Meeting the 2018 Distributor of the Year finalists: CRW Parts

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Updated Apr 22, 2021

CRW Parts goes where its customers are. From market areas to new product lines, the Mid-Atlantic distributor is aggressive in pursuing new opportunities to solve customer problems. And with a company history that dates to Millard Fillmore’s presidency, it’s clear the method works.

Though technically founded by Bo Willis in 1962, the business known today as CRW Parts was formed immediately following the closure of RW Norris and Sons in the early 1960s. RW Norris and Sons had been a successful wheel, rim and component distributor in Baltimore for more than a century before losing two of its three leaders (Willis’ uncles) in less than a year. The third would exit soon after, leaving Willis, only 32 at the time, to decide if he wanted to pursue another career or continue serving a customer base that had relied on his family for decades.

He chose the latter and Chesapeake Rim and Wheel was born.

“It was kind of a unique opportunity,” says Dave Willis, Bo’s son and president at CRW Parts, “in that he was able to keep his supplier and customer contacts and still start the business fresh.”

In its history RW Norris and Sons had sold everything from wagon wheels to shotgun shells, but by the 1960s most of its business had transitioned to the transportation sector. CRW Parts (the name was shortened in 1996) would do the same, as Bo Willis worked with his customer base to ensure the new business opened with all the lines necessary to keep customer vehicles on the road. That same attention to customer detail remains in the operation today. CRW Parts’ employees aren’t countermen, warehouse workers or even delivery drivers — “we’re problem solvers,” Dave Willis says.

“There are not enough [distributors] out there who are focused on being able to solve every customer’s problem,” he says. “For us, we want all of our people to know that when a customer says they need help, they should drop what they’re doing and solve their problem.”

That dedication to customer satisfaction also can be found in the company’s inventory. CRW Parts remains an automotive and heavy-duty distributor, and Willis notes the expansive inventory gives the company a leg up in serving mixed and medium-duty fleets.

But CRW Parts’ biggest differentiator is its workplace culture. Employees at CRW Parts never stop learning about how to better serve their customers. Training opportunities are abundant, and employees are encouraged to work together and share skills and best practices to keep the business humming.

Willis supports autonomy in the workplace and allows the company’s eight branch managers to run their locations “like an individual business owner,” with a crew of talented, engaged and motivated employees on hand. He credits those employees for the company’s continued longevity and its second Truck Parts & Service Distributor of the Year finalist nomination (2009).

“I think people see we treat customers the right way — that we have their back and they can be confident doing business with us,” he says, adding, “If you stay around for six generations, it’s clear you’re doing something right.”

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