Mainstay Mercedes Business Serves Local & Global Customers
Bill Bunton Auto Supply & Machine Shop is a throwback business – in the best of ways – a store with stellar customer service and deep community ties, even as it successfully adapts to a changing marketplace far beyond its city.
Once located downtown on south Ohio Avenue in Mercedes, Bunton Auto is now on west Business 83 and has been there since 1977, with a west 2nd Street address as the highway is called as it runs through town. Highway 83 served as the Rio Grande Valley’s regional main street before the expressway’s construction in the early 1960s. Bunton Auto has remained on the historic roadway as many businesses have relocated or opened along the expressway corridor.
“I guess too hard headed to give up,’’ said Brian Bunton, the third-generation family leader of the business.
Brian grew up in the family business. He left the area after his high school years to make his own way and thought he would likely not return to work in the business his grandfather Bill started in 1964 and that his father, Wally, continued in Mercedes. Brian graduated from an automotive technology and business school in Dallas. He went on to work in the auto and trucking industries, including a management position with Peterbilt Motors Company.
In 2010 when Wally Bunton retired, the realization set in for his son that he needed to return home.
“You’re just a number in the corporate world,’’ Brian Bunton said.
Back home, he sought to give the family business an online presence and generate e-commerce sales. Today, a quarter of Bunton Auto’s business derives from online sales, reaching customers in far-flung places like Hawaii and Alaska. The essence of the business, however, remains the same in serving the Valley and South Texas with parts, tools and hoses that Bunton Auto can customize to fit a customer’s needs.
“People come to us because we’re able to solve their problems,’’ Brian Bunton said.
Filling A Niche
A bright red wall is the backdrop of the main counter where Bunton staff tends to customers.
Combination wrenches of all sizes and lengths are among the wide array of tools that are neatly hung behind the store’s employees. Browse around and you will find screwdriver sets with 22 pieces that are packaged in a fantail fashion. There are also red and yellow containers filled with transmission fluids and liquids to clean guns and fishing rods. It’s a well-stocked store with seemingly everything a customer could need for a car or truck, or to do repair and service work.
The real bread-and-better at Bunton’s are the thousands of auto parts, tools, hoses/cables, and tools to be found physically at the Mercedes store or online through extensive catalog searches. Bunton Auto has the versatility and capabilities with its machine shop operations to customize an order to fit a customer’s specific needs.
“It’s finding a need and filling it,’’ Brian Bunton said of the niche his family business provides. “We can custom make, (parts and tools), for our automotive and industrial customers.’’
He describes it as finding or creating that “hard-to-find needle in a haystack’’ part or tool, and from Mercedes, serving local and regional customers as well as sending products about anywhere via delivery through its formidable online presence. Just doing business in the Valley keeps Brian Bunton plenty busy as he heads east or west from a convenient Mid-Valley location to serve customers in the region.
“We’re centrally located,’’ he said. “Five minutes to the expressway and we can go either way, to McAllen or to Brownsville, and get anywhere quickly from a good location in the Valley.’’
Bunton Auto has persevered, be it a case of being “hard headed,’’ or the much more likely reasons of providing excellent customer service with a deep supply of the parts, tools and equipment its customers depend on to keep things moving.
- Ric Cavazos