Bricks, mortar ... and spark plugs
Tuesday, October 03, 2017
It happened on a whim.
A routine pounding of a few keys commanding some entity to fetch a set of spark plugs and have them at my door in a few days was stopped dead.
"I must be out of mind!" I yelled at up at the ceiling.
Economy shipping had doubled the price of the Bosch Supers in the cart. I couldn't have cared less if other parts were tossed into the box; it'd seem like more of deal. But all I needed was four plugs ... four.
I suddenly remembered a V-Dub freak I'd bumped into a few months back mentioning a place maybe 5 minutes from the house that stocked nothing but the good German stuff.
"What's the name of the pl ..."
"Europa Parts," he blasted, cutting my sentence short.
"They'll most def have parts for that muscle-bound Beetle," he continued, pointing to the 911 with puckered lips.
I had doubts. Surely I'd call, get told they weren't in stock, and stung with a price padded with overhead. But the planets were lining up that day, I felt good — so I called.
"Yes, no problem. I can have them here sometime after 2:30."
Something in that voice on the other end told me this guy geeked out on German cars. It's an incurable illness that beckons those with the same as if by mental telepathy.
"And how much did you say?" I asked.
Disproven preconceptions can punch a dent square in the ego, which is why I've learned to keep them to myself.
"Many of our customers consider our warehouse a hidden gem," says Daniil Babaev, proprietor of Europa Parts, located in Piscataway, New Jersey. Those were my thoughts precisely setting foot in that place.
Daniil in the background and Hubert in the foreground; the orders were piling up that morning.
These days, lots of bricks-and-mortar businesses are becoming history; no point in expounding why. An establishment gives us a reason to take a ride, socialize and allow us to physically touch the thing we're interested in buying.
There's no doubting the ease and time savings that e-commerce affords, but we miss out on the tangible experiences and human interaction. Such an armchair concept fits my anti-social tendencies perfectly, but I do like forming a relationship on the rare occasion with someone of mutual interests, like Daniil.
Let's put the social end of things aside for a moment and focus on the reason why his business has swayed me from my favorite drop-shipper. The appeal of having discovered a local parts place isn't necessarily one of price, there are two other equally important factors — convenience and speed.
When ordering parts from a strictly web-based business, they'll often be in a nearby warehouse and have it to me the next day without paying for overnight shipping. The problem is twofold; I still have to wait a business day providing the order is placed before 3 p.m., and even if the warehouse is a stone's throw, I can't go and get it — it's not allowed. So, not only do I get whacked with shipping, I have to wait — and there's a slim chance the part could be wrong or defected.
Here's where a supplier with physical location like Daniil's is superior.
Not only does he pack his shelves with difficult-to-find OEM components, but if he doesn't have it, he will in a few hours. He has the same access to parts mega-warehouses as the bigger guys, including a local Porsche dealership. And I seriously doubt my drop-shipper could get me a coil pack or coolant hose on a late Friday afternoon. Daniil alluded to having pulled that off more times than he can remember.
Look closely, and you'll see that these guys offer nothing but the best.
This is a classic mom-and-pop shop, but on steroids. While Daniil only has one location, his impressive customer service and personal attention to each order is as if he had 200 employees fussing over details. Place a call, press one, and he answers. What could be better?
Excellence and quality is paramount to Europa Parts' ethos; Daniil won't stock items he wouldn't use himself. The ability to put his hands on everything they sell and receive feedback from his clientele keeps an OEM supplier's quality in check. Aside from replacement components, the store also stocks specialized tools and diagnostic software, offers in-house tuning and performance exhaust fabrication, and works closely with an Audi/VW-specific tuner.
There are plans on offering more of such specialties for Porsche in the near future as that niche of clientele continues to grow. With parts and the tools to install them in one location, it's truly a one-stop shop.
Guys like him are hitting back at the big businesses that have shut down some of the local establishments I patronized years ago. Yes, you could walk into almost any of the chain stores and maybe get what you need. But it's not likely that the person behind the counter will be well-versed in the finer points of German machinery, nor stock the OEM bits that scrutinizing owners demand for them.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, around 90 percent of Europa Parts' sales are from their virtual showroom, according to Daniil. What they offer that the garden variety of online suppliers doesn't is a sense of community and personalized service.
This place is like a Mecca, where German car enthusiasts can meet, set up an impromptu club gathering or simply walk in and consult with Daniil or his sidekick, Hubert, about products, diagnostics or technical knowledge. So much is their interest in helping our growing band of enthusiasts, they've set up a blog that focuses on step-by-step DIYs they've created and compensate customers who contribute thorough how-tos.
Discovering these guys materialized this nostalgic yearn for a place I could walk into and get personal service, much like a haberdasher or hair stylist. You see it's more than price, convenience and speed; it's being known by name and assured that the person you've asked for help won't let you down. There's a sense of optimism that tells me more of these boutiques will pop up and re-invigorate not only a lagging local economy, but also one's spirits.
I've missed that boutique feeling places like his foster; it had been at least 20 years since I'd set foot into one. There's something about seeing cases of Liqui-Moly, Motul and Total additives and oils opposite stacked boxes of Bosch, Mahle and Mann, filters lining shelves — and that peculiar perfume of fresh oil and air filters.
Tell me of a more powerful stimulus that stirs memories.
The colors and scent of the Mann and Mahle filters took me back a couple of decades.
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