The Pep Boys--Manny, Moe & Jack History
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19132
Telephone: (215) 430-9000
Fax: (215) 229-5076
Incorporated: 1925 as Pep Auto Supply Co.
Sales: $2.39 billion (1999)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: PBY
NAIC: 441310 Automotive Parts and Accessories Stores; 811111 General Automotive Repair
Pep Boys has been a leader in the automotive aftermarket for more than 78 years, always meeting the needs of its customers with dependable automotive parts, supplies and service. Today, the Company remains at the forefront of its industry as the aftermarket continues its rapid technological evolution. Key Dates:
- Four World War I buddies open an auto supplies store in Philadelphia called Pep Auto Supply, soon renamed Pep Boys.
- Official name of business becomes The Pep Boys--Manny, Moe & Jack.
- First two California stores are opened in Los Angeles.
- Company goes public.
- Mitchell Leibovitz becomes the first company president from outside the founding families; the chain includes 159 stores.
- Chain has grown to 337 units in 17 states; sales reach $1 billion.
- All the company's technicians and mechanics are placed on commission.
- A new parts-only store format, PartsUSA, is launched.
- PartsUSA outlets are renamed Pep Boys Express; revenues reach $2 billion.
- Company sells 100 of its Express outlets to AutoZone and closes an additional nine.
With about 650 company owned and operated automotive aftermarket superstores in 37 states and Puerto Rico, The Pep Boys--Manny, Moe & Jack is a leading auto parts and service chain. The typical Pep Boys supercenter is about 18,200 square feet in size, stocks about 25,000 items, and provides preventive maintenance and repair services at 12 service bays. With its unsurpassed diversity that includes tires, auto parts, accessories, and service, Pep Boys caters to three segments of the automotive aftermarket that it identifies as: 'do-it-yourself,' 'buy-for-resale' (sales to professional mechanics and garages), and 'do-it-for-me' (the service side). About 80 percent of company revenue is generated from the sale of merchandise, with the remainder deriving from service. Advertised as 'the three best friends your car ever had,' the original Pep Boys launched their first auto parts store just as the automobile was coming of age.
Lore-Filled Start in the 1920s
Pep Boys was founded by Emanuel (Manny) Rosenfeld, Maurice (Moe) Strauss, Moe Radavitz, and W. Graham (Jack) Jackson, Philadelphians who met and became friends during their World War I stint in the U.S. Navy. In 1921, less than 15 years after mass production came to the auto industry, the four war buddies put up $200 each to open an auto supplies store in their hometown. Strauss, who had already made two unsuccessful attempts at entrepreneurship, started out as a silent partner--he was already employed at a competing store, and was not ready to give up the steady income.
The partners rented a small storefront in Philadelphia, so small that only the shortest of names would fit on its marquee. Corporate folklore tells of a brainstorming session that adopted the 'Pep' from Pep Valve Grinding Compound, one of the shop's first product lines. Pep Auto Supply fit neatly above the shop's front door, but there is more to the chain's christening. The tale goes on to tell of a street cop who, upon issuing equipment citations, would recommend that the motorists go to the 'boys' at Pep for replacement parts. The three Pep Boys who remained after Moe Radavitz cashed out in the early 1920s tacked their own names on in 1923.
The corporate caricatures that would later become famous throughout the country were commissioned shortly thereafter and drawn by Harry Moskovitch. Manny, a now-reformed cigar smoker with a Charlie Chaplin mustache, was on the left. Moe, who would be known as 'the father of the automotive aftermarket,' was in the middle. Jack's grinning caricature made a brief appearance before being replaced with that of Moe's brother, Isaac (Izzy) Strauss, on the right. (The company name stayed the same despite the personnel changes--'Manny, Moe and Izzy' just did not sound right.) As the chain grew, the Pep Boys were rendered in cotton on T-shirts, in ink on match books, and in cement as statues in front of stores. The bizarre but distinctive trademark was later joked about in Johnny Carson's Tonight Show monologue, parodied on Saturday Night Live, and came to life in Claymation for late 1980s television ads.
