Using social media to grow a side business focused on automotive aftermarket parts

2022-09-10 09:32:11 By : Mr. GANG Li

For many small job shops, there aren’t enough hours in the day for marketing on social media. But Nick Martin of Barnes Metalcrafters explains how they are pushing for more exposure for its side business fabricating aftermarket parts for the new Ford Bronco. Getty Images

Being a small company has its challenges, especially navigating how to best market it on social media. It’s a job that never really turns off.

I've been handling social media for Barnes Metalcrafters since Twitter was in the early stages and before Instagram even existed. Using social media has helped showcase our capabilities, but it wasn’t until Mountains2Metal came along that we had products to push.

I don’t feel old, but some of the younger crowd doesn’t know anything other than Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, etc. There are probably many more platforms that I’m not aware of or don’t participate in—like the metaverse. But I am good with where I’m at for now. It gets exhausting always looking at my phone or screen. Fresh air or smoke coming off welds appeals to me much more.

I’m sure I sound old, but until recently I never really understood how some of these people grow their pages or brands, especially on Instagram or Facebook. It has always been a struggle for us, and a lot of what I said back in 2015 still rings true. You have to feed it constantly for it to grow.

I’ve been diving headfirst into the new Bronco for a few months now. With that, it’s involved getting out of my comfort zone. I’m not a big fan of getting in front of the camera or taking selfies. (Side note: I have something to say about people who take selfies all the time. They are more than likely to sit in the driver's seat of their car, taking 30 photos of themselves before they even find one that they like. And they’ll add some effect with fairy twinkles and some weird dolled-up filter. It gets on my nerves. End of rant.)

We’ve released a few products under our subcompany, Mountains2Metal, and, as time allows, have several more on the way. I previously touched on how much I love the Ford Bronco. I’ve really enjoyed ramping up this product line and making ideas on paper become reality. The product list has gotten pretty long over the past couple years. Most of that list was completed before we even touched the Bronco.

The reason I mention social media is that we had something happen recently that was a major shot in the arm (I’ll elaborate in a bit). We made a product for the Bronco door panel that would add some functionality and/or replace the stock bungee cord net. They say some of the best ideas come from solving a problem: my youngest daughter Reese almost ripped the bungee net slam off the Bronco door when she was climbing in the back seat. It is quite a hike to climb up in the back seat, especially if your Bronco has the Sasquatch package … and if you’re a 5-year-old. I was telling my dad, Tim, about this and he said maybe that should be our next product. Aside from adding some temporary steps for my girls, I had to focus on this one because someone, if not one of my kids, was surely going to destroy the bungee nets.

The only problem was that the rear doors, where my daughters ride, were a bit harder to tackle than the front doors. I went with the front first since they are the same on the 2-door and 4-door models. It took me several metal and draft revisions before I had something I liked enough to put on my own vehicle. We wanted to make it right and put out a product that we could appreciate.

We released the product around the holidays. After selling a few on Christmas and a few more at the new year, we shared a couple posts on social media and sold several more. We quickly realized that we were starting to get noticed. We had to begin filling orders and getting the inventory built up. At the same time, the other side of the business, Barnes Metalcrafters, was starting to pick up, so we were actively working on how to get this product produced quickly.

Several revisions during the design process of the fabricated door panel for the 2021 Bronco. Pro tip: 1:1 scaled paper printouts are the cheapest and easiest way to get started. Image: Nick Martin

Another week went by, and orders were coming in like I’d never seen before for Mountains2Metal. Our heads were spinning. I started doing some research and found a couple posts on Bronco Facebook groups about our product with a link to a YouTube video of an install done by Paul Glasco of the “Average Bronco” channel. It was a very well-made video, much better than the one-take video of the install that I did. I reached out to him to thank him and tell him how much we appreciated the exposure. We were beyond appreciative of his efforts to pass on the good word about Mountains2Metal.

We began wondering what would happen if more of our new customers shared our products on social media. We’ve never had this kind of exposure. We could feel the traction. People started coming out of the woodwork, requesting our products in exchange for content promoting our brand. We knew some of them were just spam. An Instagram account may have more than 100,000 followers but that doesn’t mean I automatically feel comfortable. Many were likely looking for easy money and had no real connection with us and our brand. It’s like some of these accounts were handled by a 12-year-old who likes cars and trucks. There was zero business etiquette.

I’ve even been approached by someone who doesn’t have a Bronco yet. They were starting a YouTube channel and wanted to get only the best products for their Bronco. Flattering yes, but we decided to touch base again after they had some more ducks in a row. Given the circumstances, their professionalism was much more in line with someone I wanted to work with.

We have reached out to a few people and businesses to start building some relationships that we are more comfortable with. It is a lot easier to work with someone who sees eye to eye with you and gives you honest feedback on your products. We want to make our products better and we do listen.

Growing our brand has a long way to go. But we’re ready to grow. We haven’t released the back door pockets for the Bronco yet, but they will be out soon. I’ve had a lot of people ask about them, which is motivating. I know I won’t have to worry about my daughters breaking them anymore.

Jeep owners have also reached out to us, and we plan to work with a couple followers as soon as we find the time. There aren’t enough hours in the day. But creating products for Mountains2Metal doesn’t feel like work. We’re enjoying every minute of it.

I’m constantly getting exposed to new ideas for the Bronco on social media, triggering my creativity. I’ve found that a lot of people in this industry have very similar ideas and products. I know there are companies that will release a product very similar to ours. All I can say is that we are going to keep pushing. People are not reinventing the wheel here; they are just making slight modifications to how it looks, feels, or functions.

Making all these ideas for the Bronco come to life has been a blast. Being creative with my co-workers has turned on some light bulbs all around the shop. Scrolling down a feed on social media and pausing only to notice that you see one of your products is awesome. I know we are going to continue to make quality products and keep trucking (no pun intended). Maybe we will hit a couple thousand subscribers or followers one day. We’re just taking it one day at a time and one post at a time. And maybe eventually we’ll begin marketing on the metaverse.

The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1970.

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