MEDFORD — Joe Henry is trading the brick and mortar world for a virtual presence.

MEDFORD — Joe Henry is trading the brick and mortar world for a virtual presence.

Leaving a counter job to become chief executive officer and delivery man.

Saying goodbye to the 9-to-5 mind-set, expecting calls at any hour.

Capitalizing on 30 years of experience selling equipment for Ford, John Deere and Kubota dealerships.

Launching Joes Tractor Parts on the Web.

It's not necessarily the path the 47-year-old agricultural equipment salesman would have seen himself blazing a year or so ago. Still, Henry had more than a premonition that changes were coming in the equipment world; the signs were clear to anyone paying attention.

So when his employer, Naumes Equipment, announced in early December it was going out of business after 62 years, Henry was ready to act.

"I'm a firm believer that when you have a half a tank of gas it means you should fill the car," Henry says. "If you're going to the mountains, you should check to see if the tire chains are in the trunk before you go."

When tractor sales slumped 50 percent last year, he figured it was time to check his options.

Tractor manufacturers own the rigs on display at dealers and after a given amount of time dealers have to buy them or make interest payments.

"If you sell a tractor at 15 percent gross margin, you can afford a few months of interest," Henry says. "But if the sale price is reduced in a slow economy and you can't turn (the tractor) around quick enough, it's impossible to pay the interest and make a profit."

The idea of selling Kubota, as he did at Naumes Equipment, or other lines of tractors didn't make fiscal sense. But there are plenty of agricultural workers and farmers needing parts and accessories. So Henry aligned himself with aftermarket parts supplier A&I Products of Rock Valley, Iowa. His telephone is on 24 hours and he's cranked up a Web page to serve as a display room.

Henry said he made his first search engine submissions on Sunday and by Wednesday was getting phone calls from as far as Tucson, Ariz.

While he can provide drop shipments anywhere, his geographical territory is roughly bound by Eugene to the north, Alturas, Calif., to the southeast and Eureka to the southwest. Places, he says, that are within a one-day drive.

Aftermarket parts don't generally cost as much as branded replacement parts. Someone unwilling to buy a radiator from an original equipment manufacturer for $750 might be willing to pay $500 in the aftermarket. Although the markup is less, he still can make a reasonable profit.

"In my business, there is no flooring, no inventory," Henry says. "When the orders are placed, the company collects the money and shipping. When there is a defective or wrong part, it's my responsibility to make it right. If something shows up screwy, or not what was ordered, there's a misunderstanding or warranty issue, that falls within my jurisdiction."

On the morning Henry learned Naumes Equipment was closing, he met with an A&I Products rep at a local restaurant as he explored what he might do if his job went away.

"In the back of my mind, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity," Henry recalls. "From the time I left the restaurant to getting to work and finding out we were closing took about 15 minutes."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com.