I Run A Tech Business In An Old-School, Brick-And-Mortar Industry. Here are 3 Challenges I Didn’t See Coming
As the founder of FindItParts, an e-commerce truck parts company, I like people to know I’m a truck parts guy who went online—not vice-versa.
I knew from the start that venturing into e-commerce wouldn’t be easy, especially in an industry with deep brick-and-mortar roots. I had spent the majority of my truck parts career building a conventional distribution business, so I understood how this industry is driven by relationships among distributors, salespeople, and consumers. And I understand that people won’t change how they purchase parts until they’re forced to.
Or until you show them there’s a better way.
For us, an e-commerce business in an old-school industry, the biggest challenges we’ve faced are changing buyer behavior and building trust. People love using our site once they give it a shot, but it’s tough to get people to try us out in the first place. They’re too used to buying parts the same way they always have: through their trusty distributor (who is often a high school buddy or family friend).
I’ve spent my whole career in this industry, so I anticipated these headaches. But I’ve also been surprised by a number of unexpected challenges unique to this space.
Here are three challenges that took me by surprise when I started my e-commerce business:
1. It’s tough to make sure we come to mind when people need truck parts.
Inserting ourselves into a well-structured, traditional sales funnel has been really tough. Of course, plenty of industries still feature strong representation from brick-and-mortar stores and salespeople. But few, if any, are as fixated on this traditional model as the truck parts industry.
Salespeople still swing by shops to drop off paper catalogs, which can sit around for years until they’re grease-stained and outdated. When the average customer needs a part, their first move is to drive down the street to their distributor to grab whatever they need—and maybe chat with a buddy at the counter.
There are lots of touchpoints, and, as a result, strong connections between customers and distributors in this industry.
When people need truck parts, they simply don’t think of online sources like ours—even if they bought a pair of shoes on Amazon yesterday. We’re not even aiming to be our customer’s primary source of parts. We’re looking to fill in as a second or third source when they need an oddball part their distributor doesn’t carry, for example.
As an e-commerce business in an old-school industry, we have to get creative with customer engagement. There are a quarter-million people who’ve bought from us at this point. We call them, email them, and text them to let them know about specials. We’re always coming up with new, creative marketing strategies like promotional videos aiming to make us more informative and useful in our customers’ everyday lives.
2. The content we need to showcase parts doesn’t always exist.
In this industry, good content—parts photos and descriptions, primarily—is scarce. There is virtually no digital backbone when it comes to truck parts.
Even manufacturers themselves don’t always create content for their parts. Pushing them to create that content and send it to us (for their own benefit, I should add) has been quite difficult.
Suppliers don’t usually have this content, either. Of course, there’s no need for photos and descriptions of parts when you’re ordering them from an expert at a counter.
As a result, creating that content has unexpectedly become our job. We have an entire team out shooting parts photos every single day. We’re building a base of product information ourselves. At this point, we have the best, most comprehensive digital catalog in the truck parts industry.
3. Delivery logistics are complex and challenging.
We’re a concierge buyer, so working with us is like working with thousands of distributors. That’s a competitive advantage—but also a challenge.
Coordinating fast, trackable delivery from so many different locations is a massive undertaking. Building out our supply network has been difficult, to say the least.
At FindItParts, we’re dragging along an old-school, change-resistant industry. From the start, I knew it would be tough. But it’s taken more time, money, and effort to build this business than I would have ever imagined.
My advice to anyone who wants to push an industry into the future is this: Be committed to your vision. Make sure you have ample financial backing. Find the right talent. Work to make your business better every day. And don’t give up.
Despite the difficulties, I’m very happy and proud of the progress we’ve made and the innovation we’ve driven in our industry.