Ground moves for AutoZone
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
AutoZone executives perform the AutoZone cheer during the groundbreaking ceremony for their new distribution center in Chowchilla.
Distribution center to open in Chowchilla
After an almost two year wait, the City of Chowchilla was proud to finally turn dirt for the AutoZone Distribution Center.
“I have been here for 25 years and there are things that are hoped to happen,” said Chowchilla Police Commander Jeff Palmer, who was the Master of Ceremonies at the official groundbreaking ceremony last Friday. “A lot of things don’t come into fruition, but this one did. This definitely makes the community better and much safer. I have a feeling this is just the start of many great things to come to Chowchilla.”
Members of the Chowchilla City Council, including Mayor John Chavez was on hand for the groundbreaking, as well as many political representatives. Included in the crowd was a group from AutoZone, including CEO Bill Rhodes.
“We are excited to be in Chowchilla,” he said. “I represent 110,000 Autozoners who have chosen Chowchilla as another vitally important location for us to grow our location and serve over 6 million customers a week. We could not be more excited about it.”
Chavez took his turn at the microphone and pointed out that the groundbreaking meant more than just turning dirt.
“It stands as an opportunity for growth for a small community,” he said. “It stands for sustainable jobs. It stands for a solid future for development in our industrial community. It stands as a huge milestone for Chowchilla.”
Chavez also pointed out that the distribution center will not only affect residents of today, but of future workers in the city.
“One of the greatest impact of having the Autozone Distribution Center here will be on the younger generation, which will have the opportunity for internships, job shadowing, training and learning real skills, not for a job, but for a real career,” he said. “The City of Chowchilla has waited for a project like this for many years. Over the years, we have envisioned the potential for industrial infrastructure to support the economic development of our community.”
The AutoZone Distribution Center will give jobs to almost 300 people.
“We look to the future with confidence and anticipation and are happy to share our community with the AutoZone corporation,” Chavez said.
Work to get the distribution center began in June, 2020.
“We were notified the site selector wanted to meet with us about the site,” said Rod Pruett, Chowchilla City Administrator. “In August, we were one of seven. Then, in September, we were notified we were in the final two. This is starting to happen. The excitement level is high. We’re really in this.”
Pruett said that the executives were coming for a visit that October and they still didn’t know who the company was. They prepared a presentation for the potential executives.
“During our presentation, we kept saying this is why you should be choosing Chowchilla,” Pruett said. “At the end, we said, ‘Why Not Chowchilla.’ The presentation must have worked. We received notification that we were the primary location. Our excitement was through the roof.”
However, Pruett couldn’t let it out who the company was that they were trying to lure to Chowchilla. They were the winning location, but Pruett had to keep it a secret, even from his wife, for more than a year.
“We wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but we couldn’t say anything,” he said. “That whole keeping it a secret process lasted over a year, until December, 2021 when AutoZone was writing a press release to make it official. It happened at the last five minutes of the State of the County luncheon. I was able to stand up and tell people it was AutoZone.”
Eight months later, Chowchilla officials and AutoZone officials met for the official groundbreaking for the center.
“We couldn’t be more excited for it,” Pruett said. “Hopefully you know how big of an impact this will make for our community for years to come. I believe, 10-20 years down the road, you will look at this as one of the best decisions you ever made. You’ll be glad you said, ‘Why not Chowchilla?’”
Madera County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Bobby Kahn told the AutoZone executives they will fit right in with the city with their red shirts.
“You will find this a marvelous community to be in,” Kahn said. “They will go out of their way for AutoZone.”
Before Rhodes could get into his speech at the groundbreaking, he and his team did a cheer that every AutoZone does before every meeting.
“We are a very unique organization,” he said. “We were founded on July 4, 1979. We say a we are a Great American Business on the Greatest American day. We are big fans of veterans that make our freedom possible.”
He said one of the biggest things about AutoZone is to take care of the customer.
“We are passionate about customer service,” Rhodes said. “Every time we put our uniforms on, it’s a reminder of what we’re here for — to give great service. We create a culture and we want people to be here a long time. It’s an organization that is about the AutoZoner. We can’t put the customer first unless we put the AutoZoner first, as well. We look forward to seeing 300 Chowchilla residents put this uniform on and have the pride and joy we have in our organization.”
AutoZone has two other distributions on the West Coast and the one in Chowchilla will be in the middle. There is a distribution center in Ontario, in Southern California, and another in Pascoe Washington.
“No one is going to lose a job because of this distribution center,” Rhodes said.
Construction will take about two years and will begin soon. Rhodes said construction should be complete by 2024, which is also the 45th anniversary of AutoZone. He hinted to the contractor to try to get the building completed for a ribbon cutting on July 4 to celebrate the anniversary.
“We look forward to coming back here to have another celebration,” Rhodes said. “We not only want to be a great employer, we want to be a friend, a community supporter and engaged in Chowchilla. Push us to make us, not a good community partner, but a great community partner.”
AutoZone has 10 distribution centers around the country, but this is huge for the Central Valley.
“This will allow us to grow in the Central Valley. This will bring more AutoZone stores and more customer touch points,” he said.
Rhodes also points out that a number of the AutoZone distribution centers are located in communities similar to Chowchilla.
“We found that to be our sweet spot where we can come in to be a integral part of the community. We want to be your neighbors. We want our AutoZoners to go school with your kids. We found that to be our secret sauce and the best way for us to engage in the community.”