In 1915, Earl Echlin opened a small auto repair shop in San Francisco; within months, his brother Jack joined the operation. Jack and Earl soon expanded their business to include car sales, and by the 1920s, had formed a separate company to make and market SAFE-LITE, their unique headlight which turned in the direction the car was steered.
In 1924, the Echlin brothers merged their auto repair business with a manufacturer of pistons and flywheel ring gears. It was a pivotal move, for it marked Echlin's beginning as a motor vehicle parts manufacturing company.
The new operation faced keen competition. Automobile use was on the rise, and the automotive parts industry was growing rapidly. To gain an edge in the market, Jack and Earl established product quality and customer service as Echlin hallmarks. They sold oil-pump and igniter gears to West Coast parts jobbers under the Bear Brand trademark, and within a year, pushed production above the breakeven point.
A new focus on salesmanship ushered in a period of solid growth for the Company in 1927-28. Jack Echlin enrolled in a sales course and became fascinated with the psychology of successful selling. He mastered the techniques, then organized seminars to teach jobber salesmen how to sell, using Echlin products to illustrate his points. This ingenious approach increased Echlin sales and remains the core of the Company's sales organization today.
The demand for Echlin products rose sharply when, in 1928, the National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) named Echlin its exclusive supplier of oil-pump and igniter gears. The Company served distribution centers countrywide, and worked around the clock to fill incoming orders. Two years later, after Echlin purchased a small ignition business, NAPA chose the Company to provide its ignition parts as well. The relationship between Echlin and NAPA endures to this day.
Echlin's first ignition parts catalogue, published in 1929, immediately set a new industry standard. It featured a simple yet revolutionary change in format: It grouped all the parts needed for any one vehicle model on the same page, allowing the reader to get product information faster and easier than ever before. Within months, Echlin saw a tremendous boost in sales.
To raise capital for its growing operations, Echlin issued stock to the public for the first time in 1936. That same year - a year after Earl Echlin's death - the Company changed its name from Echlin & Echlin Inc. to Echlin Manufacturing Company. Three years later, the Company also changed its address, relocating from California to Connecticut to be closer to the center of the country's vehicle population. Echlin opened its new headquarters in New Haven with 50 employees and an annual volume of $500,000. The factory produced ignition components solely until 1941 when it added switches to its product line.
After World War II, Echlin again set its sights on expansion. It bought condenser and coil-winding operations, developed new domestic and foreign markets, launched an aggressive advertising campaign, and stepped up its sales efforts with the Visumatic Sales and Service Program. The Visumatic cabinet, invented and patented by Jack Echlin, was a novel product display and stocking system designed to help NAPA dealers better manage their inventory. Hailed in 1949 as "the merchandising tool in the business," it is still used today in service stations and garages coast-to-coast.
Widespread growth continued for Echlin throughout the 1950s. Volume growth consistently outpaced that of the overall ignition parts market. As sales climbed steadily in America, the Company enlarged its operating base in Canada and secured stronger footholds in markets south of the United States. At the close of the decade - in 1959 - Echlin was incorporated in Connecticut, and had annual sales of about $8 million. Its common stock was traded on the over-the-counter market for the first time; four years later, Echlin shares were listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Echlin entered many new product areas during the 1960s and 1970s, from brake and carburetor parts, to wiring assemblies, to transmission and small engine parts. At the same time, the Company broadened the types of vehicles it served to include commercial, industrial, and residential engine-powered equipment. Much of Echlin's manufacturing was now concentrated in Connecticut and the Midwest, while its sales force was building around the world. In 1967, Echlin created an international division that placed sales representatives in 26 foreign countries.
Jack Echlin retired as Chairman of the Board in 1969. Since then, Echlin has advanced his strategies for growth, and his long-standing traditions of quality and service. Today, the Company manufactures and distributes more than 500,000 brake, engine, power transmission, power steering and suspension system parts to valued customers in 50 states and 145 countries worldwide.