By Amy Antenora Editor
The Internet has become a mainstay of life today. A flexible, affordable and robust business tool, the Internet has become a primary vehicle for communicating with customers and business partners in the aftermarket. Its uses vary — from e-catalogs to online promotions and product demos — and the quality and ease of use can vary too. The aftermarket executives we spoke with for this week’s “Ask the Industry” touched upon the benefits and challenges of doing business online.
For automotive accessories provider Modacar, the Internet is a very important tool, accounting for 90 percent of its sales. However, President John Modica said it’s tough to get a true sense of his company through the web.
“At Modacar we feel that representing our company on the Internet is a constant challenge,” said Modica. “To convey the passion we have for our work, the pride we take in our customer service and the diversity and quality of our product line takes a lot of thought and preparation on a daily basis. Because the Internet accounts for 90 percent of our sales, we are in constant need of fresh and user-friendly approaches. We are about to re-launch our website with what we hope will show the hard work we are putting into what we call a ‘Super Store’ experience.”
Joel Ayres, national marketing director for Leer, Division Truck Accessories Group, says the Internet is “the fastest-growing marketing opportunity since the coming of television a half century ago." And, one that his company feels lucky to take advantage of.
Leer utilizes the net to help increase traffic through online promotions, advertise new products and specials, communicate with business partners and round out business-building efforts.
“Leer and its retailers benefit tremendously from the use of the Internet as a marketing, promotional and advertising tool,” said Ayres. “As with printed marketing materials, a website does nothing unless it is ‘distributed’ to the target market. Through our website, Leer is able to communicate with its customers and has created a community whereby information is expected and delivered. Our website gives Leer and its dealers access to many more prospects, benefits, lower distribution costs and the ability to communicate and interact with customers.
HushMat President Tim McCarthy agreed that the Internet is an efficient and cost-effective way to keep in touch with customers and business partners, but for his business it also serves as a helpful reference tool.
"The Internet is an extremely important tool for HushMat,” said McCarthy. “It enables efficient communication of HushMat features and benefits to our consumers, dealers, jobbers, distributors and sales representatives. It also provides the reference resource that cannot be effectively duplicated in print. As time progresses, it will become even more valuable as people of all ages and demographic groups become more comfortable with the technology."
While the Internet is a quick and easy means to getting and communicating information, it does have its limits. In some situations, nothing beats true face-to-face human interaction. John Becker IV, president of Creative Material Technologies, believes this is one of the Internet’s only limitations.
“The Internet has proven itself as an essential tool for us to communicate information and data to our customers and prospects. We use it constantly in the dissemination of information that has a broad market appeal. In addition, we have used it as an educational vehicle to enhance more of an in depth knowledge transfer experience when appropriate. We find that this is for the relatively few people who are truly motivated to go beyond the surface information provided on most websites and participate in self education for their own knowledge benefit,” said Becker. “The Internet, however, while providing a valuable portal for information exchange and even knowledge transfer is limited when it pushed to the higher educational level of understanding. We find that nothing can replace the value of hands-on, ‘eyeball to eyeball’ training when communicating the ideas, concepts and esoteric knowledge that is critical for a person to gain a real understanding of an issue or subject, not just data about it. While data and information-based knowledge will equip a person to perform a function, it is only through true understanding that enablement and empowerment can come.”
One of the aftermarket’s biggest success stories when it comes to the Internet is the Car Care Council. With the Car Care Council website getting about 150,000 visitors each month, it has become the council’s most important method of communication, said Executive Director Rich White . The Car Care Council provides its three primary audiences — motorists, the media and the aftermarket industry – with news, tips and information about vehicle care, maintenance and repair through Carcare.org. According to White, the site sees a 40 to 50 percent spike in visits prior to National Car Care Month in April as a result of stepped up publicity driving motorists to the website.
As more businesses embrace and entrench themselves in new technology, we can expect to see the Internet continue to play an increasingly critical role in business communication. And, while it’s great way to efficiently and affordably enhance a company’s marketing and communication efforts, it is not likely to ever completely replace personal contact, the most important tool in any professional’s toolbox.