It has been nearly 93 years since Manny Rosenfeld, Moe Strauss, and W. Graham "Jack" Jackson opened the Pep Auto Supply Co. at 7-11 N. 63d St.

In the company's first decade, a trip to California in a Ford Model T constituted market research. Things are a bit more complex these days for the threesome's corporate heirs.

On Dec. 10, Pep Boys-Manny, Moe and Jack disappointed shareholders with lower-than-expected third-quarter results (two cents per share earnings vs. an anticipated 13 cents). Shares took a 10 percent tumble and have yet to recover.

Pep Boys, which isn't in the Philly50, remains an iconic regional company.

In an earnings call, Michael R. Odell, the company's chief executive officer, said tire sales suffered after being underpriced by Chinese competition.

More telling, perhaps, was Odell's description - in that call and previous earning calls - of the fragmented auto parts and service market and the contortions required to reach each segment.

Pep Boys, Odell said, has identified and labeled five customer types - Do It Yourself Proud, Do It for Me (DIFM), Appearance Matters, the Enthusiast, and the Heavy Hitter.

The DIY Proud are traditional auto-parts customers, doing repairs themselves out of necessity or just plain pride. They want quality at competitive prices. All they need is a parts department and knowledgeable help.

The DIFMs typically take their cars to a dealer, Odell said, but can be put off by the cost. To capture them, Pep Boys is creating lounges at service centers to create a dealership feel.

"You have windows to be able to see into the service area and see the latest equipment," Odell said last month at a Las Vegas auto symposium. "WiFi, flat-screen TV, charging stations, Keurig coffeemaker."

Appearance Matters customers are drawn to touches that make a car stand out - interior accessories, steering wheel covers, floor mats, washes, wax, etc. Though 90 percent now are men, Odell said, women can be an equal draw if a store is female-friendly. Store layouts are being revamped to that end, Odell said.

The Enthusiast is the dyed-in-the-wool gearhead. Pep Boys is adding "Speed Shops," stores within stores, for them.

The Heavy Hitters are customers who might dabble with repairs but have the income not to sweat it. They just need to trust their service provider. To that end, and to reach other segments, Pep Boys is rebranding itself.

"Our marketing message had been more around the value and the convenience," Odell said. "Now we're shifting the message to trust."

Hand-in-glove with trust is customer service.

"We've also been retraining all the associates more along the lines of the Dale Carnegie" school of thought, Odell said, "in terms of how to greet customers, shake their hands, look them in the eye, introduce ourselves, get the customer's name, build a rapport with the customer."

Now, if only the Chinese would raise their tire prices.

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