In the late 1920s, Manny Rosenfeld brought his brother, Murray, into the business and Izzy Strauss broke away to start his own automotive chain. The sometimes convoluted family ties at Pep Boys remained strong through the 1980s, and the Strauss and Rosenfeld families controlled one-fifth of the chain's stock into the early 1990s.
1930s Through Early 1980s: Expanding into California; Conservative Management
By 1928, Pep Boys had a dozen stores in the Philadelphia area, and Strauss began to feel the pull of the burgeoning California market. He had lived briefly in the state in the early 1920s, when he became convinced that it was an ideal location for an automotive retail business. In 1932, he sent Murray Rosenfeld, called 'perhaps the most astute merchandiser of the Philadelphia group' by Aftermarket Business in 1991, out to the West Coast to launch what was commonly known as Pep Boys West. The first two California stores were opened in 1933 in Los Angeles. By that time, the chain had 40 Philadelphia outlets.
Although the founders had planned to operate both segments of the business in concert, the physical distance between them soon forced the division of primary merchandising functions. For example, intense competition compelled Pep Boys West to expand the size of, and selection at, those stores, whereas East Coast outlets concentrated more on service. Manny Rosenfeld stayed in Philadelphia, his brother Murray ran the Los Angeles operation, and Moe Strauss commuted between the two.
During World War II, automotive production was curtailed while car companies focused on war production, and 'Murray the merchandiser' stocked Pep Boys West shelves with nonautomotive products such as work clothes, bicycles, and lawn and garden equipment. The West Coast division also experimented with wholesaling and even exporting.
When the retailer went public in 1946, Manny Rosenfeld was named president and Moe Strauss was elected chairman of the board. For the next three decades, the company grew relatively slowly under what was later interpreted as a preponderance of caution--the company insisted on owning, rather than leasing, its stores, and doggedly avoided debt. Under the direction of Moe Strauss, who assumed the additional responsibilities of president in 1960 after Manny Rosenfeld's death, the chain grew by only two net stores over the 20-year period from 1964 to 1984. The fiscally conservative Strauss occupied both posts until 1973, when he relinquished the title of president to son Benjamin; however, he remained chairman through 1977. He was still a member of the board of directors at his death in 1982, over six decades after he helped found the business.
Mid-1980s Through Early 1990s: Rapid Growth and Modernization Under New Management
Ben Strauss advanced to chairman and CEO that year, and Morton (Bud) Krause, son-in-law of Moe Strauss, was named president. When Krause took an early retirement in 1984 at the age of 54, Ben Strauss shouldered the responsibilities of all three offices. In 1986, Strauss called on Mitchell Leibovitz to become Pep Boys' first president from outside the founding families. Leibovitz had joined the company at the age of 33 in 1978 as controller and was promoted to chief financial officer within a year. He had worked as a teacher and coach before earning an M.B.A. from Temple University by going to night classes. Leibovitz caught Ben Strauss's attention while employed as a CPA for the accounting firm that audited Pep Boys' books. From 1979 to 1984, Leibovitz was in charge of Pep Boys' eastern operations. He closed down 32 'small and stodgy' stores, then opened 60 stores in the ensuing two years. The East Coast expansion was financed with an offering of $50 million in convertible debentures (bonds that can be converted to stock), a debt Moe Strauss would never have taken on.
By 1986, when Leibovitz assumed the presidency, Pep Boys was the second largest chain in the highly fragmented, $100 billion automotive aftermarket industry, after Western Auto Supply Co. Its earnings had increased 18 percent annually from 1982 to 1986, but the new leader had even bigger plans for the retailer. As president, Leibovitz mapped out and executed a five-year plan to consolidate Pep Boys' headquarters and simultaneously expand its geographic reach, in the hopes of its becoming the Home Depot of the retail automotive aftermarket industry. In fact, Leibovitz enjoyed the counsel of Bernie Marcus, the executive who catapulted Home Depot to the upper echelon of the do-it-yourself home repair market. Leibovitz recognized the industrywide changes that could either launch Pep Boys to the top of the heap or see it acquired by a competitor by the end of the century.
