March 1, 2013
You’ve heard it all before. The automotive industry’s number one gripe is that it is becoming very difficult to obtain quality salvage — thanks to the Internet. You’ve also heard that in order to expand your business and stay competitive as we go into the future, you’ll need to embrace the age of technology and use it to your advantage.
Whether you see technology and its constant changes as a friend or a foe, it’s here to stay. So, you might as well make it work to your advantage and increase your business. That’s exactly what Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts in Waterbury, Connecticut has done.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 will mark ten years since Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts began using eBay and over the years they have learned how to use the Internet and social media sites to greatly enhance their business. In fact, eBay has become their biggest outlet for used parts sales on the Internet and will continue to be so in the future according to Jim Eitvydas, President, Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts.
“We are always looking for new ways to sell more parts in more places,” said Eitvydas, “Our future depends on technology and Internet sales. More and more, do-it-yourself customers and shops are using the Internet to find parts. We will make sure that we are where they look when they are looking.”
Not one to shy away from technology and the endless opportunities it offers, Eitvydas started using eBay ten years ago. His wife, Diane, started their eBay business by selling owners’ manuals on it. They sold over 700 owners’ manuals in the first year alone and realized they were on to something. After two years, they hired an employee to work full-time on eBay. That employee, Dan Tole, E-Commerce Manager for Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts, joined the team and has been expanding the opportunities (along with two other employees ) for e-commerce ever since.
“Jimmy hired me when I was about 22 years old,” explained Tole. “I had worked on and off at Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts as a teenager. My father had known Jimmy when they were younger and also worked here part-time. When Jimmy hired me I had been working at a parts store, building computers and selling on eBay myself. Between Jimmy and myself, I don’t think there has ever been a time we have been afraid to try something new in regards to the Internet or technology.”
One of the ways that Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts makes technology work for them is to use it to automate repetitive tasks such as pictures, YouTube videos, updating online inventory, modifying inventory, making price changes, and more. They use custom programs for inventory, ordering, and narrating videos of all of their parts vehicles.
“Why waste time doing tasks computers can do for us?” asked Eitvydas. “We find that by using these custom programs, it helps us to sell more parts.“
“Our most used custom program is for images,” said Tole. “We are able to use wireless cameras and bar coding to take pictures and automatically upload them into our inventory system as well as onto multiple market places. We knew that having pictures of every part was becoming extremely important, but the time to manually rename them and move them around our network was a bottle neck for us. Now we make it a point to take a minimum of three images of every part our staff handles. Pictures sell parts online. It allows us to set customer expectation before the sale by showing them exactly what they are getting.
Tole says that video has also become important to their online customers. They take a narrated video of every car they inventory and post it to YouTube. Then, they use a custom program to log the YouTube embedded codes so that they can automatically insert them into part listings around the Internet. According to Tole, they currently have over 3,000 videos on YouTube and are just weeks away from hitting one million video views.
Posting videos to YouTube evolved as their eBay business expanded. “As our eBay business grew we started to look for more opportunities to reach our customers online and describe our parts better,” said Tole.
“Sales-wise eBay is the biggest outlet for used parts for us and will continue to be for the foreseeable future,” said Eitvydas. “Amazon is the fastest growing Internet site but offers a lot of challenges for used parts. It’s been good for us, but on a much smaller scale. Craigslist has helped us get a lot of local traffic and allows us to link directly to our Web site. It has to be used in moderation though, to keep from getting posts pulled or banned.
“I think for anyone wanting to increase the way they use the Internet for sales, I would encourage them to not be afraid of trying new smaller market places as you find them,” says Eitvydas “Ultimately creating your own e-commerce site has the best long term benefits. Our own e-commerce Web site Tom’sForeign.com has been extremely successful. We sell exactly the same parts on that site as we sell on eBay and Amazon.
“In order to have you own successful e-commerce Web site you must be willing to put effort into it. This doesn’t mean building a site with a few pages and using a different company’s dynamic look to make yours look interesting. The best results will be from a full-fledged e-commerce site, rich with updated content. Content is the key to getting your site found online.”
As technology changes, there are more and more opportunities for recyclers to attract potential business. Yet, although it offers exciting and endless opportunities, many recyclers may find that they are still reluctant to take the time to make it really work for them or they simply may not be sure how to maximize technology to increase their profits.
The team at Tom’s Foreign Auto Parts has learned that a key to maximizing their presence on the Internet is diversification. They have put their business on all the social media sites they can. They have created an e-commerce Web site that provides fresh content and is updated regularly. They also are on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist and any other social media site they can find.
