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

Cold Cash (September 01, 2004)

Do your winter maintenance promotions explore every possible revenue stream?

Let the cold winds blow. As winter approaches, Canadian shops can transform seasonal maintenance promotions into higher profits. It’s simply a matter of presenting customers with all of their preventive maintenance options.

For example, consumers who are already squinting through streaked windshields shouldn’t be too surprised at suggestions that they need to replace aging wipers, but other customers may need a reminder to replace wipers as a preventive maintenance step.

“I don’t think consumers are aware, for their safety, that it’s good to replace them every six months,” says Crystal Longest, a Federal-Mogul product manager. The manufacturer recommends telling consumers to replace their blades with each change in Daylight Savings Time. (After all, customers are already being asked to replace the batteries in their smoke detectors at the same time.)

It can be bigger business than you think. Canadians replaced 19.3 million wipers in 2002, according to the Automotive Industries Association’s 2003 Car Maintenance in Canada report. And those would stretch from St. John’s to Victoria if placed from end to end.

Still, most consumers replace their own wipers. “It’s an easy maintenance thing for them to change. It’s something anybody can do,” Longest admits. So it’s important to raise the issue when a vehicle is already sitting in your shop.

But there are also opportunities to up-sell consumers into premium blades. About 10 per cent of Federal-Mogul blade sales involve premium winter products, she says. “It is modest, but if you have an installer only selling standard blades, they can increase their blade business by 10 per cent at least.”

“The consumer is generally swinging more to a premium blade,” adds Cameron Young, national sales manager for Robert Bosch. “It does represent an up-sell opportunity for the shops, there’s such a variety out there.”

That doesn’t mean your stockroom has to be packed with blades. Bosch’s wipers, for example, have pre-mounted adapters, and 12 SKUs cover 99 per cent of the market. For that matter, 90 per cent can be installed with the adapter that’s already in place.

Young also suggests that the best way to demonstrate the difference between a premium blade and an entry-level product is to actually put it into a customer’s hands.

“The winter blade has a hard boot that covers the bridge, which does not allow the rain and ice and snow to freeze up in the joints,” Longest says of a difference that can be seen in Federal-Mogul designs.

So, too, can consumers understand the importance of the blade’s aerodynamics, and the importance of the way a premium blade can offer a tighter fit against the windshield, Young explains.


Since cold-weather starting is at the top of a consumer’s mind during a seasonal maintenance check-up, it may also be a key time to check batteries and electrical systems.

Many national chains will actually offer free electrical tests as loss leaders to attract customers for other winterization-related work, says Pat Pierce, director of product technology with SPX Corporation, which sells OTC testers. “In the context of a large national chain, it’s a way for them to stimulate traffic into the outlet, so they might pick up the tires or the alignment or other services they can perform.”

Proof of the seasonal approach can be found in a slight increase in the sales of testing equipment every fall.

Granted, most independent repair shops are positioned as problem solvers, and the strategy of offering a free diagnosis may not pay off. “It all depends what the shop might want to do to build traffic,” Pierce says.

But whether the offer is for a “free” electrical inspection or is simply a service reminder, it’s important to tell consumers how electrical components are under the highest amount of stress in winter. “Getting them to understand does need some marketing,” he says.

Shops will also want to ensure that they have proper diagnostic equipment to ensure that starters, alternators and batteries aren’t swapped out just because of corroding cables, he adds. A low battery light doesn’t automatically mean a new battery is a solution; the real problem might involve the alternator.

In general, hand-held diagnostic equipment is beginning to replace its console-controlled competitors, Pierce suggests. But it’s also important to remember that you’ll get what you pay for. The oldest carbon pile designs might be available for $50, but they won’t approach the accuracy of load-based or conductance-based computerized diagnostic electrical system testers. At the highest accuracy, the testers can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Regardless, there’s little question that quality testing equipment is the key.

“I think that sometimes, in some situations, at national retailers or independents, when they tend to replace the component without diagnosis … sometimes you’re replacing an alternator or starter without checking the corrosion on the cables,” he adds. “It’s a matter of access to the equipment, proper training and proper diagnostic steps.”

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