As a local web development agency celebrates just over two decades in business, its founder reflects on the agency’s growth while looking ahead to the future.
Luanne Brown started eTool Developers, a Grand Rapids-based provider of internet-based software solutions for the automotive aftermarket, in 2001.
Brown, who has a background in technology and e-learning, had the idea to start a business within the industry after attending a Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas.
At the time, she set out to begin her business efforts with a focus on marketing resources for the sector — specifically animated training tools.
Brown, however, started to recognize a gap in internet presence within the sector early on in her new venture.
“When I got into this industry, I realized they were about 15 years behind the rest of the world and weren’t even online at all,” Brown said.
She began attending other trade shows, networking, writing articles and working to position herself as an expert to help businesses in the automotive aftermarket industry transition to an online presence. Her one-woman, boots-on-the-ground approach began to gain traction, and she expanded her team and scope as the agency began to grow.
“I put together a team and started doing websites specifically for the automotive aftermarket and kind of what’s different about them,” she said.
Today, eTool Developers fills the gap Brown first witnessed by assisting clients with website development, data management, e-commerce implementations and internet marketing solutions to grow their businesses.
The company offers a custom content management platform for clients to edit and control their own content, as well as a product information manager for clients to maintain control of their own data.
Data management, in fact, has been the niche for eTool Developers’ solution methods. Brown and eTool Developers have worked to develop data standards for the automotive aftermarket industry and build out databases to make information accessible and organized for manufacturers and trading partners.
“You have to pick your specialty, and what we realized we needed to focus on was data because that’s what makes sites work well and it’s what manufacturers understand,” Brown said.
At the same time, data management has come with its unique challenges. Cybersecurity threats are on the rise, especially with more of a shift to online operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s an ongoing threat because it’s a moving target,” Brown said, emphasizing her company’s commitment to protecting clients and protecting their data.
With today’s ever-changing times, Brown also sees an unexpected emphasis on vehicle support for used cars.
“People are hanging on to their used cars, and now used cars are costing as much as new cars. So, people are buying parts to support the vehicles that they’re keeping. I would never have guessed that five years ago,” she said.
Looking ahead to the future of eTool Developers, Brown said she anticipates more of an interest mobile app development for her clients.
“Everyone wants to do everything on their phones, including business, and apps enable us to do that better,” Brown said.
She also said eTool Developers could potentially expand into other industries in the future, though she is fortunate to have picked the automotive aftermarket sector as her firm’s focus.
“Everybody drives and everybody’s working on their cars,” Brown said. “People still love their cars. I’m glad I picked this industry.”