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BuyAutoParts.com Delivers on Customer Service

Competing against the biggest auto parts retailers in the nation hasn’t intimidated BuyAutoParts.com as long as the San Diego-based online parts seller is able to compete on its own terms.

Rather than attempt to compete with much larger auto parts retailers — such as Auto Zone, Napa and O’Reilly Auto Parts — on the most common parts such as windshield wiper blades and oil and air filters, BuyAutoParts.com strives to be the go-to site for parts to keep critical vehicle systems running.

Doing so, it reported revenue last year of $32 million and is on track to hit $42 million this year.

That type of sales traction landed the company on the both the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies list for the third consecutive year and on the Internet Retailer Top 500 list. It also was ranked No. 75 on the San Diego Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Companies List.

“Because we’re smaller and everything is centered around the Web, we’re able to move quicker and do things that they can’t do,” said Dara Greaney, the company’s chief executive. “We’re providing added value to the product line we have.”

Shifting Strategy

BuyAutoParts’ rapid growth began soon after the business shifted its strategy to being more consumer-focused instead of emphasizing a business-to-business approach, Greaney said.

Founded in 1988 as Meridian Auto Parts, the business initially carved out a niche supplying auto repair shops with parts for car steering systems. In 2002, Greaney helped expand its product and launch an online site.

By 2009, the online business made up about half the company’s sales while growing at a much faster rate than the more traditional parts business.

Today, besides steering components, BuyAutoParts sells parts for air conditioning systems, turbo charging, and fuel and delivery systems. In all, it offers 25 product lines, Greaney said.

Online retail sales have been growing by double-digit rates in the past several years even as sales at brick-and-mortar stores have fallen to the low single digits, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In the second quarter, retail e-commerce sales increased 18 percent year over year, compared to a 4.7 percent increase in total retail sales, the Commerce Department reports.

Powered by Knowledge, Convenience

To ensure potential sales didn’t go elsewhere, Greaney realized he had to invest in quality staffers who were knowledgeable about parts and brands. There’s a huge difference, he said, between serving clientele through the online channel and communicating primarily with mechanics as the original business did.

“When dealing with educated mechanics, most of our phone calls are just quoting and selling parts — very quick,” he said. “With retail customers, there is an education process and often a multiple call experience. They have to understand what they are buying first.”

Today, the company has about 60 full-time, certified employees in sales and customer service, who are the primary reason for the company’s rapid growth, Greaney said.

“Finding car parts online can be a daunting task,” he said. “We make it easy.”

Meanwhile, the company seems to be expanding its consumer base without sacrificing its traditional business clientele.

Lance Castiglione, owner of Mobile Air, a San Diego mechanic specializing in air conditioning repair for heavy equipment and trucks, has been a BuyAutoParts customer for about five years.

BuyAutoParts delivers parts directly to Castiglione’s job site — usually the day after an order is placed — through its courier service, which is an added convenience, he said. And the availability of parts is something he counts on.

“There’s nobody in San Diego that has their type of inventory,” Castiglione said.

Investing in Tech, People

BuyAutoParts.com’s site underwent a massive overhaul a few years ago, with the overall investment in the technology estimated at “several hundred thousand dollars,” Greaney said. The company has a full-time information technology staff of six, as well as a full-time photography team of three.

Total employment at the business soared last year as sales exploded. It now has 118 workers, up from 75 last year, with most in sales and customer service along with additions in marketing, IT and accounting, Greaney said.

Last year, the company moved into a 52,000-square-foot building to accommodate the expanded staff and its inventory of about 140,000 parts.

Greaney said another trend that’s helped fuel the company’s sales in recent years is the do-it-for-me phenomenon. Instead of a customer buying a part to install — do it yourself — they often get a quote for the part from a mechanic. And if they feel the price is too high, they’ll check online, usually get it cheaper, and give it to the mechanic to install.

“Five or 10 years ago, mechanics wouldn’t have given up the profit margins they made on products, but today they work with customers just to keep their business,” Greaney said.

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