With roots in the automotive brakes business going back half a century, Internet Warehouse Direct launched its first transactional e-commerce site this fall. It’s just one of many auto parts suppliers stepping on the gas in the race to capture online B2B sales.

Auto parts suppliers are on the road to increased online sales to repair shops, corporate fleets, retailers and other business customers.

That trend was apparent at the industry’s recent annual conference and trade show for “aftermarket” products that replace original equipment—AAPEX, or the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo. The event featured more than 2,000 exhibiting suppliers, and many already sell online or are planning to.

Common reasons for the shift online were demand from customers for more self-service ordering options, and the need to keep up with Amazon.com Inc. and other large online sellers and online marketplaces. Robert Garis, sales director for San Antonio, Texas-based Internet Warehouse Direct, which has been in the brake products business since 1968, said IWD launched its first transactional e-commerce site, IWDparts.com, during the AAPEX show in October to keep up with the demand from repair shops for online ordering.

We will have to sell online.
Eric Dussault, CEO
Alco Brakes

IWD’s roots in the auto parts industry go back to 1968, when the company’s founders began manufacturing and installing automotive brakes before expanding into sales of such things as suspension parts, shock absorbers and mechanics’ tools. In 2009, it began contracting with manufacturers in China to produce its own Opteve brand brake line. Today, most of the products it sells come direct from factories.

The new e-commerce site will help to build the IWD and Opteve brands online and complement the internet exposure the company has already developed by selling through the Amazon.com and eBay.com marketplaces, Garis noted. IWD’s sales through Amazon include orders shipped under the Amazon Prime two-day shipping service, and most orders on IWDparts.com are shipped the same day with free standard shipping.

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“Many of our customers don’t want to carry inventory” and they rely on quick deliveries, Garis said.

Other companies participating in the AAPEX event also are active in e-commerce.

The U.S. unit of Japan-based Mitsuboshi Belting Ltd., a manufacturer of automotive belts, sells to original equipment manufacturers and multiple tiers of distributors through a dealer portal on its website at MBLUSA.com as well as through EDI, said Bill Clemons, product and marketing manager. “More buyers want the opportunity to buy online,” he said.

Clemons added that Mitsuboshi does its best to ship online orders the same day customers place them. “Our e-commerce strategy is ‘ship today,’ not back-order,” he said. “If something’s not available on our web portal, we want customers to call us so we can connect with them.”

Stens the Parts Co., a distributor that sells auto parts for multiple brands through thousands of dealers, processes many of its sales to dealers through a DealerNet portal, said John Bauersfeld, vice president and general manager. Stens, which is owned by Arrowhead Electronic Parts Parts and investment firm Investcorp, is helping several Arrowhead brands including Atlantic Quality Parts electronics sell online through the Stens dealer network, he said.

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PartsTech Inc., a company founded in 2012, is providing an e-commerce portal platform that individual repair shops can customize to list products from their preferred auto parts suppliers. Greg Kirber, president and CEO—who founded PartsTech while in law school after having worked in a Mercedes-Benz parts department—said the PartsTech.com platform was designed to make it easy for mechanics to quickly find the right part for each repair job. “We talked to shops around the country” to learn what they needed, he said.

PartsTech’s portal can connect with the available parts inventory in more than 20,000 auto parts store locations, covering nearly 4 million parts from more than 1,200 brands, Kirber said.

Another auto parts portal platform—Nexpart from WHI, an eBay company—is helping to drive up online sales for AC Delco, an auto parts division of General Motors Corp. ACDelcoConnect.com uses Nexpart technology to let mechanics and repair shops order AC Delco as well as other auto parts brands from more than 100 of AC Delco’s main distributors.

Kelli Abbott, global e-commerce development manager for GM’s Customer Care and Aftersales division, said in an interview at AAPEX that 35% of AC Delco’s orders were received online, up from 20% a year earlier. In some cases, she noted, distributors were receiving up to 80% of their orders through the portal.

A number of other suppliers at AAPEX said they were in various stages of either deploying or planning a B2B e-commerce presence. Still others said they had no plans for one, but knew they had go online sooner or later. Several said they operate with a basic form of online commerce by exchanging orders, invoices and even payments via e-mail.

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Eric Dussault, CEO of Canada-based Alco Brakes, a manufacturer and distributor of brake products, said he had grown up in the auto parts business and regrets having to go online because “it will cut the fun factor that I enjoy” of dealing in person with customers. “I was six or seven years old visiting customers with my Dad,” he recalled fondly at his AAPEX booth.

Alco’s website, AlcoBrakes.com, provides product information and links to electronic product catalogs where visitors can search for product specifications for particular motor vehicles. But online ordering may not be far off, Dussault admitted.

He said he realized that there’s no stopping the move to e-commerce. “We will have to sell online,” he said, noting the presence of Amazon and other major online merchants.

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