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Eric Silcox wanted to attract parts buyers who don’t “necessarily want to deal with a dealership.”

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So two years ago, the fixed operations director of Ed Morse Delray Toyota in Delray Beach, Fla., launched a website just for the dealership’s stockroom.

Instead of using the dealership’s traditional website branding, Silcox opted for a generic homepage banner and an inconspicuous web address: Media can order parts from a catalog by a vehicle’s year, make and model, and can buy factory or aftermarket parts through the online payments system PayPal.

This year, Silcox says, the site’s sales have surpassed $20,000 a month. Online contacts also lead to wholesale and over-the-counter parts purchases from the dealership, he adds.

The website’s domain name helps to reach parts buyers who might otherwise avoid franchised dealerships, such as small-business owners or do-it-yourself mechanics, Silcox says.

“They think the pricing wouldn’t be competitive or that we wouldn’t want to be competitive,” Silcox told Fixed Ops Journal.

Several technology vendors, including SimplePart, TradeMotion, PartSites, OEConnection and RevolutionParts, help dealerships build, market and maintain parts websites and can automate some sales processes.

Cole Getzler is CEO of SimplePart, which works with dealerships and automakers to sell parts online. Getzler says his Atlanta company has about 1,000 dealer clients who operate websites — separate from the dealership’s homepage — just for parts sales.

SimplePart charges dealerships $300 a month, plus a one-time $100 setup fee for its base plan. Advertising services cost $450 a month for advertising and a $300 setup fee. A dealer who wants to “maximize sales,” Getzler says, will pay SimplePart 10 percent of its gross parts sales and a $750 setup fee.

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“In any brand, you’ll find five to 10 [dealer] heavyweights that have either been there for a long time or have very recently bought their way in,” says Getzler, who founded SimplePart in 2007. “Those five or 10 dealers for that given brand are selling 75 to 90 percent of what all dealers of that brand are selling.”

Getzler says dealers who are new to selling parts online often aim for big-volume sales at cheap prices. Because there’s a steady stream of newcomers, he adds, the online marketplace is increasingly competitive.

SimplePart constantly fine-tunes its marketing strategy to ensure that its clients’ parts inventories are visible on Internet search engines such as Google and Bing.

“A long time ago, to sell online you had to go where visitors are — which meant you had to be on eBay, mostly,” Getzler says. “You had to be part of the marketplace to sell.

“Today, the average person has a mobile device that they will speak to or shout at or wave their arms at or type an inquiry into,” he says. “Which means that the place where your customer is, is different.”

For Ed Morse Delray Toyota, showing up in search engine results made a difference. The dealership’s parts website didn’t generate significant traffic until last year, when Silcox increased his spending with the e-commerce vendor TradeMotion to include online advertising and marketing.

“Customers can put in keywords — ‘Toyota parts,’ ‘Toyota brake pads,’ ‘Toyota starter,’ ‘Toyota alternator’ — things of that nature,” Silcox says. “We’ve sold to France, we’ve sold to Seattle, we’ve sold all over. It’s people hunting and finding us.”

Growing pains

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At first, Silcox says, Delray Toyota’s parts manager handled orders from the parts website. When he couldn’t monitor the requests fast enough, he tapped the dealership’s wholesale manager to step in. Soon, both managers realized that the website was generating more business than they had anticipated.

“It was hard for [the wholesale manager] to not pick up the phone and not take care of a customer who buys from us every week to answer an email from someone from Colorado,” Silcox says.

Meanwhile, the dealership was learning an important lesson: Online shoppers move fast.

“We just couldn’t answer these people back,” Silcox says. “Most of the time, they go with the guy who answers quickest with the best price. If you’re waiting three or four hours, you absolutely lost.”

By last September, the website was generating $15,000 to $18,000 in monthly revenue. But Silcox believed the website would be more successful if he assigned a staffer to concentrate on online parts customers. He created a full-time position in January, and the results were nearly instantaneous.

“Our inquiries have doubled,” Silcox says. “We’ve added just tons of new clients from Miami alone, which is local for us.”

The new employee, who has a background in logistics, is responsible for answering online quote requests, packaging parts and shipping them promptly. Sales on the website now exceed $20,000 a month.

Hiring help

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Once a parts website achieves sales of $35,000 to $45,000 a month, Getzler says, the site needs its own staffing to keep the operation running efficiently.

Silcox advises assigning someone to the venture from the start. Chris Galloway, the parts manager at Lakeland Hyundai in Lakeland, Fla., agrees. Six years ago, Galloway hired SimplePart to help the dealership launch Media brought a guy on from Day 1 to help with the site, and then we’ve grown it,” Galloway said. “I’m looking to put a fourth [employee] on shortly.”

Silcox aims to increase his site’s sales to $30,000 a month. He recalls how his dealership used to try to find parts customers.

“It was 100 percent hoping someone would call the store, having our trucks out there, having wholesale guys going body shop to body shop to body shop,” he says. “We didn’t go outside a 50-mile radius.

“Now, we have our own website and we promote it through publications and word of mouth,” he adds. “Just treat it like it’s a separate business, and you’ll watch it grow.”

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