Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2001   by Paula Ellis

Bottom-line Boosters

Upsell lighting, vision and additive products make sense for both the installer and the consumer


Think about last week, and try to remember selling a client on a fuel additive or a bulb upgrade. If you can’t remember making one small, extra sale, you lost money. Here’s how you make it back with add-on sales.

Lamps, wipers, belts and additives are the bread and butter of add-on sales. They are small, inexpensive items that can be merchandised without a lot of space or time. So why don’t more businesses do it effectively? Too often the story plays out this way: The “old timers” think additives are snake oil. The kid pumping gas is too busy planning his evening and the technician is still trying to convince his last client that a fuel pump isn’t an oil filter. What’s lacking here is focus. Someone has to take note of the opportunity in selling small extras and establish a routine for promoting them. Start with why it makes sense.

“If installers and service station people don’t sell the additive to their customer, chances are the customer is going to go to a big box, a Canadian Tire or a Wal-Mart, or they may not buy it at all. Right there is a lost opportunity,” says Chris Osborne, marketing manager at Kleen-Flo.

Why bother, you might ask, and Osborne has your answer. “If you can include an additive in your oil change, it’s just gone from a loss leader or a barely break even- type scenario to something that is relatively profitable.”

What might not seem like an obvious sales opportunity, just might be. After installing a new radiator or water pump, why not promote a water pump lubricant? A small additional cost to them, a nice additional margin for you. Just installed a belt? Why not suggest a spare for the trunk? Explain that belts can go for any number of reasons at any time, even new ones, and they might be open to having a backup at relatively little cost to them. Belts aren’t an obvious sale because most drivers don’t really know what they do. A few minutes to explain why a worn belt is a risky proposition and they’ll probably feel nervous about driving with one.

Says Dan Scott, advertising manager, Gates Canada Inc., “If a serpentine belt goes, you’re cooked. You’re dead in the water. In the old days, one belt, like air conditioning, wouldn’t necessarily hurt you. But those days are over. It’s good to be safe. Carrying a spare belt is a great idea, even an upper and lower hose.” It’s surprising that so many motorists regard belts as a non-issue, or something that they can improvise at the roadside. Offer them the choice of panty hose or a proper belt in an emergency, and when they see the price, their tights will probably stay on. Even if they can’t install it on the roadside, it helps to suggest that a tow to a local shop doesn’t guarantee that the part is in stock or available immediately. That’s especially important if they drive an import or an older car.

In the case of wipers, tell the client, or better still show them, that rusting at the pins, loose pins or a sloppy adapter fit means the wiper will fail soon. Explain that minor cracking in the rubber indicates that blade won’t stay straight for long. And wipers are a small investment in safety to which most drivers can relate.

It’s the “preventative maintenance” versus the “waiting-to-fail” approach. Says Cameron Young, national sales and marketing manager, Robert Bosch Inc., “If the installer is inspecting the blades and can see that there’s an opportunity for a sale from a customer safety standpoint, why not change them now? Sell them on the fact that it’s better that they’re changed now rather than looking for a place to change them when it’s pouring rain and you can’t see.”

Profit-building add-on sales products break down generally into two categories. The first kind, “stand up” products in attractive retail packaging, like additives or lamps, doesn’t take much promoting. The second kind, belts, wipers and small spare parts, need to be explained. You don’t have to send the customer to school, just tell them why it makes sense to have the item.

Garages need to identify opportunities and capitalize on them. Emissions testing, for example, have opened up a huge market for fuel additives in the I/M provinces. With the bulk of the Canadian vehicle fleet operating beyond the manufacturer’s emissions warranty, there are customers looking for low cost “insurance”. If they have fears they won’t pass the test, sell them on an additive. Most people will gladly spend ten bucks or so for peace of mind.

Rising gas prices are also creating a fuel additive market. Better fuel mileage is a good incentive to get your clients using a fuel additive on a regular basis, especially the sport-utility crowd who empty their wallets at every gas pump.

Some products just have to be placed right and they almost sell themselves. If it’s small and it has attractive packaging, the waiting area or cash register is obvious choices. “Display them properly,” says Roy Howarth, managing director of CRC Canada Inc. “People sit in the waiting area and they have time on their hands. They can only read so many old magazines. Sooner or later they’re going to get up and walk around and shop a little.” Do you offer them purchasing opportunities at that moment?

Replacement lighting is another example. Current halogen technology offers long life, making replacements not as significant a business as in the sealed-beam days, but the other side of the new technology is the potential for upgrades.

Says JoAnn McKeown, photo/auto product manager, Osram Sylvania Ltd.: “It can be made a safety issue… in the “capsules”, depending on which one it is, you get twenty to thirty percent more light.” McKeown identifies safety as the natural upsell feature, with longevity a possible “closer” where consumers are price conscious. Custom colours are another opportunity. “With these products people will take out perfectly good light bulbs and throw them in the garbage to go for these upgrades.”

Nobody is going to rip out a working bulb to replace it without a good reason. Better vision at night or in the rain, for instance, or a custom look are excellent reasons.

These products have what Chris Osborne calls “feel-good with the end user” appeal. The customer is glad to spend their money because it will make them feel safer to have a high-tech lamp in their minivan. Or they’ll look cool with a blue bulb in their sports car. The point is, everybody wins. Sell preventative maintenance items, and impulse purchase items, and you’ve got add-on sales that may surprise you at month-end. SSGM


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