Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2001   by Paula Ellis

Money Making Maintenance

Car Care Month is promoted heavily in the U.S., but can Canadian installers make more money in May?

May is fast approaching and with it, the spring version of Car Care Month. The twice yearly event, in October and May, is treated in the U.S. as a serious opportunity for installers. It works south of the border, but the old adage has never been truer: it takes money to make money. Car Care Month is under-promoted in Canada and installers could be missing a chance to reach consumers.

Car Care Month has potential. Consider the market for automotive service. According to the Automotive Industries Association of Canada [AIA], the average transaction price of a new passenger car today is about $23,000, and a hefty $31,000 for a truck. That means the average consumer is using almost 29 weeks of earnings to buy that vehicle. Many are opting for used cars instead. Total used vehicle sales increased from 2.4 million units in 1992 to 3 million units in 1998, a major increase in six years.

“What we’re showing is that people are keeping their cars longer, even when the warranties eventually go off,” says Lise Newton, Public Relations Manager, AIA. “Also, there are a lot of single parents out there. Women are taking interest in looking after their cars. A lot of them happen to be single parents and are driving older cars.”

Indeed, AIA’s statistics show that women were the principal maintainer in 36.4% of households in Canada. With the average consumer spending more than $750 per year on maintenance, which translates into a lot of money women are investing in their cars.

Car Care month could be an opportunity for installers to get a larger piece of that maintenance dollar for their shops.

One place you would expect some enthusiasm for Car Care Month would be the Automotive Industries Association. And they are enthused, but a massive campaign requires resources that simply aren’t available to an industry association. The AIA distributes bulletins to local newspapers, and they have a website where installers can get information, but they can’t mount the kind of campaign you see from groups such as the U.S. AAIA, which has deeper pockets and a larger organization to get the message across. In the U.S., for instance, Car Care Month gets widespread radio promotion, which reaches millions of people. That kind of exposure costs a lot, but it’s worth the money in the massive American market.

Without a large budget for blanketing the Canadian media, a focused approach is needed to promote Car Care Month here. The question is; who is going to spearhead that initiative? Ed Andrade, owner, Beverly Automotive Specialists in Cambridge, Ontario, describes the scenario: “The dealership network will send out one message, the independents will send out another. The Midas’, the Speedy’s, every company wants the consumer to be more aware of preventative maintenance, so they each put their spin on it. The consumer is there in the middle, bombarded by fifty different messages, and none of them are effective.”

Promoting Car Care month means sending out a unified message about the importance of car maintenance. If installers all have different ideas of what that maintenance is, it’s hard to make a point with consumers.

The Motorists Assurance Program, or MAP, has had success in the U.S. creating a network of installers who guarantee a uniform standard of service. “MAP’s message is to unite all these companies with the same focus. So as consumers go to each different facility, they get the same message as to how the vehicle should be inspected and how the repair should be performed. If MAP Canada used its resources to get these companies together that would be an excellent vehicle to get the message across,” says Andrade.

Something new is needed if Car Care month is going to become an effective marketing tool for installers. The AIA’s original plan of asking jobbers to get involved just didn’t work. Says Bill Burkimsher, Executive Director, Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario, [AARO], “I think AIA figured the only reliable way to get the materials to them was through the jobbers, because the jobbers are selling to every kind of automotive repair facility out there. They’d send out materials and recommend it but I don’t think it was getting done to any large degree.”

Involving government is even less likely to work, according to Burkimsher, who relates an example: “The Ministry of Environment (Ottawa) bureaucrats got it in their heads to reduce emissions from motor vehicles and to accomplish that by getting consumers to voluntarily have their vehicles better maintained and serviced. They came up with the idea of Auto$mart. It was one of those partnering initiatives between industry and government. They were going to tie-in with three big chains and subsidize tune-ups with those stores. So they were going to use our tax dollars to compete with us! To their credit, they did shelve it, so it didn’t happen.”

That’s not the kind of help the average garage needs. As for advertising, those dollars are hard to justify without resulting sales receipts to count. Independents have a far more limited budget for promotional activities like advertising than car dealerships or chain stores. A corporate store is in a position to seize Car Care Month; they budget for that kind of thing. For an independent shop it’s not as clear-cut. Says Burkimsher, “There’s no measurable return promoting May as Car Care Month, unless they tied it in with some kind of service special.”

There is, however, a trickle down effect for independents when a major player advertises. Someone might watch a Canadian Tire commercial promoting Car Care Month and get the message about maintenance, then bring their car to their local independent. “Every time a Canadian Tire sends out a message, all I have to say is ‘me too’. Come here instead,” says Andrade, who helps his own cause by sending full colour flyers door to door and by offering a website.

As a board member of the Car Care Council, an AIA offshoot, Andrade sees the difficulty business associations have trying to develop a widespread program. One of the problems is their distance from the customer. The bottom line is, it’s guys like Andrade who are going to promote car care, in one month or every month.

“It’s a day to day thing,” says Andrade. “Every time a vehicle comes in you keep abreast of the changes in the vehicle, what needs to be done. As you are doing certain repairs that might have been avoided had some preventative maintenance been done, then you assert that to the next person that comes in. You say, hey, I just had somebody in here because this wasn’t done. You don’t have to scare them, just tell them the truth. You can pay me now, or pay me later.” SSGM

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