During the 1980s, the traditionally fragmented retail automotive aftermarket industry became more competitive as larger chains began to emerge. Many neighborhood service garages were being transformed into convenience stores with gas stations, and some of the larger chains that had provided limited service, such as J.C. Penney and Kmart, also started phasing out auto repairs. All the while, cars were growing increasingly complex and difficult for non-pros to fix.
In the face of these market shifts, Leibovitz set out a five-year plan for Pep Boys that encompassed six goals: store expansion, a refined merchandise mix, increased warehousing and distribution capacity, improved promotion of the service operations, modernization of systems support, and consolidation of the headquarters in Philadelphia. From February 1986 to February 1991, Pep Boys invested $477 million in the plan--almost as much as 1986's sales of $486 million.
During that period, the number of Pep Boys stores doubled to 337, the number of states with Pep Boys locations reached 17, and product offerings tripled from 9,000 items to 24,000. Individual locations were expanded into a 'superstore' or 'warehouse' format, with an average size of 23,000 square feet, and the company launched an 'everyday low price' strategy. These larger stores also featured an increased number of service bays--a fairly unique feature in the industry--and services offered were expanded. Unlike many of its competitors, which would only install tires and batteries (if anything), Pep Boys' mechanics would perform practically any automotive service except body work and engine replacement. Pep Boys' new computerized merchandising and inventory control helped stores tailor their offerings to the local market. For example, rural stores might carry more truck parts, whereas urban stores might stock more foreign car parts. Weekends were added to the retailer's schedule, and hours were extended to 9 p.m. on weeknights.
To tout the service bays and increase emphasis on national brands, Leibovitz raised Pep Boys' advertising budget and began to divert funds from traditional, full-page newspaper ads to direct mail, catalogs, and electronic media. He also began phasing the Pep Boys caricature out of advertising and promotional material in an effort to modernize the company's image, even though 'the boys' had ranked as one of the automotive aftermarket's five most recognized corporate symbols.
In 1991, as the company concluded its five-year plan and celebrated its 70th anniversary, it also topped $1 billion in annual sales, added eight Sunbelt states to its geographic reach, and more than doubled corporate employment from 5,500 to 14,000. Leibovitz advanced to Pep Boys' chief executive office and the company was added to Standard & Poor's 500 Index in 1990. Although the young leader modestly deflected praise of his transformation of Pep Boys to the management team he had assembled, analysts gave him the lion's share of the credit for modernizing the chain.
Pep Boys is considered a noncyclical business, but its massive expenditures and assumption of debt combined with an early 1990s recession to depress profit growth. Net income declined from $42 million in 1989 to $32 million in 1990, then increased incrementally in 1991 and 1992. Pep Boys was able to begin fueling its continuing expansion and retire debt with cash flow in 1992. The company added 30 stores that year and took advantage of an 'early conversion expiration' provision (also known as a 'screw clause' to investors) to save $2.3 million in interest on a $75 million convertible debenture.
Pep Boys had long been known for its good working conditions and generous benefits, which helped the company attract and retain some of the industry's best employees for decades. Leibovitz instilled his employees with competitive fervor by staging ritual annihilations of competitors. Whenever competitive pressure from Pep Boys closed down a major rival's store, he added a photo of the closed-down outlet to his collection. Baseball caps bearing the vanquished competitors' corporate logos were incinerated, and Leibovitz videotaped the symbolic destruction for in-house pep rallies.
The year 1993 saw the inauguration of yet another change at Pep Boys that was hailed by Financial World as 'the final step in transforming the old-fashioned family-owned chain into a nationwide leader.' After a year of planning, Leibovitz put all his technicians and mechanics on commission in the hopes of attracting top employees and increasing their productivity. But just three months after he made the shift, consumer fraud inspectors in California, Florida, and New Jersey charged Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s auto service division with systematically overcharging customers for unnecessary repairs. The allegations specifically cited Sears' commission program as the locus of the problem. Although chagrined at the negative publicity surrounding commissioned employees generally, Leibovitz confidently stuck with his plan, which incorporated several safeguards. The cornerstone of Pep Boys' system was an ethics policy that dictated termination of mechanics who made unnecessary repairs. Technicians, who were certified by the Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), also agreed to have their commission docked if their work had to be redone.
