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Tech founder looks back on 20 years of business

As the local web development agency turns 20 years old, the founders reflect on the agency’s growth with an eye to the future.

Luanne Brown founded Grand Rapids-based eTool Developers in 2001 to provide Internet-based software solutions for the automotive aftermarket.

With a background in technology and e-learning, Brown got the idea to start a business within the industry after attending the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas.

At that time, she started a business effort focusing on marketing resources in this area, especially animated training tools.

However, Brown began to recognize a gap in her internet presence within the industry early on in her new venture.

“When I got into the industry, I realized they were about 15 years behind the rest of the world and not even online at all,” says Brown.


She began attending other trade shows, networking, writing articles and working to establish herself as an expert in helping companies in the automotive aftermarket industry transition to an online presence. The one-woman on-the-ground approach began to gain traction, and as the agency began to grow, she expanded her team and scope.

“I put together a team and started creating a website specifically for the automotive aftermarket. What’s the difference between them,” she said.

Today, eTool Developers fills the gap Brown first saw by providing website development, data management, e-commerce implementation, and internet marketing solutions to clients to grow their businesses.

The company offers a custom content management platform for clients to edit and control their own content, and a product information manager for clients to maintain control over their own data.

In fact, data management has been a niche for eTool developers’ solution methods. Brown and his eTool developers have worked to develop data standards and build databases for the automotive aftermarket industry to help manufacturers and customers access and organize information.

“You have to pick an area of ​​expertise. What I realized we needed to focus on is the data, because that’s what makes the site work and what manufacturers understand,” said Brown. said.

At the same time, data management comes with its own challenges. Especially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing shift to online operations, increasing cybersecurity threats.

“It’s a moving target, so it’s an ongoing threat,” Brown said, emphasizing her company’s commitment to protecting clients and their data.

In today’s ever-changing world, Braun also understands the unexpected emphasis on used vehicle support.

“People are clinging to used cars, and now used cars cost as much as new cars. So people buy parts to support the vehicles they maintain. Five years ago I couldn’t even imagine it,” he said.

Looking to the future of eTool Developers, Brown said he hopes his clients will take an interest in mobile app development.

“Everybody wants to do everything on their phone, including businesses, and apps help them do it better,” said Brown.

She also said that eTool Developers may expand into other industries in the future, but has been fortunate in choosing the automotive aftermarket sector as the company’s focus.

“Everyone drives, everybody works on their car,” Brown said. “People still love their cars. I’m glad I chose this industry.”