When you’re entrepreneurial in nature, the sky is the limit
Some people were simply built for business— and you’ll find plenty of them in the automotive aftermarket. It may look easy from afar but, in actuality, it takes clever minds and—above all else, a willingness to learn and grow with this fast-changing industry. We sat down with two members that demonstrate these qualities to a tee: Bob Kirstiuk and Tim Scharnberg of Advantage Parts Solutions. As longtime members of the automotive aftermarket and parts business, and the minds behind global parts leader Advantage Parts Solutions, Kirstiuk and Scharnberg know how to adapt to a variety of industry change—and come out stronger on the other side.
See how Advantage got its advantage in the industry in this exclusive interview.
Collision Repair magazine: How did you first become involved in the collision industry?
Bob Kirstiuk: Fresh out of university, I was introduced to Tim through a mutual friend when he was operating his own auto glass and upholstery business. Since he was already connected to the broader auto space, we discovered an opportunity within the parts department of dealerships, wrote the business plan of what we now know as Advantage Parts Solutions, and became partners. Our first day as a business was October 1, 1988, in Vancouver. From there, we made it our personal mission to learn and grow.
Tim Scharnberg: For me, it was my upholstery and glass business that first connected me to the local auto community, and ultimately, Bob. That’s where I really learned about business, relationships, and networking. So, I was able to take everything I learned through running that business and pour it into Advantage.
CR: So, how have you climbed to your current role today?
BK: From the very beginning, part of our approach and strategy was to build relationships with every facet of the industry. By doing so, we’ve been able to position ourselves and Advantage to be part of conversations and influence outcomes that ultimately resulted in a better experience for vehicle owners. So, when the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi was published, it became part of our ethos and validated our journey.
TS: Bob and I have always been very entrepreneurial in nature, and that’s served us well. Because the spirit of Advantage is entrepreneurial, when we subscribed to the Scaling Up framework early on, it really accelerated our ability to launch new markets, new products and focus on what’s most important as part of our macro, global strategy. This framework continues to provide us with rigor and discipline that, now, is just part of our DNA.
CR: What are some of the biggest changes your company(ies) have had to adapt to?
BK: When any business scales from $100,000 to $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 and beyond it is forced to evolve and meet the growing needs of the business, and Advantage is no different. We climbed those plateaus and mountains amidst the introduction and evolution of the internet, vehicle technology, operating in multiple countries, and now A.I. Change has been a constant, we’ve chosen to lean into it and found a rhythm to meet this proactively and positively.
TS: The single biggest change we, and the industry, have had to adapt to, since we launched in 1988, was how parts were ordered. When we first started, shops would place orders over the phone, then it was fax, then email and now it’s on platforms that come with an entire suite of capabilities. So, all positive change, but bodyshops today operate with much more sophistication than they did 35 years ago.
“From the very beginning, part of our approach and strategy was to build relationships with every facet of the industry.”
— Bob Kirstiuk, CEO and co-founder, Advantage Parts Solutions
CR: What advice do you have for fellow executives/business owners dealing with massive change?
BK: Whether it’s an organization like YPO, EO, or Vistage, it’s always good to surround yourself with others in similar roles from different industries. Anytime you can use a group of like-minded executives, you’ll be able to glean and learn from them and figure out how to apply their stories and strategies to your business. It won’t fit perfectly, but that group can offer a level of support that’s incredibly valuable. Sometimes you have to look outside your business to impact what’s happening within yours.
TS: I’d offer two pieces of advice: don’t be satisfied with the status quo and accept that what got you “here” won’t necessarily get you “there.” I’ve found that by asking the right questions and soliciting different viewpoints from within the business, and talking directly with customers, we’ve been able to navigate change with a better sense of the team’s and market’s sentiment.
CR: What are some of your proudest moments/achievements over your career?
BK: Over the years of creating authentic relationships, I began to see professional connections become some of my best friends. Because of that, I consider nearly my entire network as friends and family. In 35 years, there’s a level of significance to that where I step back and consider myself blessed to have these authentic relationships, and that makes me proud.
TS: The tenure of our global team is a massive differentiator for us. We have individuals who we hired in the early 1990s that are still with us today, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch them grow and mature personally and professionally. With that, comes the combined experience our team has in aggregate in the industry, and that number is a tick over 1,200 total years. So, I’m proud that we were able to create value in the marketplace, but also the fact that we’ve been able to retain our team the way we have is one of the most significant achievements of my career.
CR: What is your advice to the industry today/what would you like to tell the industry?
BK: Lean into change. With the various AI platforms on the market, we should expect the rate of change to rapidly accelerate in the coming years. While this might seem scary, I would encourage everyone to embrace these platforms, understand them, and figure out how we, as an industry, can come together to remove waste and deliver a superior product to vehicle owners.
TS: I’ve always found that when we’ve been able to share information and data openly and transparently, that we were able to produce a better product to vehicle owners. And, that’s something that I’m looking forward to—working with more organizations in a truly shared environment where we can eliminate waste and drive improvements. We’re all vehicle owners, too, so let’s do this for the public and ourselves.