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Advance Auto Parts’ Junior Word says it’s ‘back to basics’ for 2023

On the heels of a new promotion, the EVP is focused on core fundamentals and operational excellence for the new year

Las Vegas—I had the opportunity to sit down with Herman L. “Junior” Word Jr. at AAPEX last month to find out what the Advance Auto Parts team has in store for 2023. Word, who joined Advance in 2003, was just recently promoted to executive vice president, Advance Auto Parts U.S. stores, and also leads Carquest Independents.

Here are a few brief takeaways from our conversation.

Thoughts on your promotion?

I’m really excited about it. It feels like a homecoming — I spent my first 16 years with Advance Auto Parts before transitioning over to the Independents in 2019. It’s been pretty neat getting re-acclimated with the Advance Auto Parts side of the business and continuing what we started with the Independents.

What’s coming down the pipeline for Advance?

I’ve been out and into the markets for the past few weeks, visiting with the teams to assess the business — to see where we’re at and what our opportunities are. As we move into 2023, we’re going to take a “back to basics” approach and a return to some of the core fundamentals that have made us great at Advance. We never got away from that, but as you look at what our core customers are going through right now, specifically with inflation, they need us. This is a time when we can really help them and be on the forefront of their minds going into the new year and the selling season. It’s a focus on operational excellence to make sure we’re doing the right things for our customers, for both Advance Professional and DIY.

We’re going to engage customers with a “get from behind the counter” approach, especially since Covid. And we will increase our “availability excellence” that we control within the stores, and build rigor and consistency around that. If you’re coming into the store or shopping us online, we’re going to be able to say, “Yes,” and having that same experience across the country, wherever we are located.

There’s been a dark cloud of supply chain availability, and we’re going to take control of that situation so customers have the right part at the right time. In times like this, we have to be operationally and fundamentally sound.

How are things going with Carquest Independents?

We’re having another solid year with 40 new locations, which we’re really excited about, as well as two new flagship stores in Odessa and Mexico, Missouri, branded Carquest By Advance. We just had our first Leadership Summit since 2019, where we rolled out new branding and logo, which were very well received. We’re going to continue to dive in where we can and give our owners an opportunity to grow their DIY business. Having said that, our Pro business is our core business and focus — and we know what we’re good at when it comes to Carquest, which has helped us deliver, especially after the last three years.

How much of Advance’s business is DIY compared to professional?

Some people argue that we’re 50/50, but we’re closer to 60 percent Pro and 40 percent DIY, though depending upon a particular year those numbers can change and ebb and flow. It’s important to have a balance that’s reflected in both sides of the house and that’s where the focus needs to be. Since 2009, we’ve grown our Pro business at a pretty good clip while maintaining a good, stable DIY base. And we want to continue to expand the Pro side of the house by focusing on a unified approach and understanding our customers’ various markets, so we’re visiting those customers consistently and letting them know we’re there for them.

The great thing about bringing back core cultural legacy beliefs is that it lifts up both sides — Pro and DIY. It’s a cross pollination. In the height and shock of Covid, some companies retreated into silos, just trying to figure out what was going on. We’re focused on looking forward and what we’re going to do from here to attack both sides of the business together.

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