Frank Miller

Miller Auto Parts owner Frank Miller is set to retire July 1, as NAPA Auto Tire & Parts, based in Cape Girardeau, Mo., will run the company. A third-generation businessman, Miller spoke recently about the community values his grandfather Walter Miller and father, Jay Miller, instilled.

Ask Frank Miller about his upcoming retirement and he’ll tell you it’s not really about him.

On July 1 the owner of Miller Auto Parts is set to retire and sell to National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) Auto Tire & Parts out of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

But before passing the wheel, Miller sat down with the Tribune-Courier and discussed the values his father and grandfather brought to Benton — “Good, hard work. And great service.”

“There’s no real substitute or magic wand to running a business other than those things, in my opinion,” said Miller, 66, one recent day in his office. In the room, decorated with his past, is a framed poster announcing the grand opening of the first store in 1945, when his grandfather Walter Miller opened in Benton.

Miller leaving is the end of a third-generation business, but he’s guaranteed all current employees will remain. He’s also chosen to stick around part-time for now, citing a fondness for his customers.

“When my father (Jay Miller) got out of the service in World War II, he came home, married my mother, and went to work there,” he said. “It was my plan to succeed to someone in this company, but that didn’t happen and … the timing was right. I like that (NAPA Auto Tire & Parts) is family-owned, too.”

But, he said, they’ve had to evolve.

Miller cited management differences with his father in the 70s over a computer purchase — a machine the size of a door that stored inventory data, he said.

In the mid-80s they expanded to new locations and gradually broadened their product lines, also opening five new stores eventually — Draffenville, Eddyville, Calvert, Mayfield and Paducah.

“We’ve been fortunate to have weathered a lot of storms other businesses didn’t always,” he said. “But the automotive parts world was changing. We were losing the image of that dad and son coming in on a Saturday morning, then going home and tuning up a vehicle together.”

But he said — while crediting himself as a salesman — that some parts of a business never needed replacing.

While once attending a Dale Carnegie class in Paducah, Miller said he looked at his friend and they left abruptly five minutes in.

“It was awful. We went and got lunch,” he said.

And through changes the decades have wrought, Miller said loyal customers have thankfully remained the same.

“We have always put them first and you don’t always see that today, where a business might choose to be clever or flashy instead. I think that’s why we still have some of the long-term customers we do,” he said.

“Sometimes you can outwork clever.”