Re: Old timers, what do you miss most about "Old Fairfax County"?
Date: September 04, 2020 11:15PM
Sure do . . . Hi Gear Fairfax City (). Purchased some stuff there. But Fairfax Auto Parts and Track Auto just took over the market. Some History:
DATED: April 15, 1997
Nearly 40 years after it began selling auto parts to car tinkerers, Hi-Gear Auto Tire and Auto Supply Inc. of Capitol Heights yesterday announced it is liquidating and closing its 36 stores.
Hi-Gear filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last September, but was unable to reorganize because of intense industry competition, an auto parts market battered by the increased use of computer components in cars and an aging population. The chain's problems were exacerbated by a mild winter, company executives said.
"It's been soft for everybody and, of course, the competition that we face is from huge publicly funded companies, which we're not," said Stan Love, senior vice president of the chain.
At its peak in 1995, Hi-Gear had 65 stores in the mid-Atlantic region, but closed 29 outlets last year in an effort to reduce costs and streamline operations. The majority of its remaining outlets are in the Washington-Baltimore area.
Going-out-of-business sales at Hi-Gear stores started Sunday, Love said. Although the company's 200 or so employees will lose their jobs after the liquidation, "many have been solicited by other companies" in the auto parts business, he said.
Analysts said Hi-Gear's woes are shared by many in the auto parts industry, but that medium-size chains such as Hi-Gear suffered in particular because they are not small enough to be niche players and not big enough to wield influence with suppliers.
"The biggest ones are getting bigger -- and that would include AutoZone, Pep Boys and Sears -- and the small ones are finding it more and more difficult to compete because they don't have the buying leverage, the economies of scale and the relationships with the supplier that the big ones do," said Beth A. Richard, a specialty retail analyst with Everen Securities in Chicago.
"The middle is a bad place to be," Love said.
The retail auto parts business has softened recently because of changes in the automobile business, according to industry experts, and the changes have been particularly hard on small chains such as Hi-Gear that cater to individual car owners.
As cars become increasingly computerized, experts said, it's more difficult for the average person to fix things that go wrong with their cars. And with cars containing a larger number of more complex parts, retailers must stock more supplies, which is costly and more difficult to manage. For small chains, that cost can be overwhelming.
The growing popularity of leasing cars also has affected auto parts retailers because many of those cars are covered by warranties for the length of the lease. That means people take their cars to the shop rather than lift the hood themselves.
In addition, as the population ages, people are less likely to work on their cars, which benefits auto companies such as Pep Boys that have service bays as well as retail parts stores.
"More and more people want to get their cars fixed for them rather than fixing them themselves," said Richard, the financial analyst. The service side of the auto business, she said, is growing quickly, hampered only by a shortage of skilled technicians.
The final nail in the coffin for Hi-Gear, Love said, was recent mild weather, which kept the chain from meeting sales objectives it had set during bankruptcy proceedings.
"One of the huge problems we had was this was a very, very bad winter for us, because there was no cold weather," Love said.
People usually buy batteries, antifreeze and windshield wiper blades in winter, he said, but not this year. "A lot of things that take place in cars, take place in extremes of weather," he said.