The ecommerce wave has drowned plenty of retailers and wholesalers. To avoid that fate, RepairClinic.com has spent the last five years retooling its operation so that it can successfully ride the surging tide of online buying, both by consumers and businesses.
One key to its strategy has been producing lots of exclusive content that its customers—both consumers and professional technicians—can use to fix faulty kitchen appliances, furnaces, air conditioners, lawnmowers, snowblowers and other household equipment. That includes producing internally more than 4,500 how-to videos—including nearly 1,000 in 2019—providing more than 7,000 diagrams and manuals, and offering more than 700 articles about equipment repair.
It also includes keeping up to date with the more than 4 million SKUs it sells, mapping each part to the brand and model of the refrigerator, dishwasher, hot water heater or other device that it fits. All that works gives RepairClinic.com an edge that even the best-funded digital disruptor would find hard to overcome, says CEO Robert Burke.
“You can’t just come into this business tomorrow and create 4,500 videos, get more than 192 million views on YouTube and map more than 4 million parts to a model, a video, schematics,” Burke says. “That’s all part of the database engineering we’ve developed over the past 10 to 15 years, and continue to develop.”
RepairClinic.com backs that content with such customer-friendly policies and services as a 365-day return policy, a promise that parts are authentic, a price-matching guarantee and a 24/7 call center staffed by U.S.-based experts in home repair.
Embrace the digital disruptors
Another key has been to embrace the forces that have disrupted so many other businesses, including ecommerce giant Amazon.com Inc., online search engines and YouTube, which has become the go-to online destination for many do-it-yourselfers seeking information.
RepairClinic.com is No. 393 In the 2019 Top 1000, the annual ranking of North America’s top retailers by online sales by Digital Commerce 360 (formerly Internet Retailer.) Amazon.com is No. 1 in the Top 1000.
RepairClinic.com, which sells more than 175 product lines on its own website, also has master distribution agreements with several manufacturers to sell their parts on Amazon.com and other online marketplaces, Burke says. He says the online retailer has developed the expertise to ship goods to more than 75 warehouses operated by various marketplaces, to protect the manufacturers’ brands by ensuring products descriptions and images are accurate and up to date, and to provide customer service.
“Manufacturers are concerned about their brand integrity on marketplaces, about counterfeits and generic parts that could be made by the large marketplaces,” Burke says. “That’s created an opportunity for us because we’re an authorized distributor for more than 175 lines, and some of those companies are interested in making sure their products and features are being represented and merchandised in the right way.”
Google and other search engines also play a big part in the RepairClinic.com strategy. The site’s extensive array of videos and articles frequently brings links to RepairClinic.com to the top of search results when consumers search for parts or enter an inquiry about a problem, such as “my clothes dryer doesn’t get hot.”
More than 50% of RepairClinic.com’s new customers arrive from search engines, a big majority of them from organic results and a smaller number from paid ads, says Kyle Hilbrenner, vice president of digital marketing and ecommerce at RepairClinic.com.
The e-retailer’s YouTube channel is also an important channel for customer acquisition. Some 270,000 individuals subscribe to RepairClinic.com’s YouTube channel, and its 4,500 videos on the social network have garnered more than 192 million views, Burke says.
Andy Hoar, CEO of B2B strategy firm Paradigm B2B, applauds RepairClinic.com’s strategy of focusing on web marketplaces, search and YouTube as well as in RepairClinic.com. “Selling effectively online today means being a master of all channels, not just the ones a company directly controls,” he says. “B2B merchants have to win the away games as well as the home games if they want to become significant players in the space.”
An ‘omnichannel’ approach
Developing strategies for marketplaces like Amazon as well as for search engines and YouTube is part of what Burke calls the “omnichannel approach” the company turned to in 2015 in the face of the pressures coming down on retailers and wholesalers are more consumers and businesses turned to the web for information and purchasing. But RepairClinic.com remains central to the strategy, Burke says.
“Marketplaces serve a role in you know exactly what you want,” he says. “But where we can play an important role is if you want the security and peace of mind of a 365-day return policy and being able to pick up a phone 24/7 and speak with U.S.-based agents with all kinds of tools and information at their fingertips.”
To make RepairClinic.com as useful for customers as possible, Burke says the company assigned 35 individuals who collectively spent 100,000 hours redeveloping the ecommerce site from the ground up. Burke says that by doing the work internally, RepairClinic.com could provide features not available in off-the-shelf ecommerce platforms, such as being able to tie more than 4 million items to a particular manufacturer, model and content.
A new feature introduced last year on product detail pages lets a shopper enter the model number of his appliance or other piece of equipment and find out if the part on that page will fit. That feature and other elements of the site redesign last year improved the site’s conversion rate by 10% year over year and average order value by 7%, RepairClinic.com’s Hilbrenner explained in a September 2019 presentation at the B2B Next conference in Chicago.
The site’s Net Promoter Score—which measures how likely online buyers are to recommend a website to others—also has gone up to 72 today from 46 in 2017, Burke says. By contrast, Amazon’s NPS score is 62, according to Retently, which provides an automated service for surveying online shoppers. However, comparing NPS scores can be tricky, as scores vary based on whether it’s the seller or a third party asking buyers their opinions, with people generally less critical when the seller is conducting the survey.
Customers are also spending more time on the phone with RepairClinic.com agents, six and a half minutes on average today, Burke says. “That’s gone up, which we like because it improves our conversion,” he says. “We know the more conversations we have and the more in-depth they are the better. Trying to help them solve their problems is the key to the future for us.”
Providing that kind of expertise is part of what sets successful companies apart today, says Hoar of Paradigm B2B, who is also a co-founder of the B2B Next conference. “Anyone can offer a shopping cart today. And increasingly, many sites can also assemble and present catalogs by aggregating products and images from a variety of sources,” Hoar says. “What truly differentiates B2B sellers today is the quality of the end-to-end buying experience, including the pre-purchase and post-purchase process.”
B2B and B2C converge
Accurate, easy-to-digest information is as important to the professional repairman as it is to a homeowner, Burke says. RepairClinic.com is one of about a half-dozen repair parts wholesalers owned by Burke America, of which Robert Burke is chairman and CEO. Among the other companies in the Burke America portfolio is Sundberg America, which the holding company acquired in 2010 when it was known as C.E. Sundberg Co.
RepairClinic is the most consumer-focused, with about 80% of its sales to consumers. Digital Commerce 360 estimates that RepairClinic.com sold $113.4 million online in 2018. Burke declines to discuss revenue for RepairClinic.com, which derives about a fifth of its sales from call center agents, or for Burke America.
The rest of the Burke America portfolio is heavily focused on businesses, and overall the holding company’s sales are divided roughly in half between B2B and B2C.
But there is less and less difference between the two types of customers, Burke says. “We see B2B and B2C coming together,” he says.
That’s because household appliances and equipment are increasingly complex, most repairs are made by small businesses with limited resources, and many repairmen are getting older. “The need for how-to instructions, schematics, videos and images is growing daily,” Burke says.
Assets like videos developed for consumers can help the pros, he says, and feedback from professional technicians about problems with a particular part on a particular model can help RepairClinic.com decide to order more of a particular SKU and which topics to prioritize when producing new content.
Even in the digital age, repair parts companies will thrive if they help customers solve their problems, Burke says. “The transformation of this industry has rewarded those who have invested heavily in innovation and serving customers in multiple ways,” he says. “We welcome that.”Favorite