Price Automotive in Lenoir, N.C., has stayed ahead of the curve for more than 50 years, always keeping up on the latest trends and technologies. So about seven years ago, when a customer casually mentioned how great the online auction site eBay had been for getting rid of some clutter around his home, second-generation owner Fred Price Jr. got inspired.
“We thought it would be a good way to get rid of obsolete merchandise,” he says. “We got started by listing about 20 items. Today, we have about 200 items listed.”
Price stresses that he never uses the venue for cutthroat pricing on current items — only slow-moving or discontinued products that couldn’t be bought back by the manufacturer. He began selling on eBay’s basic online auctions, but within a year he switched over to an eBay Store (stores.ebay.com/priceautomotivewarehouseinc).
“It’s cheaper to list, and we don’t have to re-list things every 14 days anymore,” Price explains. “If I have two or three of the same part numbers on hand, I will list one at a time, so when one sells I don’t have to re-list — I still have a couple more to sell.”
Having the eBay store “cleaned us up nicely,” Price says. “For example, we’ve had a line we’ve been trying to sell off for three years. We’re doing four or five pieces a week on eBay, and it’s almost gone, finally.”
The eBay store’s business has picked up lately. Price attributes it to no longer being the new kid on that block.
“When people see you have nearly 300 positive feedbacks, they feel more comfortable buying from you,” he says.
Working the Web
While the extra work of posting items and tracking online orders can take about eight hours a week, Price tends to break it up into a couple of sessions as he has the time.
“I do the updates to both our online catalog and the eBay store on my laptop once or twice a week,” he says. “It’s usually done after I get home, in front of the TV.”
Price Automotive’s online catalog, separate from its eBay store and available on the company’s home page, www.priceautomotive.com, is an ever-evolving product. It had been around in paper form for decades and is actually what prompted the company to purchase its first computer in the late 1980s — to go from laying out the pages by hand to using PageMaker and Photoshop programs.
“I had never used Windows before, but there I was, tearing my hair out and learning as I went,” Price recalls with a laugh. “I called the manufacturer hotline and I got a five-minute lecture about how you need a college degree to learn the program. I was a little angry about that and decided I’d figure it out on my own. And so I did.”
The Price Automotive site was established around the same time the company began using eBay. Price notes that a lot of new business comes in through his site, and that the North Carolina company can truly call itself global.
“We have received inquiries from England and other countries,” he says. “But we still regularly deliver to North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia. Everything else, we ship UPS.”
For its established wholesale customer base, Price Automotive uses an Autologue service called ePart Connection, a password-protected online database that allows users to connect to the company’s mainframe computer and see whether parts are in stock.
“Right now, there’s a shopping cart system on priceautomotive.com; it’s all fixed prices,” Price explains. “That’s fine for new customers, but we tell our established customers to use the ePart Connection so they can get special pricing.”
The company has a third online component in www.catalograck.com, a service that downloads its orders several times a day and matches them to inventory.
“It keeps up with what items we have in stock,” Price says.
Price knows there is even more he can do with the online initiatives his company has. For example, although his payroll, inventory, P&L and the like are already computerized through Autologue’s Datatron program, he hasn’t yet ventured into computer-based marketing, like sending broadcast e-mails to announce special deals for customers.
“To be honest, I haven’t had the time to check it out,” he admits. He also believes that eventually he’ll have the eBay store, the ePart Connection and the online catalog under one umbrella program instead of three separate services. Cost and control are the biggest factors from implementing something like that right now. Instead, he’s taking it one step at a time, focusing on his customers and his reputation.
“But I’m always thinking about new ways to do things,” he says, adding that eventually he hopes to train existing employees and hire new staffers so he isn’t doing the bulk of the online work.
Price believes online commerce is the future, although he estimates about 95 percent of his established customers still come into the store or call for delivery. That said, he also believes more of them are checking to see if a part’s in stock online before coming in.
Because customers still want that person-to-person experience, Price hasn’t shifted away from the traditional aspects of running an auto parts business. “We have outside sales, inside sales and delivery, and we still have a paper catalog available,” he says. “We’re not the biggest on the block, but we can compete.”
The Vital Stats
Years in business: 57
Number of employees: 10
Wholesale/retail ratio: 90/10
Snapshot: Beginning as a Sinclair service station in 1949 by brothers Ed and Fred Price Sr., gasoline is one of the few auto-related items that Price Automotive doesn’t carry in stock. Its specialties include performance and accessory distribution.
Competition: Wholesale competitors include American Performance Products, Keystone Automotive Industries, Myers Tire Supply, Nichols Truck Tire and Weathers Auto Supply. All of them have local warehouses in Price’s five-state delivery area.
Facility size: The warehouse and store comprise 12,000 sq. feet.