Our start-up of the week is UrParts.com, a new website set up by siblings Sonya and Simon Fitzpatrick to bring the spare parts industry into the digital age. The site allows those looking for spare parts for construction and agricultural machinery to interact with sellers to source the best deals.
Sonya and Simon had been involved in the family business Fitzpatrick Plant Sales, which has been in operation for more than 40 years in Midleton, Co Cork. It was in 2011 that they decided to build the UrParts.com website to fill a niche for those seeking spare parts within the construction, agricultural or commercial trucks industries.
"The initial seed of the idea came from ourselves needing somewhere to go to find parts for our own machines," explains Sonya Fitzpatrick. "We’ve been buying parts for our own machinery for years. When you go to a dealer to get a price for a new part they are very expensive."
She says that there are alternatives out there, so there are huge savings to be made.
"We had a big database of people we would have dealt with over the years, but any time we needed a part it was a case of contacting them all one by one," she explains. "For our own benefit, we thought wouldn’t it be great if there was something better out there that you could just submit an enquiry."
Diversifying the business
Recognising the need to diversify the Fitzpatrick Plant Sales business as a result of the recession, Sonya and Simon set about developing UrParts.com in 2011.
"We wanted to create a site that was designed for and driven by user demand," explains Sonya. "There is no other site out there that will allow buyers to source parts on a site specifically designed for buying parts and nothing else. We were able to find sites designed for selling whole machines and with a parts section, but the buyer has to do all the work and contact each supplier individually," she says.
The duo worked with web developers at Granite Digital in Cork to build UrParts.com. According to Fitzpatrick, the goal was to create a website that would be easy for people to navigate, irrespective of their language. This means that people can identify the spare part they want from a machine on a diagram and then submit an enquiry.
"We really wanted to keep it very simple so that you don’t need to speak English to use the site. It’s all done visually using the diagrams to allow for easy navigation," she explains.
Another key differentiator, she says, is that users are not required to have part numbers to submit an enquiry.
Fitzpatrick says the system is intuitive so the supplier selects what parts of the machine they want to get enquiries about.
"If you are a supplier on the system you don’t automatically get every enquiry that goes out. You get enquiries that are specific to what you supply," she explains.
The site’s business model is based on the service being free for buyers to use and suppliers pay a subscription to receive enquiries following a free trial of the service.
UrParts.com now has more than 3,500 registered users – a combination of both buyers and suppliers – from 117 countries, according to Fitzpatrick. "It has processed over 5,500 separate enquiries," she explains.
Tweaking the site
While it took 12 months to launch a working site, early last year Sonya and Simon went back to the developers to tweak the site and create a messaging system for users.
"In August of 2012 we were ready to go with a good messaging system. This meant that enquiries could go directly into suppliers’ emails. All they have to do is reply to the incoming email and that reply goes directly to the buyer," explains Sonya.
And the plans for UrParts.com? Fitzpatrick says that the goal is to make the site truly global.
"There are no limitations from a buyer’s point of view. Anybody who owns a construction machine anywhere in the world is a potential buyer to search for the best prices for a spare part," she explains.
From a supplier standpoint, she says there is no reason why UrParts cannot go after suppliers all over the globe.
"Our long-term plan is to be the first port of call for anybody looking for parts. We are fairly well known now in Ireland and the UK. Our next step is the US. For the next 12 months we are focusing on building our brand in the US and getting our name out there," affirms Fitzpatrick.