Born Out of Necessity, Mastering the Online Marketplace
In total, Forbidden Diesel employs seven people, working to make the online sales and shipping and receiving processes seamless.
In today’s world of big-box online retail giants such as Amazon, individual stories of family-owned, niche retail shops are few and far between. The story of Forbidden Diesel and its manager Shane Marler, however, stands in stark contrast to this trend.
Forbidden Diesel—an online-only retail shop located in Dothan, Alabama, has been serving the diesel and performance markets since 2015. Prior to opening its doors, Forbidden Diesel existed as a branch of its sister company, Techway Automotive—the largest independent repair facility in the southern tristate area.
Brian Ordway, Techway’s founder, began stocking diesel parts in-house to mitigate delays in repair time. Eventually, the inventory of parts grew to be substantial enough that selling to consumers made sense, thus creating the need for a retail branch. Ordway threw the keys to his nephew Shane and ever since, Forbidden Diesel has grown into a functioning retail shop, determined to navigate the online marketplace with one thing in mind—the customer.
SEMA News spent some time with Marler and the Forbidden Diesel crew to gain some insight into the struggles and successes of running an online-centric retail store.
SEMA News: What about Forbidden Diesel’s story makes it unique?
Shane Marler: The fact that our growth was steady and formed from a genuine necessity on behalf of the customers is what I think makes us unique. As Ordway continued to add more parts to the catalog with Techway, customer interest kept growing; it only made sense to open a retail side of the business to satisfy that need. So, I left college early and decided to focus all of my energy on growing the e-commerce side of the business and fell in love with it quickly. By 2015, we had so many parts in stock that it became very clear we needed a separate warehouse space to store the inventory. That led us to open the Forbidden Diesel warehouse space, just a few miles down the road from Techway Automotive.
One of the biggest aspects of Forbidden Diesel’s sales strategy is constantly updating and optimizing online product content.
SN: Can you offer a few rules to make an online business run smoothly?
SM: Customer service is a given with any successful business—particularly an online one, but we go above and beyond by helping customers locate the correct part and answering their technical questions even if there is no immediate benefit for us. That last part is where the difference really lies. On multiple occasions, we have directed customers to competitor shops that have a part in stock that we do not. When a non-local customer calls and requires repair work on their vehicle, we reach out to our network of suppliers and wholesale accounts to locate a repair shop with a good reputation that is local to the customer, hopefully making their experience a bit less stressful. Most of the time it is taking that extra step to ensure a happy end-user that makes all of the difference—it takes a potential one-time customer and makes them a loyal returner.
SN: SEMA News focuses on best business practices throughout the automotive aftermarket. What are a few best practices that stand out with your business?
SM: When it comes to e-commerce, content and data are the two kings. We strive to have accurate data so the customer has every piece of information they need to make an informed, confident buying decision. If our content is inaccurate, it can lead to costly returns and a poor shopping experience overall. If we were selling coffee cups or something otherwise simplistic, the consequences of poor content would not be as harmful to the overall shopping experience. However, the products that we sell fit a very specific application, so it is not always a matter of a nice finish or quality material; if the product doesn’t fit, for any number of reasons, there is a lot more at stake for the customer.
SN: Today’s retail marketplace is vastly different than it was just a few years ago. How do you stay competitive in the days of Amazon and other big online retailers?
Forbidden Diesel Performance is located in Dothan, Alabama, and sells products across the United States and to locations around the world.
SM: Our shop believes that it is a must to use the proper technology that supports high-volume e-commerce selling. We utilize several software programs to automate many of our day-to-day tasks, making everything that much more streamlined. Automating inventory feeds, tracking upload and customer invoicing allows you to work more on growing the business by limiting time-consuming manual tasks. Best practices and policies are changing every quarter in the e-commerce realm, so there is never really a time when you can be dormant and watch the world go by without you. It is imperative to stay up-to-date in an ever-changing market. We do this by attending professional conferences that focus on the automotive and e-commerce industry, bringing new ideas to the table and forcing us to stay fresh and relevant.
On the logistics side of things, we use eBay as a tool for shipping internationally. Because they ship globally and on such a rapidly frequent basis, the shipping cost is typically a lot lower for an international customer. The product is also fully insured for global shipping through eBay, so it ends up being a win-win for everyone. We can ship to a growing base of customers, and they receive their product at a reduced cost with a reduced potential for transit issues.
SN: Walk us through some of the struggles that your business has faced through its years in business.
Forbidden Diesel Performance
674 Twitchell Rd.
Dothan, AL 36303
SM: We find there to be somewhat of a miscommunication between the dealer and the manufacturer when it comes to effective minimum advertised price (MAP) pricing and product content that is best suited to help products sell. Our shop is constantly competing with MAP violators that operate under several DBAs or false company names. A lot of manufacturers are fixated on brick-and-mortar shops, so the available data is tailored to a parts store or a paper catalog. Some manufacturers do a great job in providing the necessary data needed to sell parts online effectively, but the industry as a whole has a lot of work to do in forming better partnerships between manufacturers and retailers to ensure an improved experience for the customer.
SN: What does the future look like for Forbidden Diesel Performance?
SM: We have been fortunate enough to experience growth each year of being in business. Our staff has worked tirelessly on creating successful relationships with distributors and manufacturers to set us up for continued success. We are excited to be finishing up a remodel of our website and hope to use it as the foundation for a promising future. We are confident in the business we have built and look forward to the years to come.