Doug Wheeler has loved cars ever since he was a kid. He loves tinkering in the garage, changing parts, adding aftermarket kits and making his vehicles run as smoothly as they can.
What he doesn’t like is the time-consuming process of hunting down parts and specs.
“You know every bolt needs to be torqued to a certain tightness. I had to stop what I was doing and look it up in manuals or Google it or go through car forums,” said Wheeler, who launched Partskeeper in October to help do-it-yourself gearheads like himself track some 3 million parts.
“I’ve always been a car guy, ever since I was a kid. I inherited that from my father. I have several hobbyist cars of my own,” said Wheeler, who has a 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 Continuation Series, a 2007 Mustang GT500, a 1995 Mustang GT track car and a 2003 4Runner. “I do all my own work.”
Wheeler, who moved to the Washington, D.C., area after business school, used to keep Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets to keep track of parts and specs, or just scribble information on notepads, a process he called time-consuming and not very efficient.
“I thought, there has got to be someone out there who has created an app for that,” he said.
But his search for such an app proved fruitless. So last year, Wheeler began developing Partskeeper, a web-based database, and had the beta version ready by fall 2016. He said he was inspired by another database: CellarTracker, which was created by a developer in Seattle to track wines globally.
Wheeler let friends from his local car club try out Partskeeper, “and they generally liked it. I then took it more widely on Twitter to people who don’t know me.”
Wheeler said most of those who used the site said they liked its simplicity, intuitiveness and ability to filter and show only the parts that would fit their vehicles.
“People were surprised by the gap in the marketplace and generally said this was a super-useful service and made some suggestions for improving it, like adding vehicle profiles and other content,” Wheeler said.
Joe Rothpearl of Rochester, N.Y., who goes by the name “Joe Challenger” on social media, first connected with Wheeler on Instagram. He has been using Partskeeper for about a year and said the site makes it very easy for him to find parts for his 2011 Dodge Challenger.
“It shows me a variety of parts and all the places their [the site’s] partners have it available. I like the tracking and sharing ability. It makes it easy to do what most people don’t want to do. Every car guy would like an extra hand. That’s what it is for me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to stay on top of it so easily,” Rothpearl said.
Wheeler said the U.S. aftermarket automotive parts industry is a $50 billion business. Globally, the market is expected to grow to $680 billion by 2024, according to a report this March from Global Market Insights Inc.
Partskeeper allows users to filter parts so they only see options that will fit their vehicles. Taking user feedback to heart, Wheeler added a counter to show how many parts are in the database, and the front page features pictures of recently added parts.
Partskeeper currently has several thousand users, Wheeler said, adding that he is beginning to market it now and hopes by the end of next year to grow to 100,000 users.
“This isn’t going to be Facebook or Google. It’s not meant to be,” Wheeler said, projecting perhaps 1 million users a few years out.
Partskeeper is free to users with Wheeler making his money through agreements with partners like AutoZone, Advance Auto and eBay. Clicking on a part produces a price comparison among Partskeeper’s affiliates. Wheeler gets a regeneration commission if a part is actually purchased from one of the sellers within a month. He also partners with classic car insurance companies, dealerships, auctions and car content sites. He calls it giving users a co-branded “garage” for their vehicles, already populated with parts based on a car’s vehicle identification number.
Partskeeper currently is web-based, but Wheeler said he is thinking about mobile apps in the future. For now, the site works on a tablet or cellphone as well as on a desktop computer.
“I’ve merged my passion and my hobby, and with my entrepreneurship background, I get to spend all day working and playing on my hobby,” said Wheeler, who has co-founded multiple other companies.
One of those companies is The Map Network, a producer of official maps for travel destinations, special events and hotels. Navteq bought The Map Network for $37.5 million in 2006. Wheeler’s latest company, Personal, which dealt with the collection and use of personal data, merged with European personal data firm Digi.me in August.