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Where It All Started—National Parts Depot

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Where It All Started—National Parts Depot
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography courtesy of NPD
With four locations scattered across the United States and more than half a million square footage of facility space, it’s somewhat shocking to learn that National Parts Depot started as a small business operating out of a residential basement.
Today, NPD is arguably the largest entity in the restoration parts industry, but its founder, Jim Schmidt, created the business from a childhood dream. “My father was a classic car nut since he was a teenager in the 1950s,” noted Rick Schmidt, NPD’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “He started with a running-but-rusty 1928 Ford Model A Sports Coupe that he bought from a junkyard for $50 and finished the restoration when he was in high school.”
Jim’s entrepreneurial spirit was strong, and, inspired by a lack of product availability which he noticed during his build process, he started a side business selling complete Model A fastener kits. His drive was quickly rewarded and, by age 16, Jim’s Ohio-based business was thriving.

After years of running his father’s business and relocating to Florida, Jim started a family. In 1976, when Rick was 9 years old, Jim resigned from his father’s and started National Parts Depot selling restoration parts from his family’s home. Jim’s choice to name the mail-order business something fairly generic was wisely intentional, as he didn’t wish to limit himself within a name.
“My father built a building on I-75 in Gainesville in 1979, and I helped out doing everything from weed-eating along the fence line to hauling things into the showroom,” said Rick of his high school days. When Rick went off to the University of Florida in early 1987 to begin his business degree, though, life intervened. By that time, NPD had added its Michigan-based facility but unexpectedly lost two of its managers. Rick traveled to the facility with his father and spent several months getting everything back up to speed. “I realized I was learning more on the job, and getting a more valuable education than I was at school, so I walked away from college and came to NPD full-time.”
Soon, NPD opened additional locations operating in both North Carolina and California for a total of four facilities. In 1995, Jim and Rick worked out a deal for Rick to purchase the company’s stock and transition up to Vice President and CEO. 
When the Internet came along, it presented a challenge for NPD as the company was committed to concierge-style customer service for the ordering process, but ultimately yielded positive results and helped drive even more growth. “The business had grown to a scale that neither Dad nor I ever anticipated… some days, I still pinch myself,” laughed Rick.
With more than a hundred full-time employees and its 570,000-plus square feet of combined floor space packed full of inventory from 1,100-plus manufacturers, National Parts Depot’s in-stock power to quickly deliver parts to customers is both immense and impressive.
“A lot of customers have a false assumption that all parts and suppliers are more or less the same, carrying the same products from the same production facilities so they only shop on price, but that’s an enormous myth,” stated Rick. “Products do vary on quality and correctness of fit, and it matters that you deal with a supplier who cares and who sources carefully — like NPD.”
For racers, installing the right part with the right fit and the right quality is essential and can make all the difference between winning and losing. National Parts Depot understands the importance of getting it right the first time, and the proudly provides products to racers and enthusiasts that embody the spirit of Jim’s original vision. “The energy we’re seeing now with the Fox-body and SN-95 Mustangs being raced yet now considered ‘classics’ is really cool,” Rick added. “It’s gratifying to see people winning — whether it’s on track or at a car show — with NPD’s parts.”
From its inception with only Ford Thunderbird and Mustang components to NPD’s inclusion of General Motors’ Chevrolet Camaro and many, many more makes and models over the years, NPD’s explosive expansion and commitment to keeping customers happy helped the company grow from basement to big-time while still delivering mission-critical parts and pieces on time with exceptional service. And, of course, Jim’s original 1928 Model A proudly sits on display in NPD’s vast car collection as a reminder of where it all started.

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