Celebrating one of Burson’s originals

As Burson Auto Parts celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it looks back at one of the original staff, who made an invaluable contribution to the business.

Terry Penney is the former general manager of operations, helping build Burson from the ground up over his 32-year career with the company, before retiring in 2007.

Penney first made contact with Burson co-founder Ron Burgoine while working at a service station in Melbourne in 1972. Burgoine started doing business with the service station, bringing carpet off-cuts sourced from Ford Australia that he and partner Garry Johnson had overlocked by a hard working team of women at his house, transforming them into mats.

These mats became incredibly successful, heralding the start of what was to come for them.

An early career image of Terry Penney, one of Burson Auto Parts’ foundation team members.

Gradually Burgoine and Johnson expanded their range of parts and accessories and Penney sold them on consignment at the service station.

Penney recalls looking forward to Burgoine’s visits as he would bring fish and chips every Friday with their new deliveries of stock.

Penney was the mechanic at the service station and a fellow by the name of Andrew Schram (who would go on to have an incredible 40 year career with Burson Auto Parts) was his apprentice.

At that stage, the four of them had no idea how integral each one of them would be in creating what has become an Australian automotive aftermarket business institution.

Penney’s enthusiasm and professionalism was well noticed by Burgoine, who told him he had the “gift of the gab” and would be great in sales, offering him a job in 1975 as a cash van driver at Burson Auto Parts company, which by that stage had been in operation for four years.

Three years of being one of the top selling Burson Auto Parts cash van drivers followed, creating outstanding rapport with his trade customers. Penney would head to the company’s first warehouse in Heidelberg twice per week to replenish his stock and it was during one of these visits that Johnson made him an offer that would shape the rest of his career.

“Garry approached me and said that they were looking at opening their first store, the former Lapco Auto Parts shop in Braybrook (Melbourne) that was complete with racking and was perfectly set up for us. Garry wanted me to manage it and despite not knowing a lot about store management – in fact nothing at all. I took the opportunity and quickly realised that I needed some help,” said Penney.

“I called my mate Andrew Schram and told him we were opening up a store and I needed him on board. When he said ‘I don’t know anything about that’, I replied with ‘Neither do I, but we are doing it!’,” Penney said.

As Penney and Schram had worked together before, they shared similar hard working ethics and gelled brilliantly as the first Burson Auto Parts store manager and second in charge.

Both of the enthusiastic spare parts store debutants dived into their roles head-first and would actually compete with each other as to who could do the fastest puncture repair or shelf stocking, among many other duties. This is where Schram started the role that would occupy the rest of his entire professional career, selecting the store’s stock in order to have exactly what their customers needed.

The duo also actioned something from that first Burson Auto Parts store that forever changed the face of trade based automotive parts sales and service.

“We were looking at ways to improve our service to our rapidly growing numbers of trade customers. At that time, our competitors would do parts deliveries twice a day, once in mid-morning and once in the afternoon. We knew that our customers needed better service than that, so we introduced on-demand delivery of parts. This was incredibly successful for us, the trade loved having the parts as soon as they needed them and as we all know, this service is now a staple of the automotive parts business in Australia,” Penney said.

“I am very proud of how we were the first to do that, as having come from the workshop floor ourselves, we understood how important it was for workshops to get their parts as they needed them, in order to provide prompt service to their customers.”

Johnson brought his marketing prowess to Burson Auto Parts and promoted it as “The Fastest in the West”, given its location and emphasis on providing trade with quick turnarounds.

Penney managed the inaugural Burson Auto Parts store for two years before the start of the company’s expansion with the opening of its second store in the bustling central location of City Road, South Melbourne.

Penney oversaw this successful store for three years before making the move to a new store closer to his home territory in Essendon, which as a mad Bombers fan suited him fine. After another successful four years there, Johnson made Penney another offer.

“As the company was growing and given my experience with opening and running new stores, Garry asked me to become a store supervisor overseeing the performance of some ten stores by that stage. This would occupy the next few years and it was a welcome break from the duties of stocktaking and replenishing stock by hand, writing invoices by hand to each and every customer, manual accounting of takings, banking etc – absolutely everything was manually done in the stores, computers were still a long way off,” Penney said.

“I had even put together a store set-up team and I would jump into the car with them and drive to each new store location and have it set up within a couple of days ready for business, no matter where they were along the eastern seaboard or in regional areas.

“We continued the store expansion program for several years and I moved into the Heidelberg head office to work alongside Garry to plan new store locations to best suit the requirements of our growing trade customer base. Andrew Schram had also moved into the head office by this time, firmly focussed on locating, establishing, developing and securing relationships with premium quality product suppliers.

“Business was going extremely well, we had more stores and we had managed to develop a strong rapport with the trade. It was at this time that Garry and Ron Burgoine split, which was sad from my perspective as I was very close friends with Ron, it was because of his belief in my potential that I became a part of the company,” Penney added.

“From that point my relationship with Garry became much stronger. His professional and personal guidance helped me so much in the years that followed. I never made it to secondary school, I had worked full time from the age of 14, so I was clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I had a very determined, hard working ethic. Garry taught me so much and we remained side by side for the rest of my career.”

Penney went from supervising new stores to becoming the company’s head of sales and even took care of the company’s delivery vehicle fleets over the years. He was also involved in human resources as well for what had become a 70 store Burson Auto Parts network. There wasn’t a part of the Burson Auto Parts business that Penney was not involved in across his remarkable 32 year career with the company.

“We were extremely thin at the executive management level – for the entirety of my career it was Garry, Andrew and myself running everything. We knew then that the time was coming where the reigns needed to be handed over for Burson Auto Parts to take its next leaps forward. Darryl Abotomey and his Bapcor team has certainly done and continues to do this,” said Penney.

“I am so incredibly impressed and proud at what Darryl and his team has achieved since taking over the company and making it a part of the Asia-Pacific’s largest automotive aftermarket company with Bapcor. They have some outstanding people who have grown and developed since I retired in 2007 and some incredibly impressive new people who have been integral to the company’s truly remarkable growth and success.

“I knew and I am sure that Garry and Andrew also knew that we had run our race with the company – we had taken it as far as we could. I had retired before Garry sold the business, as I promised I would at 60 years of age, and that was definitely the right thing for me to do as the stress for such a small management team was becoming too much. Andrew and I had gone from being mechanics in a service station to becoming company directors of one of nation’s top trade parts suppliers during our careers.

“It was time for new leadership that respected and continued the successful business culture that the three of us had so carefully crafted over the years and I have been so impressed with Bapcor’s management, commitment to the Australian automotive trade and preservation of the Burson Auto Parts business culture.”

Aside from watching the company grow so strongly during his retirement, another source of extreme pride for Penney is that his son Aaron has followed in his footsteps in working for the company. Aaron Penney is one of Burson Auto Parts’ national key accounts managers, having joined the team in 2020.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend