew a sound understanding of what mechanics need from their parts suppliers.
Andrew first became acquainted with Burson Auto Parts as a customer during the very earliest incarnation of this Australian company. He bought parts from one of the ten or so cash vans that company co-founder Garry Johnson and his small team drove around Melbourne and country Victoria, selling parts to automotive workshops and service stations.
One of the Burson Auto Parts cash van drivers, Terry Penny, was a friend of Andrew’s, having worked with him as a mechanic in previous years. When Terry was appointed as the manager of the very first Burson Auto Parts store in the Melbourne suburb of Braybrook, the two spoke about the new opportunity and Andrew would become the company’s first Trade Sales Manager. Neither of them would have ever believed that this appointment heralded the start of an incredible four-decade career with the Australian company.
After four years at the Braybrook store and with the gradual growth of Burson Auto Parts, Andrew joined the head office team as Purchasing Manager, which was in essence the same but constantly evolving role that he would occupy for the next 36 years.
Andrew recalls the first Burson Auto Parts warehouse located in the northern Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg, which in a short time grew to occupy several addresses in the street. It is interesting to note that the company has never moved far from this location for its warehousing and distribution operations across more than four decades. The first Heidelberg location also housed the company’s second store, followed by Geelong, then South Melbourne and on it progressed.
“We grew gradually mainly by the acquisition of existing auto parts stores more than from establishing new ones,” Andrew said.
“This proved to be an excellent strategy as we removed competitors, we could be up and running straight away with staff and customers and the process of building the Burson Auto Parts culture within those businesses could start.
“There wasn’t a specific growth strategy, we just moved on opportunities that became available in the areas that were servicing or could service many automotive repair businesses.
“In the early days we only grew at a rate of three to four stores per year, as we also had limited financial resources to fund any kind of rapid expansion.
“This was also because we were also investing heavily in our stock holding. Our product ranges continued to grow all of the time and this was where I was integrally involved. We embarked on sound and gradual store growth decisions which proved to be very successful for the company.”
With Burson Auto Parts stores located all relatively close throughout Melbourne and Victoria during the 1980s, bringing new staff and management teams on board with the Burson Auto Parts trade first and foremost philosophy was relatively easy.
“When I first started in this industry there were primarily three brands of cars on our roads, Valiants, Fords and Holdens. Then the Toyotas, the Datsuns and the Mazdas came along and throughout this time we had European makes and models enter the market in a bigger way as well,” Andrew said.
“The American cars came and went and came back again, then the Korean cars came and the European cars returned in a very big way. The Australian car parc has evolved so much over the last 40 years to the point that we now have more makes and models than any other car parc in the world.
“So for an organisation like Burson Auto Parts, we had to invest in constantly adding new products to our range in line with the growth and diversity of the Australian car parc. As more automotive workshops were established, we then introduced tools and equipment to our range to meet our trade customer demand. Our product and store growth in the early years was really all about evolution rather than revolution.”
Andrew recalls the first interstate store being opened in Albury and gradually moving into New South Wales from there, then onto the Gold Coast and further into Queensland and then into South Australia.
By the time 35 years had gone by, Andrew had overseen the parts, tools, workshop equipment and other product requirements such as lubricants and chemical ranges to stock 91 company owned Burson Auto Parts stores across the eastern seaboard of Australia through three major purpose built warehouses.
The sale of Burson Auto Parts in 2011 brought with it a combination of emotions for Andrew, whom together with company founder Garry Johnson had been there through it all from the humblest of beginnings. This was particularly apt for Garry, who together with co-founder Ron Burgoine, had started the business by selling parts to mechanics from the boots of their cars.
“For me the two emotions at the time of the sale were one of sadness, particularly for Garry, who was parting with the business he started from scratch, it was his baby that he was passionate about for every single day for three and a half decades,” Andrew said.
“I was also personally sad, as from my perspective this was only the third job that I had ever had in my career. It was, except for a handful of years in my youth, the only job that I had ever done. I also wasn’t at retirement age either, so it is true to say that there was some apprehension as to what the future would hold. I am also sure there were many similar sentiments throughout the company about what a private equity organisation would do to Burson Auto Parts.
“The second emotion I experienced was one of excitement as the sale had placed the company in a position to take the next step and it was definitely the right time for Burson Auto Parts to take the next step, which under Darryl Abotomey’s leadership has been done and continues to be done extremely well.
“So, it was a mixture of apprehension and excitement leading into the major corporatisation of the company, including the updating of our systems and processes, along with having more very talented people join the organisation to assist us.”
Andrew occupied the role of Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of Merchandise and Procurement in recent years. Looking back at what has taken place in this short timeframe, he has no doubt at all that the decision made to sell the company proved to be a truly great one.
“It has been incredibly busy – things have happened much faster during the past five years than at any time in this company’s history, but when you have the right people in the right positions, speed is not an issue,” Andrew said.
“We have achieved some very major milestones, including becoming a highly successful publically listed company on the ASX. The outstanding people who have joined us during the past five years have played a key role in ensuring our swift and effective growth.”
In April 2017, highly experienced automotive aftermarket industry executive Peter Cheney was appointed to continue the development and growth of the Burson Auto Parts product offering as General Manager of Merchandise and Procurement.
Andrew will continue to assist Burson Auto Parts to ensure a smooth transition for Peter into the role, benefitting from his unrivalled automotive aftermarket industry experience and extremely well cultivated relationships with the company’s core group of quality suppliers.
Andrew, 62, also has some projects for the company that he will be completing in a semi-retirement mode and he can see the time when people say, “who is that old bloke sitting over there working away by himself?” He says he relishes the opportunity to focus on these unfinished Burson Auto Parts projects without the enormous responsibilities associated with the ever growing merchandise procurement demands that form an integral part of this fast growing and extremely successful Australian company.
“I have a great affinity for this organisation, it has been a massive part of my life, so it is only natural to be emotionally linked to it. My wife Sharron probably best sums it up. She says there are three B’s in my life and they are Burson Auto Parts, BMW and the Bombers!” Andrew exclaimed.
“There are a lot of things that I have wanted to do that simply cannot fit into four weeks holiday per year, so I am looking forward to pursuing those. Sharron and I both love to travel and enjoy new experiences both here and around the world. I can definitely state that I won’t be growing lettuce and tomatoes in the time ahead. I am also glad to have the opportunity to continue assisting Burson Auto Parts as the company heads towards a very exciting future.”
In regard to the future, Andrew believes that Burson Auto Parts is in a great position to take advantage of the opportunities that the automotive aftermarket industry of tomorrow will present. While acknowledging that there will also undoubtedly be some challenges, he notes that this has always been the case for the company throughout its history.
For more on Burson Auto Parts, visit www.burson.com.au