Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2004   by John G. Smith

Bright Ideas

This may be the best time of year to improve your lamp sales

It was a dark and stormy night; the snow fell in a steady fashion — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind that swept across the highway (for it is in Canada that our scene lies), yet the white beam of premium headlights cut through the darkness.

We should offer apologies to Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, even Snoopy, whose novels began with versions of those now-famous words. But you get the point. The weather is about to get nastier, the days shorter.

That’s good news for lamp sales.

“Typically, in our research, people don’t replace their headlamps unless they are burnt out, but they are more conscious of them once you get into Daylight Savings Time,” says Crystal Longest, a Federal-Mogul product manager.

That means automotive lighting should be a key component of your shop’s winter maintenance promotions.

The first step is to ensure that you check the condition of every light on a vehicle that comes in for a seasonal check-up.

“There are at least 20 exterior lights that need to be inspected, and all of those can help with safety and driving at night,” Longest says. Just think about the list. There may be as many as four headlights with high and low beams on each side, left and right parking lights, left and right turn signals, cornering lights, tail lights, brake lights, the brake lights in rear windows, left and right back-up lights, truck lights and plate lights. And there’s an array of accessory-related bulbs in addition to those.

There’s a good chance that you’ll find a bulb that needs to be replaced. According to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association’s car care study, eight per cent of inspected vehicles need work on at least one turn signal, six per cent have a burnt brake light, and five per cent need side lights.

At the very least, it’s important to mention that lights should be replaced in pairs. Where one has gone dark, others will follow.

Then it’s simply a matter of maximizing your profits.

Perhaps one of the biggest up-sell opportunities has come with the advent of whiter and brighter headlights, such as Federal-Mogul’s Wagner TruView, GE Lighting’s Nighthawk, and Osram Sylvania’s SilverStar — and the introduction of High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting may be partly responsible for the interest.

A growing number of consumers have seen the “whiter or bluer” lights on luxury vehicles such as BMWs, says JoAnn McKeown, Osram Sylvania’s national sales manager, automotive. And they’re looking for similar options for their own cars.

Premium lights tend to be embraced by two very different markets, she says. “The safety market — the baby boomers who want to be safer — and the tuner market that want their cars to look better.” While the tuner market began the trend, the safety-conscious buyers now account for a majority of sales, she says.

But it’s also important to take the time to ask motorists about their driving habits, to identify the premium lamp that will best meet their needs.

“Some people may be driving in real dark areas and may want an extra bright light,” says Longest. Their choice of a whiter and brighter bulb will ensure that darker objects, such as a deer standing on the side of the highway, can be seen more clearly. “And long-life [designs may be] for the person who is driving more; putting more hours [on the vehicle].

“As far as interior or mini lamp lights, there are some up-sell opportunities for long-life versions,” she adds.

Still, despite the darker conditions of the season, some consumers may need to be reminded about the need to change headlights in the first place.

Maria Aforozis, sales and marketing manager for GE Consumer & Industrial Automotive Lighting, admits some consumers have to be trained to think of lighting as a seasonal maintenance item. “The first thing they think about is tires,” she says. “I’m not sure exactly why … to use those new tires, you have to see what you’re able to stop for.”

“Headlamps actually dim over time, so they should be replaced before burn out,” McKeown adds, referring to how lighting should be a component of preventive maintenance programs. “Most consumers don’t replace it unless it’s burnt out.”

But there are exceptions. When Osram Sylvania first began showcasing the SilverStar at automotive shows, it stocked a larger supply of bulbs for older vehicles. “And the product mix of what we brought to the show was way off,” she says. The company found that a large share of the new bulb sales were for late-model vehicles, indicating that consumers were willing to update Original Equipment headlights that were still glowing.

An important part of the selling process is to put bulbs in their hands, McKeown adds. Unlike some aftermarket products, lighting is very consumer friendly. “Customers have to see it, have to look at it, feel it, touch it, look at the package.”

And they can easily grasp the advantages associated with premium designs.

“Everybody who supplies car parts has a premium product, whether it’s a wiper blade or oil,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. [But lights are an] easy sell for them because so many people complain about their headlights.”

It’s an approach that shops should undoubtedly adopt. While 30 to 40 per cent of the lights sold through retail operations are premium bulbs, service shops are lucky to sell five per cent of the higher-end designs, she says.

According to the Automotive Industries Association’s 2003 Car Maintenance in Canada Report, 72 per cent of consumers will replace their own headlamps, with 71 per cent replacing their own small bulbs.

The additional profits are simply a matter of, well, shedding light on the offerings.

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