Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2004   by Jim Anderton

“If They Need It, We’ll Sell It”

Do Canadian service businesses get the most out of the wipers/lighting/additives segment?

“You can pay me now, or pay me later”. To a vehicle owner, that old ad for Fram filters suggested that a few dollars spent on maintenance would pay off in lower repair bills later. It’s true, of course, but the implied threat of that old message was also clear: “do it or else”. And that’s the inherent problem in selling automotive service: it’s a grudge purchase. That unwilling consumer is in your waiting area, looking around, unhappy. Can you sell him or her classic bottom line boosters like lighting, wipers and additives? SSGM polled shops from coast to coast to find out if Canadian service providers approach the segment aggressively or with caution. The results say much about the way Canadian shops treat the segment and their customers.

Gary Lewis, owner of Breton Tire in Sydney, Nova Scotia, uses a conservative approach to the wipers/lighting/additives segment. “I sell a little bit”, declares Lewis, adding, “normally people come in looking for it. We’re fairly busy; it’s just something that we normally don’t pursue. It’s not that we can’t do more business…it’s something to look at.”

Does he regard the segment as worth pursuing? “It’s a good idea. Any time you can check a car out and find extra numbers, it’s always a good idea.”

Does the segment sell differently in urban Canada? According to Peter Huntley, owner of Garage Beaulieu & Huntley in Montreal, the wipers/lighting/additives segment is driven customer by customer.

“If the customer needs it we do it. If they don’t, we don’t,” declares Huntley, who checks out vehicles in the bays for possible add-on sales. Huntley is enthusiastic about the segment from both a profitability and customer service standpoint. “As an add-on it’s great. If a customer comes in and their wiper blades are gone, we do it.”

Are wipers, lighting and additives “accessories”? The “ancillary sale” approach to the segment is a theme common to shops across the country.

Ernie Perrin, owner of Ernie’s Auto Service in Prescott, Ontario, relates: “I don’t sell a lot, but I keep a little bit in stock. It’s an add on thing. Gas line antifreeze at this time of the year, being so cold, yes, as well as injector cleaner. With wiper blades, people don’t care unless it’s a ‘safety’ (Ontario mandatory inspection) or they rip. Not unless they really need them.”

Perrin finds the same lack of consumer knowledge in the lighting segment. “Again, only if it’s a ‘safety’. People go to Canadian Tire; unless it’s a safety issue, they don’t ask for lighting”.

Like Peter Huntley in Montreal, Ernie picks up the business when the opportunity presents itself. “Part of my service when I do an oil change is to check those items. I catch it if it’s there.”

The situation is much the same for Ken Downey, owner of K-D Automotive in Winnipeg. “We do a little bit of everything,” he declares, adding, “we’re a complete repair service. We do everything from tune-up to oil change to brakes. It’s more of an add-on. They wouldn’t come specifically for the add-ons unless a wiper blade broke.”

Downey, who notes that price sensitivity is an issue in his market, sells the segment differently, depending on the relationship with the customer. “We do stock it all. The regulars are okay with it, but with ‘first callers’, sometimes you have to tiptoe around it a bit.”

Steve Hyde, owner of Steve’s Auto Repair in Calgary, works the add-on concept either before the major sale, or after it.

“I talk to people first. It works both ways. People can come in for a headlight and discover that they need more. It can be wiper blades, a battery or more.”

Do customers request upsells like wipers, lighting and additives, or does Hyde promote the segment?

“Both”, states Hyde. “We like to maximize the sale, so we feel out the customer. If they want to spend a thousand dollars on the little things, we’ll go. If they can’t afford an oil change, we back off.”

One advantage of Steve Hyde’s strategy is the extra potential driven by the recent run of bad weather nationwide. “It’s cold outside, so it’s out of control”.

If there’s a common thread to the approach taken by these shops, it’s inspection. Wynn Automotive Service in Kelowna, British Columbia, uses a standard inspection to get into the segment. According to service advisor Jerry Grassi, “When we do a 25-point inspection, we sell it from there. We carry them (upsell products) all up front and we’re pretty knowledgeable about our customers. We have a good clientele.”

Does this segment pay? States Grassi, “Yes and no. A lot of people won’t pay a technician $72 an hour to put a lightbulb in. We’ve seen a brake light out and they don’t want to pay the fourteen bucks, so they say ‘I’ll do it at home’. The wiper blades, bulbs, they’ll do that themselves. Some of our customers don’t want anything to do with it (DIY) so they say ‘just put it on’. It’s a quick and easy for us. We upsell a lot of fuel system products; they’re an easy sell.”

Grassi notes that point-of-purchase materials help get the message out. “It explains what’s happening. Displays help a lot. They’re in the waiting area, and they have 15 minutes, and they play with it, get their hands on it, and then they have a question. It opens up the book.”

The service businesses contacted by SSGM were chosen at random and all have one thing in common: an unwillingness to sell their customers products they don’t need or want. Ken Downey in Winnipeg was one of several who openly reject the hard sell in this segment: “I worked at a (major chain) shop before, where there was a lot of ‘push sales’. I don’t do that here. I’ll advise them if they need something and take it from there.”

Why reject the hard sell? Part of it is a heightened sensitivity to media portrayals of auto service as a scam that victimizes unwary motorists. A bigger component is a sensible ethic that results in the customer loyalty that supports a strong bottom line. That’s good for business and good for the profession. But are we too conservative in suggesting “upsell” items like lighting, wiper blades and additives? Blades become marginal long before they tear. New high-output capsules and sealed beam units add visibility at night, a definite safety plus. And fuel injector cleaners as well as gas line antifreeze has its place, especially in winter. Few motorists seek these products out and some are understandably skeptical, especially if product claims seem exaggerated. Stock legitimate products, back them up with knowledge and the sales tools provided through your jobber, and you may find that wipers, lighting and additives are a solid earner that doesn’t ‘ding’ your service bay throughput.



Want a quick way to help close the sale in the wipers/lighting/ additives segment? Try these three tips:

Get the product where customers can see it. A rack of blades, chemicals or replacement lamps suggest that you have the product for their vehicle and that you’re interested in the segment. It implies commitment to the little service items.

Use interactive displays. Put the product where customers can pick it up, touch it and feel it. Additives in particular benefit where consumers can react to sophisticated packaging and read labels. Lighting and even wipers often ship in packaging that’s consumer-driven, so let them absorb the message.

Get creative. A pamphlet holder isn’t as effective as stapling the promo piece to an invoice or service reminder. And if you’re carrying something new, don’t be afraid to sell it that way. It’s not self-evident to customers that the product is new unless you tell them, either by suggestion, signage, or both.

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