Looking to stem red ink
Do-it-yourselfer U.S. Auto Parts Network seeks to retool itself.
LOS ANGELES - A Los Angeles-area company is trying to position itself at the perfect intersection of online DIY and the nation's aging fleet of personal vehicles.
U.S. Auto Parts Network Inc. caters to do-it-yourselfers. It sells to people whose idea of the perfect weekend morning is getting some grease under the fingernails while working on their cars, trucks and SUVs.
The company does this by offering 1.5 million parts and products and a kind of "Car Talk" level of automotive problem diagnoses, minus the folksy radio humor.
U.S. Auto Parts Network operates online, without traditional stores. It has a core customer base of well-educated and financially secure married men with families, 45 to 65 years old.
Shane Evangelist, the company's chief executive, described the average customer as "a family kind of guy who might be escaping for a little bit of private time, getting out of the house and into the garage." With drivers holding on to their cars longer, the do-it-yourself repair market has been growing.
But the company, established in 1995 and public since 2007, has had problems.
Nasdaq said the company didn't have enough independent members on the board, a problem since fixed. In 2013, the stock fell below $1 a share, another Nasdaq no-no.
In 2014, it has stayed above that key threshold. Still, the stock's performance remains far short of its high of $12.61, reaching only $4.09 in the last year.
Profitability also has been elusive. In 2013, the company had a net loss of $15.6 million.
U.S. Auto Parts Network grew through acquisitions, including AutoMD.com in 2008. Evangelist said the related AutoMD Insta-Quotes, launched in 2013, is the key to making inroads with the DIFM, or do-it-for-me, customer.
In August 2010, the company bought Whitney Automotive Group Inc. for $27.5 million, which added parts and accessories for all-terrain vehicles, recreational vehicles, motorcycles and more.
Now it's paring down. It has gone from several websites to three core sites: autopartswarehouse.com, jcwhitney.com and AutoMD.com.
One cost-saving casualty was the company's distribution facility, which closed in July.
Last month, U.S. Auto Parts Network released third-quarter earnings that showed revenue rising to $68 million, compared with $61.7 million a year earlier. But the net loss widened to $2.5 million, from $1.4 million a year earlier.
In October, AutoMD Inc. entered into an agreement in which Muzzy-Lyon Auto Parts Inc., Manheim Investments Inc., Oak Investment Partners XI L.P. and the Sol Khazani Living Trust bought a total of 7 million shares of AutoMD common stock for $7 million.
The transaction allowed AutoMD to receive some important investment backing while leaving parent U.S. Auto Parts Network in control of nearly two-thirds of the shares.
The company is now the biggest "pure play" in the online DIY segment, ahead of rivals like Rock Auto, Summit and Jegs. The competition includes big players such as EBay Motors, Amazon.com and TireRack's online service.
The company is regularly followed by two Wall Street analysts, both of whom consider the stock undervalued and rate it as a buy.