Even with commissions, Pep Boys' service cost 20 to 50 percent less than dealerships and independent garages. Service accounted for 13 percent of the retailer's total revenue in fiscal 1993, and income from that segment was increasing more than ten percent each year in the early 1990s. Sears' subsequent decision to cut back on auto service undoubtedly sent more business to Pep Boys' service bays.
Leibovitz worked to allay customers' ingrained apprehension about gouging in automotive repairs by offering a toll-free 'squeal line' and postpaid comment cards addressed to the CEO. Complaints were categorized and tabulated to detect patterns of misconduct, and regional sales managers followed up each complaint with a personal contact. According to the chief, Pep Boys received about 200 complaints and 200 compliments, out of about five million customers, each month. Commendations were reviewed and read on videotape for the firm's 'Customer Corner,' a video presentation played back in company break rooms across the country.
Pep Boys emerged from the early 1990s recession with strong earnings and stock performance. Even though comparable store sales only increased one percent, profits grew by over 20 percent from 1992 to 1993, to $65.6 million and the share price jumped from less than $20 in early 1992 to over $30 by early 1994. Stock market observers predicted that Pep Boys' stock would increase 20 to 30 percent by the end of 1994. Future expansion was planned for new markets in Chicago, Ohio, Denver, Houston, the San Francisco Bay area, and New England. The chain also planned to increase its grip on existing markets in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Florida, and its historical strongholds in southern California and Philadelphia.
Mid-1990s and Beyond: Shifting Away from DIY Market
Pep Boys ended 1994 with 432 stores, 4,166 service bays, and revenues of $1.41 billion. Three years later, following the biggest expansion in company history, there were 711 Pep Boys outlets with 6,208 service bays while revenues surpassed the $2 billion mark for the first time. This expansion included the launching in 1995 of a new parts-only store format (with no service bays and no tires) called PartsUSA. By 1997, there were 109 PartsUSA stores, which were rechristened Pep Boys Express that year in an attempt to leverage the name recognition that the Pep Boys brand had gained in its 75-plus-years of existence. The new format was intended to help the company pursue the 'buy-for-resale' segment of the automotive aftermarket, which consisted of sales to professional mechanics and garages&mdash well as traditional do-it-yourself (DIY) customers. The buy-for-resale segment of the market, along with the 'do-it-for-me' segment (services), was increasing in importance at the same time that the DIY sector was plateauing. Fewer people were doing their own auto repair in the mid-to-late 1990s because cars were becoming more and more complex. In pursuit of sales to professionals, Pep Boys began rolling out a system for delivering parts to repair shops in 1996. By the end of 1997, about half of the company's units were offering delivery services. At the same time, Pep Boys was pursuing increased service business by signing agreements with fleet customers, such as maintenance agreements with rental car agencies and deals to recondition used cars and make warranty repairs for used car superstores. In 1997 Pep Boys also began testing a service-only format called Pep Boys Service and Tire Center at a location in Moorestown, New Jersey.
With DIY sales continuing to disappoint, Pep Boys decided in October 1998 to refocus on its supercenter format. The company sold 100 of its Express outlets to arch-rival AutoZone, Inc. for $108 million. Pep Boys also closed an additional nine Express units, leaving just 12 in operation. In connection with this contraction, the company recorded pretax charges of $29.5 million, which reduced 1998 net earnings to $5 million. Pep Boys also slowed down its expansion drive, growing by only 24 units in fiscal 1999, and worked to improve the performance of the supercenters by remodeling some of the older units and making other enhancements. At the same time, the rollout of the delivery system continued, culminating by 1999 in 88 percent of the stores participating. Sales for 1999 were flat compared to 1998, but net earnings improved to $29.3 million. In 2000 Pep Boys continued the expansion of its service operations by launching a new program for buyers or sellers of used cars whereby Pep Boys would inspect a vehicle and, assuming the vehicle passed the inspection, provide a certification vouching for the vehicles' mechanical and operational soundness. Pep Boys initially charged between $89.99 and $229.99 for the service.
