The Future of Auto Parts Commerce Starts in Hartford

It's no secret that Connecticut has been home to some of the most disruptive companies on the planet: from Colt, to Pratt & Whitney and what is now Stanley, Black & Decker, this state has historically bred pioneers in manufacturing and defense industries, and continues to foster innovation across emerging sectors such as digital health and renewable energy.

But when have you heard of Connecticut pioneers changing the game for another U.S. legacy industry: automotive? Never, you say?

Well, not until now.

PartsTech, an automotive eCommerce platform that revolutionizes the parts-ordering and procurement processes for professional technicians and auto-shop owners, was born of 4 MBA & JD students at the University of Connecticut.

The idea came from the pain points experienced by PartsTech CEO, Gregory Kirber, then a shop owner.

"Greg shared how inefficient the parts-ordering process was, and we were determined to make a business plan that would address these pain points we were confident other shop owners were feeling," said Co-Founder, Erik St. Pierre. "We were able to secure some grant money from business competition winnings and move forward with having UCONN graduate student researchers test our hypotheses among shop-owners. After that, it was full-steam ahead."

Today, PartsTech continues to grow the brand - and their team - from a HQ in Cambridge, MA and strategically located satellite office at Upward Hartford.

At the user level, the "single-search" efficiency of PartsTech's platform has made it an essential tool for thousands of repair shops throughout the United States; however, the company's future lies within its rich access to real-time product data. PartsTech has already built real-time integrations to over 60% of the parts stores in the United States, and its parts database represents over 2,000 brands or approximately 95% of automotive parts on the market. St. Pierre explains the importance of PartsTech's creation of a "data layer" atop the fast-evolving auto parts industry - and what it means for Hartford:

"While we are an accessible web and integration tool for parts-buying, we are also very much a data company. This is how we're anticipating the buying needs for autonomous vehicles, reacting to the changing trends of vehicle ownership models, and creating a foundation for the next generation of fleet management…

We're fostering relationships with Greater Hartford's largest commercial fleet managers: many of whom are the world's leading manufacturers and insurers. We're making their fleet management more efficient through fast ordering and competitive procurement for their repair partners. And, of course, we're looking to work with our home state at the municipality level - think City of Hartford, the State of Connecticut - to help in managing their fleet repairs in the most cost-effective manner possible."

As St. Pierre considers the company's 5-year roadmap, he recognizes the tremendous impact that PartsTech will have in furthering the innovation capabilities of the "Insurance Capital," beyond the cost-effective management of corporate fleets:

"As consumer vehicles evolve to take humans out of the driver's seat, auto insurance will adapt to account for the new complexities of cars on the road.  As vehicles themselves become more complex - and expensive to maintain - your auto insurance policy may soon provide warranty coverage for the mechanical or electrical breakdown of the vehicle. We see a future where autonomous vehicles are able to proactively order the parts they need to get humans from point A to point B safely... a future goal is to embed some of PartsTech's systems with insurance systems to allow for a transformation of automotive coverage."

In the nearer future, PartsTech is focusing on their entry into a completely new segment of the auto repair business - lubricants and quick-lube - and new geographic markets, thanks to a recent $3 million investment from BP Ventures, supported by BP's lubricant business, Castrol.

“Rapid changes in vehicle technology, connectivity, complexity, and ownership are all dramatically impacting service, maintenance, and repair. Our team is excited to accelerate our growth in providing enterprise procurement solutions for repair shops, software providers, fleets, and distributors. We are thrilled to partner with BP Ventures and Castrol and to be able to leverage their strength to expand our capabilities into lubricants and quick lube, as well as to support our continued growth into new geographic markets,”  explains PartsTech CEO Greg Kirber.

BP recognized the "future-proof" nature of PartsTech from its 3-sided market approach of collecting data from manufacturers of products, and creating a real-time pipeline between parts shops and repair shops. Shaun Healey, Principal of BP Ventures, said of the investment, "The growing trend of process digitization in automotive maintenance is resulting in a shift to online ordering and supply management. This investment enables us to really capitalize on this trend..."

“What we're pioneering is a 3-sided marketplace on top of the brick-and-mortar auto parts supply chain,” explains Erik St. Pierre.  “We future-proof this $73.5 Billion B2B auto parts industry in one powerful platform and help pave the way for vehicle repair trends of the future.”

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Written by Jess Morin of Upward Hartford, where this article first appeared.