The largest wholesaler of radiators and air-conditioning parts in LA's South Bay region, Imperial Radiator, started out as an ordinary radiator repair shop some 45 years ago. Today, it's anything but ordinary. Imperial Radiator stocks more than 10,000 new radiators, A/C condensers, heaters and air conditioning parts at its 18,000 sq ft Carson warehouse. Founded by Gregory Kanos on Imperial Highway in Inglewood in 1958, the shop was purchased by Glen and Caroline Kanos after Gregory's death in 1983. The shop built a reputation for quality service over the years as it rodded out and recored radiators.
The Kanos' daughter, Cindy, joined the business right out of college in the mid- 1980's. Armed with a marketing degree, she began making sales calls on body and mechanical shops. "My dad never stops working," said Cindy Shillito, "and I guess I take after him because once I started calling on shops and saw the business begin to grow, I never wanted to stop," said Cindy Shillito. "My customers saw me come in when I was pregnant, then I'd be gone a few months to have my kids, and before they knew it I was coming through their doors again." Those kids are now 15, 14 and 7, and mom is still on the road taking care of customers.
The marketing paid off and the company expanded its wholesale parts business as the automotive cooling industry underwent a lot of change. "Recoring, which was a mainstay of the service business, went away. Part replacement became the way to service our customers quickly and economially. We moved away from being a primarily a retail service operation and began to concentrate on distributing OEM and the best aftermarket parts," explained Shillito.
In the 90's, with the retail service center having relocated to Torrance, the company built its Carson warehouse and began adding to its delivery fleet, which today numbers eight trucks. The business has grown to a staff of 25, including manager Doug Hiller and sales counter reps Mike Baird and Mark Greenlaw. In addition to Shillito, outside sales rep Connie Cleem calls on wholesale accounts, about 30% of which are body shops. In addition to making sales calls, the company wins customers through education. "Dad holds seminars at our warehouse for insurance adjusters," said Shillito. "He'll open the boxes and explain the differences between products. He'll demonstrate why they don't want to specify the lower quality parts."
"It's still very much a family business. There's a lot of my life wrapped up in this business," said Glen Kanos. "Maybe that makes us a dying breed, but I'll tell you one thing, customers like it. When you call here you get a person, not some voice mail system, and they know that whatever they need, we'll take care of them."
While Imperial is very price competitive on all the brands they handle, they refuse to handle low -end products that don't fit right or perform well. "There's a lot of junk out there in aftermarket cooling. You see condensers with handmade tube and fin, and they're worthless. We won't handle a product just to have the lowest price. Our customers don't want that."
Imperial Radiator is open six days and offers free delivery by their own trucks or UPS. For further information, go to their web site is www.imperialradiator.com - or better yet, just call them. Another great opportunity to meet the gang from Imperial Radiator is at the CAA Convention & Industry Conference on June 28-29 where they will be exhibiting several of their product lines.