Constructing a successful venture from spare parts

Urparts.com directors Sonya and Simon Fitzpatrick. Offered suppliers a free trial to get them on board and that this proved a prefect move. Pic: Des Barry

TAKING a 21st Century approach to the spare parts industry, Cork start-up company UrParts.com has created a website which companies any where in the world can use to source new and used parts for construction equipment.

Prompted by the slump in the construction industry and the realisation that in the new economic climate there was a growing demand for used parts by companies, siblings Sonya and Simon Fitzpatrick launched UrParts.com in August 2012.

The website allows companies looking for parts put in a request which is passed on by UrParts to relevant suppliers who then send quotes directly to the companies.

“To date we have acquired over 5,800 registered users from 142 different countries and processed almost 11,000 parts requests. We are trading at 90% export revenue and this is projected to increase to 99%,” says Ms Fitzpatrick. A finalist in the Inter-trade Ireland All Island Seedcorn competition in the Munster region, UrParts is now making plans for expansion in 2014.

In the boom years the siblings worked in the family business, Fitzpatrick Plant Sales. Selling construction and earth-moving equipment they saw an opportunity for a website specialising in spare parts but were too busy to do anything about it.

“When the slowdown came we started to focus on the idea. The value of parts used in this type of equipment can be very high, they can cost anything from €1,000 to €25,000. In the boom, people who needed parts bought them new but in the recession companies’ need to cut costs and the market for used parts has grown,” says Ms Fitzpatrick.

She adds that a recent customer paid €20,000 for a part which would have cost €47,000 new.

Previously, companies had difficulties locating used parts, something which the Fitzpatrick siblings set out to rectify.

In 2011, they began working on the idea of a website. Sitting down with a pen and paper, they worked out what they wanted the site to do and put the development out for tender.

Finding a Cork company to develop the website, they also began work on branding and marketing. It took a year to get the website right and once it went live last August they set to work on building up a database of suppliers and also on letting construction companies know they were there.

“This is a new concept and we had to explain how it worked to suppliers. Initially the uptake wasn’t as good as we hoped so we changed the approach and offered suppliers a free trial to get them on board’’, says Ms Fitzpatrick adding that this proved much more successful.

The website is free to use for those looking to buy spare parts, while after the free trial, suppliers are charged a subscription based on the volume.

“More and more people are going onto the internet to search for parts. To make our presence known we advertised in trade magazines, used banner ads on the internet and search engine optimisation. Last November we were getting 20 requests a day and now we are getting 60 a day and we have 62 paying suppliers,’” says Ms Fitzpatrick.

Initially the focus was on the Irish and the UK market but now that 90% of business on the web is coming from outside Ireland, the Fitzpatricks are looking at building the business globally.

In 2014, strong emphasis will be placed on the US market where the company has already launched a search engine optimisation campaign.”

In March we are going to a trade show in Las Vegas, the largest exhibition of construction equipment in the world — which is a major opportunity for us’’ says Mr Fitzpatrick.

Based in Cobh, UrParts employs a full-time staff of three including Ms Fitzpatrick while her brother works part time for the company. The Fitzpatricks used their own funding to get UrParts off the ground and secured a €20,000 employment grant from the South Cork Enterprise board in February this year.

The Fitzpatrick’s plan was to bring the company to a certain level before they looked for investment. Now they are ready to talk to investors and venture capital companies and expect participation in the Seedcorn Competition will help them get both recognition and funding.

“With the right injection of funding we can expand quickly. We are the first to market with this type of website,’’ says Mr Fitzpatrick.

She explains this is the first spare part website that allows purchasers to get quotes directly from suppliers for free.

The company has ambitious plans for 2014. “We aim to take on investment to increase the staff numbers from eight to ten by the end of the year and we also aim to have 300 to 400 paying subscribers,” says Mr Fitzpatrick.

Long term, the aim is to get global recognition.

“We want UrParts to be the website everyone in the construction industry goes to when they need a spare part,’’ he says.


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