BOSTON—Yelp Inc. has changed the way many consumers search for restaurants, spurring Parker Swift to seek that goal for the automotive aftermarket with MechanicAdvisor.com, the site he founded it in 2006.
“I was a recent college graduate in 2006 and I owned a car that my family had given me; it was a bit dated. It was a 1998 Volvo,” Mr. Swift told Tire Business.
He was having trouble with the car's air conditioner at the beginning of the summer and went to a shop, where the owner “said he had fixed the air conditioner, and it worked for a couple of hours, but the next day, after paying $500, the air conditioner stopped working.”
He went online and tried to find a resource to search for different shops but came up empty.
“There should be a resource online for people to not only talk about their experience, but read other peoples' experience,” Mr. Swift said. “And that's kind of where the idea for MechanicAdvisor came from.”
He said he spoke to some friends about similar experiences and knew there was a need.
Mr. Swift has a background in business, going to school for business management. He decided to take a Web design course and built the MechanicAdvisor website as part of the class. He then spent $2,000 and hired a professional developer to help with the backend technology. And that's how Mr. Swift and his co-founder Bob Gendron launched www.mechanicadvisor.com.
“We started really small...with just a couple of shops in Boston and then started to grow the database to New England. And then to the East Coast,” Mr. Swift said.
The site has grown to more than 500,000 unique viewers monthly. Mr. Swift said the company made a large investment in it over the past year and has seen some increases. “Our goal for this year is to hit 1 million uniques (viewers) a month.”
His ultimate goal is to get “every mechanic in the United States to be a part of the website.”
Anyone can add a shop to the website without charge. While there are advertising opportunities on the site, listings are provided free. There are a couple of ways to add a shop to the website.
There are sites that MechanicAdvisor.com has added with general information, but an owner of an automotive repair shop can claim the business if it is already listed in the directory. If it is already listed, an owner can click the “Claim this business” link and claim the listing.
If the shop is not found, an owner can go to the top right corner of the site and click on the “Shop Owners” section, then click “Add a Shop” to get signed up.
Mr. Swift said MechanicAdvisor focuses on getting feedback from visitors and adjusting the site based on those needs.
The company has, he said, “taken a slightly different approach” than its competitors, because rather than just searching based on price, the majority of the feedback received is that consumers are looking for a mechanic they can trust.
“We've tried to be as in depth on the details on our businesses as possible,” Mr. Swift said.
Information listed on the site includes who owns the business—along with their qualifications—operating hours, what services are provided and on what vehicles, etc.
The site is “really trying to become what Yelp is to restaurants, for mechanics,” Mr. Swift said, “where you can come and get all the details about the business and also customer feedback.
“We really pride ourselves in the reviews we get. We have about 50,000 reviews within the website and (that's) rapidly growing.”
Customers are not asking anywhere for the cheapest mechanic, he continued, but “they tend to be more interested in whether a shop can service their BMW or Honda or other models.
MechanicAdvisor.com is available both for desktops and a mobile-friendly site for users, with about 30 percent of its traffic coming from mobile devices, Mr. Swift said, adding that the company decided a smartphone app wasn't necessary for customers who typically visit the site once or twice a year.
The experience is more simplified for mobile device users, he said, “where someone can easily find a shop.... The call button within the mobile site will actually call the business directly, they don't have to type in the phone number.”
Mr. Swift said the site can be beneficial for aftermarket service providers.
“We've gotten tremendous feedback from the businesses that are listed that it's helping to acquire new customers” who are looking for shops in their local area.
“We're rapidly growing but we're nimble and we're taking the feedback of our customers.”
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com; 330-865-6143.