Categorized | Publisher's Letter

Learnin’ from some Westside boys

What a fun time it was to hang out with the Radiator Barn guys. When I showed up in my tie and jacket, it was clear I was out of place. I was invited by a person I trust to have a conversation with Randy Amos, the latest caretaker of this nearly 60-year-old business.

I wasn’t expecting much and had never previously heard of Radiator Barn. The conversation started simple, Randy and Rob made me feel very welcome and even offered an ample supply of Radiator Barn shirts and hats before we even started. One reason I love my job is because of all the interesting people you meet along the way.

You see, Randy is a genuine guy who is never at a loss for words, but has an understated way of describing his business and accomplishments. He plays this humble, I-made-it-by-accident kind of a guy.

“We do OK for a couple of Westside boys, I guess. We just ship out radiators,” he tells me while shrugging his shoulders. Well, I wasn’t buying it for a minute because underneath that southern-accented, blue-collar guy is a professional that understands supply and demand better than anyone.

This was a smart guy and a true entrepreneur. He is leading a team to continue to transform his predictable, stable, old-fashioned business that works into a nimble Internet distributor that embraces e-commerce.

So why do a feature on Radiator Barn?

Because of their ability to adapt to changing market conditions, and I give them credit. Lake Shore Auto, the original company, was mature. After all, it started in the 1950s. Since that time, they had captured the majority of the market share in the area. But Randy had bigger plans.

Working together with his nephew Rob, of which he gives all the credit, they figured out how to open the door to thousands more customers online. During the pre-interview process, I asked him, “So are you really a marketing company that happens to ship automotive parts?” He was quick to stop me. “No. Just the opposite. We are an auto parts distributor at our core, that also moves product online.” And do they ever.

Rob proceeded to show me his “dashboard” where he controls their multimillion dollar business from a few keystrokes. “Once an order is placed, it pops up here,” he says, pointing to his screen. “I select the warehouse to ship from and it’s done. The customer will have it tomorrow,” Rob declares.

“Pretty impressive. It looks a whole lot easier that producing a monthly business magazine,” I joke.

Of course, a lot of work went into getting this far. They have had their software systems custom designed and track cost per clicks, time spent on site, user behavior, and a host of other graphs and charts that I didn’t even have time to ask him about.

“I can tell when activity drops off for a particular product, something is going on in the marketplace. I start with competitor sites. Maybe they changed their prices?” Rob explains.

Needless to say, this is big business.

So enjoy the article. It was a blast to produce. Keep in mind when you read it what best practices and strategies you might be able to apply to your own business. After all, these “ole Westside boys” might be able to teach you something.

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