If you've ever gone to an auto-parts store to look up what air filter best fits your vehicle, you're likely familiar with Jay Wright's work.
Wright is president of Naperville-based Vertical Development, which for the past 30 years has provided data and cataloging software for the aftermarket auto parts industry. The niche has been good to the company, as it has grown to own the industry's market share, with global auto parts manufacturers like Robert Bosch and Continental Teves among its major clients.
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Like any tech company that has been around for a few decades, Wright says Vertical Development has been able to adapt to changes in technology and the needs of its customers. What makes his systems unique, however, is that they are designed to be shared among various manufacturers and distributors.
"Others who have similar sized catalogs don't open their data up for anybody. It's for proprietary systems," Wright said. "Our business plan all along is to share that data with as many people as possible."
It's a plan that started in 1983, when Wright built a software company that developed "everything under the sun," from tracking railroad cars for a General Electric start up company to an accounting inventory and shipping system for an aluminum manufacturer in Indiana. But it was one customer -- who needed to print multiple catalogs for its aftermarket auto parts that were sold under many brand names -- that got Wright thinking about focusing on that niche.
"It was an opportunity that, instead of being a custom programming shop, we could focus on one specific market and build a business out of that," he said.
Vertical Development produced a cataloging system that created electronic files companies used to print their parts catalogs. And while that software is still being used today, changes in the industry and customer demands led the company to develop something new.
About 10 years ago, Wright said the company took a new turn after customers complained about the lag time updated information in the electronic files would appear in catalogs -- in some cases as long as six to 12 months.
"That was the genesis to ShowMeTheParts," he said. "We collected the data from our customers and other aftermarket manufacturers, aggregated all that data and sell subscriptions to that data to run catalogs and on websites."
ShowMeTheParts has been a huge success for the company, Wright added, accounting for 70 percent of its sales and averaging 25 percent growth yearly over the past five years.
"We'll process a file within 24 to 48 hours, and it's on ShowMeTheParts to use by anyone who holds license," he said. "That's a significant increase over anyone in the marketplace."
Wright said the database is also the platform for future growth, as the company plans to develop microsites for specific parts, such as brakes, filters or exhaust parts.
The microsites will also allow a client to order a part from online sites, such as Amazon.com, for a timely delivery.
"One of the biggest complaints we hear is that once they find a particular part, there's no way to buy it," he said. "We're coming up with a different way to resolve that.
"In the aftermarket, it's always about having the right part at the right time and being able to deliver within a four-hour window."