AutoZone, a nationally known auto parts business headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, was founded by J. R. “Pitt” Hyde III in 1979. Hyde developed AutoZone as a division of Malone & Hyde, Inc., a Memphis-based wholesale grocery firm founded by his grandfather, J. R. Hyde, and Taylor Malone in 1907. Hyde was president of Malone & Hyde when he began to diversify the wholesale grocery business with the auto parts stores. He started running the company at the age of twenty-six, when his father became ill in 1968. Hyde was very successful with the wholesale grocer business and tripled its volume after taking Malone & Hyde to the New York Stock Exchange and using the stock to buy other food distributors. In the 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission blocked several acquisitions of food distributors and Hyde began to look for new businesses to diversify his company. In 1979, he opened his corporation’s first auto parts store in Forrest City, Arkansas.
The auto parts stores began under the name of Auto Shack with an aim to sell an assortment of auto parts and accessories. The goal of the company was to provide a store that provided more self-service than the traditional auto parts shop, with wide aisles, bright lighting, and uniformed workers. To better meet the needs of the customer, the company began to tailor each store’s merchandise based on vehicle statistics in the store’s neighborhood. In 1984, the company created a quality control program for its parts so that it could better serve its customers. Through good purchasing practices, quick inventory turnover to keep prices low, mass advertising, accessible locations, and uniformity, the company was able to build the auto parts do-it-yourself business.
In 1987, as a result of an infringement suit by Radio Shack, Auto Shack changed its name to AutoZone. After taking Malone & Hyde private, Hyde sold the company in 1988 to Fleming Companies, based in Oklahoma City. Hyde kept the thriving auto retail store chain that he had spun off prior to selling Malone & Hyde and continued to make improvements in the business. He started using SMS Store Management System software in 1989 to help keep the stores stocked with needed parts. In 1991, AutoZone debuted on the New York Stock Exchange. In the same year, the auto parts retailer began to register customer warranties in a computer database. In 1994, the company started using a satellite system to broadcast information from store to store. The system is used to help the customers get parts from another store when they and cannot get them from the local store. These improvements helped the company to expand even more; in 1995 in Louisville, Kentucky, AutoZone opened its one-thousandth store.
The 1990s brought more improvements for auto parts retail. In 1995, AutoZone introduced new best-selling batteries; the following year it introduced a website for its customers to use and started a new commercial program in Germantown, Tennessee. During this same year, the company also acquired ALLDATA, a software company providing automotive diagnostic and repair information.
In 1998, AutoZone acquired eight hundred stores from other auto parts retailers and later converted many of them into AutoZone stores. Also in 1998 the first AutoZone store was opened outside the United States in Nuevo Loredo, Mexico. The company made the Fortune 500 list for the first time in 1999. Currently, AutoZone operates over three thousand stores in the United States and Mexico.
Pitt Hyde retired in 1997 as chairman of the board and turned his attention to the family’s philanthropy, the Hyde Foundation. It has become an important economic force shaping Memphis’s cultural institutions in the early twenty-first century. Some of the programs supported by the foundation include the Memphis Ballet, the Greater Memphis Arts Council, Memphis in May, the Memphis Challenge, the Memphis Biotech Foundation, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and the Blues Foundation.
Published » December 30, 2009