Principal Subsidiaries: Pep Boys-Manny, Moe & Jack of California; Pep Boys-Manny, Moe & Jack of Delaware, Inc.; Pep Boys-Manny, Moe & Jack of Puerto Rico, Inc.; Colchester Insurance Company; PBY Corporation; Carrus Supply Corporation.
Principal Competitors: AutoZone, Inc.; CARQUEST Corporation; CSK Auto Corporation; Discount Auto Parts, Inc.; General Parts, Inc.; The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company; Les Schwab Tire Centers; Midas, Inc.; Monro Muffler Brake, Inc.; O'Reilly Automotive, Inc.; Precision Auto Care, Inc.; Rankin Automotive Group, Inc.; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
- Byrne, Harlan S., 'Wait 'Til Next Year,' Barron's January 5, 1998, p. 48.
- Halverson, Richard, 'Auto Chains Shift Gears to Wholesale As DIY Sales Skid,' Discount Store News, September 4, 1995, p. 51.
- ------, 'Pep Boys Expanding Bays,' Discount Store News, June 23, 1997, pp. 1, 126.
- ------, 'Pep Boys to Transition Away from DIY Market,' Discount Store News, June 22, 1998, pp. 3, 62.
- Hass, Nancy, 'Truths of Commission,' Financial World, January 19, 1993, pp. 28--29.
- Johnson, Jay L., 'Pep Boys on the Fast Track,' Discount Merchandiser, October 1990, pp. 18--25.
- Kharouf, Jim, 'Pep Boys Speeding into Area,' Daily Southtown (Chicago), June 22, 1994, pp. 1--2.
- La Monica, Paul R., 'Pep Boys: Shifting Gears,' Financial World, December 5, 1995, p. 24.
- Levy, Robert, 'Manny, Moe & Jack on the Move,' Dun's Business Month, July 1986, pp. 28--29.
- Lin, Anthony, 'Pep Boys Is Revving Up for Its Largest Expansion Drive: Company to Launch Parts-Only Stores and Increase Supercenter Outlets,' Wall Street Journal, August 10, 1995, p. B4.
- Lubove, Seth, 'Retail Is Detail,' Forbes, September 30, 1991, pp. 144, 146.
- 'Pep Boys: More Than an Industry Leader, an Institution,' Aftermarket Business, December 1, 1991, pp. 17--39.
- 'Pep Boys Passes $1 Billion Mark,' Discount Merchandiser, January 1992, pp. 14--17.
- 'Pep Boys Tests Service-Only Units,' Discount Store News, January 26, 1998, pp. 6, 42.
- 'Pep Boys West, 1933-1983: 50 Years Later, Still Pioneering the Retail Aftermarket,' Home and Auto, November 15, 1983, pp. 13+.
- Rudnitsky, Howard, 'Keeping the Family Buggy on the Road,' Forbes, March 11, 1996, p. 52.
- Silverthorne, Sean, 'Pep Boys' Mitchell Leibovitz: He Studied Industry Leaders to Recast Auto Parts Store,' Investor's Business Daily, October 13, 1992, pp. 1--2.
- Taylor, Alex III, 'How to Murder the Competition,' Fortune, February 22, 1993, pp. 87, 90.
- Wayne, Leslie, 'Pep Boys (Manny, Moe, and Jack) See Their Stock Climb,' New York Times, April 19, 1994.
- Weiss, Gary, 'Beware the Turn of the Screw,' Business Week, June 1, 1992, p. 108.
- Werner, Thomas, 'Seeking No. 1: Pep Boys Expands Auto-Parts Chain by Big Leaps,' Barron's, July 6, 1987, pp. 34--35.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 36. St. James Press, 2001.