“You have to work social media,” said Eitvydas. “Used parts are not exciting, but you have to find ways to make your business exciting and interesting to your followers. Give them a reason to follow you. Be consistent and deliver content to your customers daily. No online marketplace is a ‘set it and forget it’ deal. It constantly needs to be monitored, added to, revamped, and updated.”
The Internet thrives on fresh content, suggests Eitvydas. “Having a dynamic parts search will not get you traffic, but fresh content will. You also cannot rely on just eBay or your Web site alone. What would happen if one of them was to fail? Would you be out of business? You have to look at all new market places and figure out which ones you can adapt to your business.” Another way to diversify your presence to customers and keep providing updated and fresh content is by producing a weekly e-mail newsletter.
You might ask, how do you make your parts sound exciting? Tole admits that there really “aren’t any ways to make OEM parts exciting,” but they have devised various other ways to attract potential customers. For example, they try asking their followers questions about their cars or about their opinions on hot news topics. They post funny pictures and videos to get people’s attention. They have found that videos of cars being crushed and other parts of the auto recycling operation are interesting to people and attract many viewers.
“I guess the point is to not flood people with ads about an alternator sale,” said Tole. “It’s important to engage and interact with your customers so that when they do need something your name will be on their mind. Make social feeds valuable to them so they keep reading and don’t ignore you.”
So, for yards wanting to really start using technology in a more effective way, where’s the best place to start?
“The good news is that these things can be accomplished by any size salvage yard provided they use technology to simplify it,” said Eitvydas. “I would encourage you to embrace it and don’t run from it. Start to work it into your staff’s daily processes. For most yards, starting on eBay and growing from there will be the most feasible path.”
According to Eitvydas, it is vital to get everyone in the business – from the employee taking inventory to customer service staff to the employee working in the yard – to take ownership of your e-commerce business or it will not work.
“There are several important parts to making your e-commerce business successful,” says Eitvydas. “First, it’s important that every employee owns it and sees the value of your e-commerce business. We accomplish this by keeping the lines of communication open and showing our employees the benefits and results of using e-commerce.
“Another important part of e-commerce is setting customer expectations and delivering on what is promised. Be transparent, offer a good warranty and make it easy for customers to send parts back. Make sure that every customer is happy no matter what it takes. The last thing you want is bad feedback, bad reviews, or negative talk about your business on social media outlets. Those are things that can negatively affect your internet presence.”
Eitvydas feels that as social media goes, the number one place to start is on Facebook because it’s free, it’s easy and your customers are probably already using it.
“I would encourage auto recyclers to create a fan page for your business and keep it updated,” he said. “It takes no time to post a status update and by posting things like questions for your followers, a funny image, news, or even a coupon, you will prompt people to interact with you on a more personal level. This shows that your business has a personality. Social media is a great path for growth in the future. Will your business go under for not doing it? No, but it’s free, easy, and puts you in front of customers every day so why wouldn’t you use it?”
You may say to yourself, this all sounds good but I still have no idea how to navigate my way around all this technology.
Tole offers the following advice: “The only way to learn technology is to start using it,” said Tole. “I would suggest starting slowly and doing things one by one. Don’t try to take on the whole world all at once. It’s ok to make mistakes and ask others for guidance. Many sites and off the shelf software offer help sections and how-to write ups. eBay, for example, makes it easy for a complete Internet novice to list items, yet still offers tools for advanced users. This allows you to start small, learn the system and then step into more advanced selling when you are ready.
“It can take as much time as the yard wants it to. It really depends on how far they want to go and how fast they pick it up. There are too many variables to say it will take ‘x’ amount of time every day. At the end of the day, the sales and customer satisfaction will reflect the time that is put into it.”
TIPS TO GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR TECHNOLOGY
• If you aren’t tech savvy, start slowly but start using technology. Don’t be afraid to ask advice and to learn from mistakes. Approach one aspect of technology at a time.
• Make a conscious effort to use technology in your daily processes such as with inventory, ordering, videos of your inventory etc.
• Build your eBay business.
• Start to diversify your presence on social media sites, Amazon, Craigslist, etc. The best place to start is with Facebook. Create a fan page for your business and post something that would interest your viewers daily.
• Give your business personality through your posts that encourage personal interaction with your customers. Examples of this include, funny images, questions posed to your followers, videos of the more interesting aspects of your business.
• Jim Eitvydas recommends checking out the following links: Internet Retailers Conference, www.irce.internetretailers.com/2013 and Channel Advisor conference, www.channeladvisor.com/catalyst2013.
Jim and his team have found these sites to be a wealth of information as they continue to build their e-commerce business.
Michelle Keadle-Taylor is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia.