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Steering Innovation

Piston Ring Service is much more than your stereotypical auto parts store. In 1953, Piston Ring opened as a machine shop with a focus on rebuilding engines. Today, 70 years later, the third generation Tennant family business has grown to 26 corporate stores and 17 franchises across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northwestern Ontario.

Adding stores wasn’t the only change agent. In fact, Piston Ring takes pride in evolving with, and setting new bars for, the ever-changing automotive aftermarket industry. Trevor Tennant, President at Piston Ring acknowledged, “Cars today are computers on wheels. The industry has advanced, and we continue to invest in technology to match our customer’s changing needs.”
For 28 years, a vital investment has been made in Epicor solutions; Piston Ring currently runs Epicor Eagle Point-of-Sale, Epicor PartExpert GFX eCatalog, Epicor Vision distribution management, Epicor Indago™ WMS and Epicor Industry Data Analytics.

A Bright Spark

An example of how Piston Ring is redefining the automotive aftermarket space is its innovative approach to reimagining its stores. As the parts world moved online, Amazon and other stores like it became competitors. To differentiate, Piston Ring Service is creating unique experiences to engage and delight both customers and employees.

Tennant stated, “We opened a one-of-a-kind new store 18 months ago that reflects our vision of where the business is headed. The showroom is the size of a living room and designed like one too, with carpet, a fireplace and a TV on the wall. The lunchroom has large windows, full kitchen, and couches. It’s a store that employees want to work in, and customers want to visit.”

Shifting into the Future

Epicor helped to enable that transformation. For instance, products were traditionally stacked with similar inventory. With Epicor, Piston Ring can organize stock by other criteria, such as box size. “It allowed us to capitalize on shelf space, which translates to lower overhead and a smaller footprint. We have optimized showroom space to get the most out of every square foot,” Tennant explained.

Similarly, Epicor PartExpert eCatalog has modernized the company’s parts catalog. Hundreds of suppliers and millions of parts are available at the click of a mouse. Tennant highlighted the solutions’ flexibility: “Epicor is simple enough for a one-store business but has the functionality to meet the demands of our 26-location, company.” He continued, “It allows us to tailor the solution to meet our specific requirements and to create different solutions for discrete stores. This way, a rural shop is distinct from a metro city store.”

Navigating for Excellence

Epicor is also powering Piston Ring’s commitment to exceptional customer service, fueling the company’s ability to pick over lines/days with 99.85% fill rate. Tennant emphasized, “Epicor Vision integrated with Epicor indago™ has dramatically improved inventory accuracy. Geographical cycle counts achieved a 58% completion rate just two-and-a-half months into a six-month cycle - basically within 1/3 of the time previously. And reduced errors in the count process improved picking and shipping processes.” Furthermore, Epicor Vision has helped to enable Piston Ring inventory and warehouse teams to use spreadsheet imports, reducing the IT department’s workload.

Turbo-Charging Possibilities

Epicor solutions also equipped Piston Ring to eliminate previously insurmountable obstacles, such as staffing. Shifts in the labor market created a mechanic shortage. Tennant remarked, “Today’s vehicles require math and science, and working on a vehicle may mean eight hours of work on a laptop.” Additionally, technology is allowing people who don’t know the difference between a fuel pump and water pump to enter the industry. Solutions such as the visual Epicor PartExpert GFX eCatalog helped to enable less experienced employees to easily identify and compare parts and have confidence serving the customer.

Epicor Vision integrated with Epicor Indago has dramatically improved inventory accuracy. Geographical cycle counts achieved a 58% completion rate just two-and-a-half months into a six-month cycle. And reduced errors in the count process improved picking and shipping processes.

Tennant shared that six Piston Ring sites—nearly 25% of company stores—are managed by women, something unheard of just a decade ago. And that’s not the only hurdle that has been shattered. He shared, “We recently hired a woman who fled Ukraine. She didn’t speak much English but had some experience with the handheld inventory devices used in our warehouse. She is a great employee and we’ve since hired two more people from overseas. Ten years ago, the language barrier would have been a showstopper. Epicor made it easy to for these newcomers to become an effective part of the team in a very fast timeline.”

We can serve any customer that walks in the door, and we can hire anybody with a great personality and excellent service orientation. The Epicor eCatalog is an important tool that gives us a competitive advantage.

Similarly, the visualization of the eCatalog broadened the range of customers that Piston Ring can effortlessly serve. Tennant expanded, I was recently in one of our stores and “A deaf customer needed a part, and the counter rep turned the screen to him. Epicor helped to provide an image of the part with a diagram of where it fits in the car, and the price. The interface lets us transcend communication barriers.”

“We can serve any customer that walks in the door, and we can hire anyone with a great personality and excellent service orientation.” He added, “The Epicor eCatalog is an important tool that gives us a competitive advantage.”

Customized Processes and Safeguards

Epicor also streamlined tasks such as inventory management so that employees can keep a pinpointed focus on customers. While some smaller franchise stores use Epicor to support inventory, Piston Ring Service headquarters handles sourcing for all corporate sites. “Our goal is very simple. We don't want store staff worrying about inventory. We invest in technology and an IT team so that store employees can take care of the customer,” Tennant elaborated. “With Epicor, inventory runs smoothly, stock is replenished on schedule and each location gets what it needs when it needs it.”

And while cybersecurity makes headlines, inventory theft prevention remains a concern for retailers. Epicor lets Tennant set security protocols for employees and helped to provide reports on exceptions. He detailed, “We have four security levels and employee ID codes. Each morning, store managers get a report of all overridden prices. You never want to think it could happen, but the added layer of protection helps minimize the risk.”

Fueling Success

Tennant believes relationships are the foundation of any enduring business. He disclosed, “We have some locations that 50% of our orders from shops come in via online, yet we haven’t trimmed staff in a single store. Those employees are our ambassadors and use the extra time to engage customers, build loyalty and keep them coming back.”

In addition to the power of Epicor solutions, Tennant said the rapport between Piston Ring and Epicor is a crucial element of success. He revealed, “For nearly 30 years, both sides have consistently and meaningfully invested in the relationship.” In fact, Piston Ring participated in the Epicor Eagle pilot and was one the first automotive company to deploy it. “Epicor listens to customers and incorporates hands-on feedback. They value our opinion, and it is reflected in thoughtful products.”

Sunny Roads Ahead

Clearly, Piston Ring’s philosophy is working. The company enjoys steady and continuous growth, broad market coverage, and retains employees who make a lifetime career at Piston Ring.

Tennant summarized, “It’s about adapting, creating a dynamic and forward-thinking business around a flexible yet stable technology infrastructure. The future is very bright.”

Company Facts


  • Rapidly evolving industry
  • Managing expansive parts catalog across 43 stores
  • Talent shortage


  • Help to enable fresh, and optimized store concept
  • Graphic, easy-to-use, and store-customizable eCatalog
  • Ability to pick over lines/days with 99.85% fill rate
  • Cycle counts 58% complete within 1/3 of the time
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