After 20 years at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Debra Walker decided to take a walk on the wild side: she and Ken Brookings, another auto-industry veteran, started iCARumba. The site now has 2,000 car-repair shops as members (in Seattle and San Francisco). And it’s just starting to advertise to consumers. Its goal: comprehensive car-repair info, advice and service (via member shops). But wait a minute: aren’t car mechanics still getting used to adding machines? We asked Debra (iCARumb’s Chief Marketing Officer), this and other tough questions.–SJ
Seattle24x7: Debra, how does iCARumba plan to make money?
Walker: We’re charging the car-repair shops a $2 referral fee for jobs that cost less than $100, and $5 for more expensive work. And we’re just starting to sell advertising on the site. In the second quarter, we’ll also give our member shops the ability to order supplies via our site (auto parts, office equipment, etc.). And we’ll get a small sales commission on such sales. Finally, we’ll eventually sell subscriptions to our database.
Seattle24x7: What’s your competition?
Walker: There are niche sites (such as Carpoint.com, Carstation.com, Motoreyes.com), but nobody is doing what we are. Car repair is a big business–$200 billion annually. But it’s incredibly fragmented: there are 285,000 U.S. shops, and only 15% of them are part of larger chains. We’re giving each of the major players–the consumers, the shops and their suppliers–easy access to each other.
Seattle24x7: How are you getting car-repair shops to sign up?
Walker: We’ve signed up more than 2,000 shops very easily, mostly over the phone. This is how we put it to them: Getting listed on our site costs you nothing, so it’s free advertising. We collect our referral fee only after the job is done. Also, shops don’t need Internet access. All they need is a phone and fax to be notified of appointment requests.
Seattle24x7: How are you getting consumers to the site?
Walker: We’re doing some very targeted online ads, especially on sites that appeal to women and seniors. In traditional media, we’re using mostly radio and testing billboards. (Our media buyer is Lamphere Group and our creative agency is Creative Works.)
We’re also doing some guerrilla marketing. We go to the car-shop members and tell them to advertise iCARumba to their customers (we give them a lot of material for that). What’s in it for them? When consumers sign up on our site, we ask who referred them. If it’s a car-repair shop, we add that shop to the consumer’s “favorite shops,” and we don’t ever charge that shop any referral fees for that particular consumer. So we think it’s a win-win situation.
Seattle24x7: You intend to offer consumer ratings of auto-repair shops, as well as acceptable price ranges for various jobs. Are the shops comfortable with this?
Walker: We don’t have enough consumers yet to have credible ratings. And we’re working to fine-tune our pricing estimates, which are based on the same databases the car-repair shops use (we have licensed the data). So our price estimates are not on the low end. Jeff Lagges, our VP of Product Development, was a top executive at Alldata, one of the major creators of such databases.
Look, shops want price-educated consumers, especially when it comes to expensive jobs. What often happens now is that a client will get an initial estimate and dismiss it as too high. And then he’ll go to another shop and get a similar estimate. But he’ll have the work done at the second shop, not the first.
Seattle24x7: Where do you want to be a year from now?
Walker: We should be in the top 30 U.S. metro areas in terms of population. And we should have 30,000 car-repair shops as members. We don’t have a target number for auto-shop suppliers because the important thing there is quality, not quantity.
Seattle24x7: What are some of the glitches so far?
Walker: One customer showed up unexpected at a local chain. Later, we found out that the chain had told us to send the appointment info to their central location, not the individual shop. This is why we’re calling to verify appointments. But even a call did not help in this case.
Seattle24x7: What kind of workers do you need most?
Walker: Technical people to set up our B2B business (suppliers selling to auto-repair shops) and more staffers for our call center. By year-end, we’ll probably have 100 workers vs. 50 today.
Seattle24x7: Finally, Debra, what kind of car do you drive?
Walker: A 1994 Jag.
Soula Jones is Content Chief at Seattle24x7.com
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