Times were tough four years ago for Robert Williams.
Sales at his two body shops in Fresno, Calif., had dropped more than 30
percent, and he was desperately searching for ways to cut expenses and make
Looking around his shop, Foxwood Auto Body, he noticed that he had quite the
collection of leftover parts, either ones that customers never came for or were
left over after insurers insisted on used or aftermarket parts or were
unreturnable for some reason. He tried selling them on eBay and Craigslist but
didn’t have much success.
"Quarter panels, door trim panels and fenders are
just not parts people look for on Craigslist," Williams said. "Those
are parts only body shops need."
And that’s when the lightbulb appeared above his head:
Why not create a free site where body shop owners could buy and sell their
excess inventory of parts at a discounted rate, and also post equipment for
sale? He hired someone to create the site, and after extensive testing, finally
made it live at www.collisionrepairstore.com.
Members can create their own virtual parts stores. And
there’s another ancillary benefit: getting a handle on your inventory, which
can often be a hair-pulling exercise in futility. At least, it was for Williams
before he started the site.
"Before I did this, I had an idea of what parts I
had lying around, but I didn’t fully know," he says. "Now I tell body
shop owners, before you order parts, check out your own store first to see if
Williams is currently talking to collision centers with multiple locations about the inventory management aspect of Collisionrepairstore.com,
which would be especially beneficial to a multi-store operation.
"In multi-store collision operations, it’s difficult to know what each shop has in its inventory,"
says Williams. "With Collisionrepairstore.com, we’ve made it easy to do just that. They can create a parts depot internally for themselves, and the best part is that it’s free."
Since the site is new, traffic has been slow coming. Most
people are finding it through Google searches. Williams says he’s averaging 200
to 300 hits per month, and visitors are coming from all over the world. On one
used spraybooth that Williams posted for sale, he got 55 hits alone in just two
Payments are made via PayPal, MasterCard or Visa, and
sellers have to handle shipping themselves. Williams merely provides the
technology for the transaction to take place.
"The whole site is free; I don’t make
anything," he says. "And it doesn’t cost me anything really. If
traffic got big enough, I might consider selling advertising on it, but I’m not
really concerned about that."
Williams sees the site having value to people who modify
or customize their vehicles as well. "I know a few people who’ve done
that, and I asked them where the parts are that they took off the car, and they
said in the rafters in my garage. What if we let people like that know they can
put those online? Any body shop in the world would prefer to buy that part off
a new pickup versus a used part."
With all the websites now on the Internet, Williams knows
that finding his is almost like trying to find a needle in a haystack. That’s
why he reached out to the California Auto Body Association to see if they would
promote it to their membership. He’s also trying to get the word out by
reaching out to the national trade press.
Collisionrepairstore.com isn’t Williams’ first cyber
endeavor. He also created www.collisionrepairstatus.com, where consumers can
check up on their vehicles remotely. Body shops can subscribe to the service
for $99 a month. It’s not the only such repair-tracking website out there, but
Williams says he feels it has the most to offer for a low price and is the best because it was born out of the knowledge he has attained from years of owning a body shop.
"You can do video uploads, create a PDF file of
estimates, photos, texts and e-mail alerts," he says. "I’m the only
one with a patented supplement system where you can actually get signatures
over the site through e-mail."
Right now, however, he is putting all his time away from
his shop into kick-starting Collisionrepairstore.com.
"I’m in the same situation as other shops as far as
parts," he says. "I’m now able to unload them and ship them out to
customers, who then tell me what a great product, thank you so much and I’m
going to use it again."