Does Your Shop Need a Website?

Sep 23, 2011

The common belief these days is that every business needs to have a website. Though many shops in the hot rod and restoration industry agree with that argument, a number counter that their businesses are doing just fine without web exposure.

Brad Parr doesn’t have a website for Parr Machine & Engine, the Hot Sulfur Springs, Colorado, machine shop he’s owned since 1981, and he doesn’t plan to.

“For [having just] one person in the shop, I can’t do any more volume of work than I’m doing now,” he said. “I have enough to do without [a website] so I’ve never really pursued it too hard.”

Parr’s shop is located in a rural area two hours from Denver so most of his customers are local. He believes having an online presence is more beneficial for shops looking to attract customers from far distances.

“Just because of the distance, most people will go to a shop closer than I am to them,” he said. “The website would be something that’s going to be farther reaching, but I’m thinking [customers] are probably closer to more machine shops down there.”

Parr’s business isn’t a retail operation either, another consideration against his starting a website.

“It’s not a retail trade that I do, they’re not going to look at my website and order a set of pistons from me,” he said. “Unfortunately this business has got to be the worst business in the world for parts, most of the time [catalogs] sell parts cheaper than my warehouse even sells them to me, so I wouldn’t even try to compete on a website with somebody selling parts.”

Parr’s arguments against starting a website are common in our industry, particularly that his shop is busy enough without the exposure a website would bring.

“If the business is profitable, if it’s earning the way that it needs to be earning and they want to be earning, and they’re having the lifestyle that they want to have then, by all means, enjoy where they’re at,” said Brian Offenberger, president of AfterMarketer Club, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based firm specializing in website development, Internet marketing and social media marketing for automotive aftermarket companies.

“The only good, strong argument that I would have for not having a website [is if] your business [is] already where you want it to be and, for everything in the foreseeable future that you’re going to be owning it, you’re good with where it’s at and you’re doing what you want to do.”

Dealing with a potential onslaught of new customers was a concern for John Martin, owner of Johnny’s Auto Trim in Alamosa, Colorado, as he contemplated launching a website for his business.

“I’ve always been scared that if I did advertise and I did do a website that I would get too damn big, so that’s always been one of the reasons why I really haven’t advertised,” he said. “Being under-staffed, it was always scary to me that I’m going to be sitting at the desk answering phone calls and answering people’s questions and not getting the work done.”

In spite of any qualms he may have felt about his shop being able to handle the additional interest a website would bring, Martin did launch a website for Johnny’s Auto Trim earlier this year.

“If you’re happy being a smaller local shop that’s handling some devoted customers, then [not having a website] is perfectly fine,” said Jesse Henke, president of JH Restorations Ltd., a Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada, restoration shop. “I think if you’re a growing shop, right out of the box there’s so many people trying to do it, so many people that have the talents to do it, and if you want to be successful and you want to be out there and you want to make a decent living at it, you definitely need to have a website and some Internet content.”

The time investment required to build and maintain a website is another factor preventing some shops from starting a website, especially those with small staffs.

“The amount of time that I might have to spend on the website myself has been a stickler point with me,” said Bill Riordan, owner of Riordan Engineering Inc., a machine and fabrication shop in Twin Lake, Michigan.

Riordan still plans to launch a website within the next year, though, but will enlist the help of family and friends skilled in Internet technology for the project because he believes the benefits of having the site will outweigh any challenges.

“I think the function of a website in my situation would probably be to stay in touch with current customers and showcase the things that we’re able to do in the shop as well as some of the customers’ work that we’ve done,” he said. “Having prices available for services that we perform [on the website], that would probably be the main thing, and also letting potential customers know what our capabilities are.”

Time considerations may be preventing some shops from starting a website, but for others having a website has been a time-saver.

Steve Chambers, owner of Lockhart Machine, an engine remanufacturer in Jasper, Ontario, Canada, uses his website to share everything from directions to his shop to technical articles with his customers.

“What my website offers is what I used to offer verbally to my customers when they picked up their product,” Chambers said. “Now I can just go over all the heading of the subjects and give them a business card with my website and [have them] go there and check it out. That will save me the time of standing here talking to them and give me more time to actually work on their engine.”

Websites can also help shops save time with customer marketing and retention.

“[Having the website] was kind of a convenience because a lot of times [customers] would just go online, figure out what kind of service needs they had and be prepared when they entered the door to know how much money to bring with them or what they were going to spend instead of [us] having to spend a lot of time with them going over prices,” said Raymond Klaver, owner of Southern Marine and Automotive, a speed shop based in Guntersville, Alabama. “That really helped because it saved me a tremendous amount of time. When you’re [running] a small business, you’ve only got so much time, you’ve got to divide that as wisely as possible and I felt that [the website] was a really good thing for me.”

Klaver is in the process of relaunching his shop’s website. He started the Southern Marine and Automotive website six years ago, but after three years, had to take it down when the webmaster the shop was employing went out of business. Like the shop’s original site, the new site will provide basic information about the shop and its services.

“It’s a silent salesman and it gives people a free tour of the place with a little bit of commentary,” Klaver said. “It adds a lot of time back into your day that you would have to devote to customer care before you even make a sale, so it helps out.”

Websites may still be considered beneficial but not essential for many shops in the industry. Looking forward, though, having a strong online presence will only become more and more necessary.

“I don’t know if [the website’s] really going to benefit that much, I think yes, it will save me time, but not having it, I’m always busy, I’ve always got engines to build, so I think you’d be OK whether you’ve got one or whether you didn’t right now,” Chambers said. “I think as we move into the future, this is something that businesses will need because of the way the world is changing and what’s available to people for communication.”

Offenberger of the AfterMarketer Club agrees. “People are online constantly, [it’s] where we go for information, research,” he said. “People are researching other people’s experiences, reviews, offerings, availability, and the Internet is where they go [for that information]. With the increasing use of smart phones and people researching things that way, it’s going to be even more critical [to have a website].”