By Grant Walter
21Motorsports.com: Making Cyber Retail Work
|21Motorsports.com is an online retail outlet for automotive parts from nearly every sector of the industry.|
In 2004, Justin Parker told his wife that he had an idea to start an aftermarket retail website. The next day, she handed him a shoebox with every piece of spare change she could find in the house and car. She told him that if God was guiding him that way, she was all in too.
Despite the optimism, things didn’t turn out quite as planned. The site tanked, and the Parkers were left nose-deep in loans and a mortgage. But sometimes things work in mysterious ways.
Today, Justin has built a bustling retail presence in marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, Newegg and his own website: 21Motorsports.com. Our conversation with Justin provides a look into the fast-paced and ever-changing world of online retail.
SEMA News: What does your company look like? Do you keep inventory inhouse?
Justin Parker: No, it’s all drop ship, and I have no part-time or full-time employees. I have consulting companies helping with certain things, but I made a conscious decision in the very beginning to keep it all online. I don’t live in an area that’s conducive to modifying vehicles because I live in Massachusetts.
Sometimes it goes against you because there are distributors or manufacturers that won’t allow you to sell their stuff without a brick-and-mortar store. It’s just a hurdle you have to get over. I’m not going to worry about those distributors and manufacturers, because it’s got to be a good fit on both sides. Long story short, we’re online only, and it’s just me. I have help, for sure, but nobody who’s full time or gets a paycheck from 21Motorsports.com.
SN: Tell us about the online space. How do you deal with Amazon?
JP: Amazon does a lot of things really, really well. It’s a company that loses money for the sake of customer experience. I think that’s wise—everybody’s using Amazon. You have to take note of that. You have to look at what they’re doing and—for good or for bad—you have to compete with it.
|Because there is no brick-and-motor store to manage, Justin Parker has the ability to work anywhere his laptop has service.|
There are some things that Amazon doesn’t do great, and I think some of the brands that you talk to will echo this: Any brand that sells direct to Amazon basically forfeits its minimum advertised price [MAP] policy. It can be tough for us as retailers, because the minute a brand does that, you pretty much don’t sell that brand anymore. Amazon undercuts everybody. I’m not trying to undercut anyone. I’m in this for the long run. Just complaining to Amazon can get you kicked off entirely.
SN: A simple complaint could get you kicked off Amazon? How does that work?
JP: There are a few companies out there that I won’t sell anymore because of that. I actually had a heated discussion with one of them at a distributor’s event because they’re submitting copyright claims against listings on Amazon. [A single listing for an item can be backed by any number of retailers, all with differing prices, shipping options, return policies, etc.]
Because certain companies on the listings are violating the MAP policy or selling counterfeit items, manufacturers are submitting copyright claims against the entire listing, which in turn submits it against everyone on the listing. If you’re legit, selling at the price they’ve recommended, direct from the distributor, with their authentic parts, your Amazon account is still at risk.
It’s very important that if a brand is going to start leveraging an attorney’s office or submit copyright infringement claims themselves on Amazon or eBay—that they fully understand the space. They’re putting legit companies at risk by haphazardly submitting those claims.
SN: What is your relationship like with manufacturers?
JP: By and large, we have great relationships with the brands. Most of them have a decent grasp of the e-commerce landscape and value retailers like us. We treat their customers well and play by the rules, which is a win-win for all involved.
There are select manufacturers that we choose not to deal with due to their selling restrictions—brick-and-mortar requirements, for example—or overall misunderstanding of third-party marketplaces. We facilitate the manufacturers’ warranties. Most manufacturers prefer the customer to go through their point of purchase and then have the retailer deal directly with the manufacturer for the warranty claim.
The SEMA Show is a great resource, because I get to go around and talk to the manufacturers and check out the stuff. I get a feel for some of the more common questions that might come up, and I can ask them directly—you know, face to face. You can always get an answer through email, but face-to-face connection is good.
SN: From a customer standpoint, what do you think differentiates you from the competition?
JP: That’s a good question. At a distributor’s event recently, I was able to actually sit and talk with some of my competitors. I thought for sure that everybody did things the same way, but I found out that wasn’t actually the case.
The automation side of things is a definite standout for me. Orders are automatically routed. There’s no associate in the midst of that ordering process. There’s no chance of an address getting mixed up. There’s no way an order number or a tracking number can get transposed. There’s no delay in taking orders or having to pull a file and send it to a distributor. Also, we defer to the customer as much as we can. If that means just refunding them their money so that they’re happy and they don’t have to return the item, that’s fine.
I’m in the business of making long-term customers, not short-term dollars. So we try to help our customers as much as we can, understanding that it’s difficult to buy parts online. That’s a pain point, and that’s one of the things that we can leverage that Amazon can’t.
I was a mechanic. I personally love tricking out my vehicles and spending way more money than I should on them, so I have a better understanding of the parts as a whole and how they work together. An Amazon associate can’t answer that question. You can’t call Amazon and get an answer about whether a part fits or not.
There are a lot of ways to be sneaky online. There are a lot of ways to be shady and to do things that make a quick dollar but at the expense of your integrity or at the expense of your relationships with your distributors, manufacturers or the customers, and that’s not in your best interests as a business owner.