Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2002   by Mike Anthony

Profit Makers: Stimulating Sales

The customers are in your reception area, bored. It's time to sell wipers, lighting and additives!

By the time you read this, you probably have been or still are immersed in numbers as this fiscal year draws to a close. You could start your own foundry with the rotor shavings in the shop corner. You’ve drained enough dirty oil to truly empathize with the inhabitants and little critters of Prince William Sound, Alaska. Old struts, mufflers and tires are stacked two and three deep like cordwood beside the dumpster. Still, like pizza toppings, a bit more profit is always welcome. It’s not hard. It’s in the small stuff like wiper blades, additives and even replacing headlights. It’s quick work, the hard parts are universal so you can stock a good quantity and if you do it fast enough on the spot, customers may eschew “doing-it-themselves” with cheaper products from the major retail stores.

We’ve all been stuck in lines at these stores right behind the customer who only picks sale items without bar codes, while the plethora of stuff on stands and racks stare at us subtly hinting, “Hey there, you could use me” or “When was the last time you (fill in the blank)?” It’s much the same in the waiting area of your repair facility. Once the coffee’s done they’re yearning for any form of stimulation to pass the time.

Cameron Young, national sales and marketing manager for Bosch Canada, a major player in both O.E. and replacement wiper blades, emphasizes that garages need to capitalize on a customer’s sometimes idle time.

“Garage employees have to continue exposing as much of the features and benefits as they can of the products whether it be in their waiting areas or signage outside while the end-user is there. That would be the time to make the sale – call it an impulse sale if you will.”

Young’s strategy is simple: Bombard customers with informative product information and stress the product’s ‘ready-to-install-ness’.

“Presenting the opportunity right then and there is the key,” Young says. “If the customer walks away without making the purchase then it might be lost to a ‘big box’ location.”

Naturally, this is the prime time to check the performance of the entire wiper/ washer system – namely, checking the arms and springs for proper windshield contact pressure, nozzle flow and aim (it’s not uncommon for many other following motorists to get caught up in the deluge from just one motorist’s wayward schpritzing). It boils down to customer service. The customer has to know it’s well worth the additional cost over the major chains because he or she is getting an entire service rather than a simple blade ‘re and re’.

Add professional-grade additives

Then there’re automotive system conditioners and fuel additives. Garages don’t always take advantage of offering “professional-grade” elixirs to consumers, thereby foregoing a bit of professional-grade profit too.

Wynn’s Canada, for example, markets different additive products through professional and retail supply chains. According to Ross Ayrhart, national sales manager for Wynn’s Canada: “For the purpose of the automotive industry, we have two lines of products – the “Wynn’s” brand that we sell through the mass merchants and the “Wynn’s X-Tend” professional products which are only sold through garages.” Conversely, some products seen on the shelves of a big retail chain aren’t even available through a jobber network – only the strong grades. Professional-only formulations not only justify a higher point-of-sale price point, but can also defuse the “I can get it cheaper at Canadian Tire” argument.

“Our tact is that we’re not just differentiating the two brands for the brands’ sake but that the formulations are different for 99 per cent of our conditioner and additive lines,” Ayrhart says. That means that what’s available to the average do-it-yourselfer over the counter is cheaper for a reason – there’s less concentration than what Wynn’s makes available to repair shops. “If you went into a large retail store and bought Wynn’s fuel injector cleaner, you’d buy a different formulation – one that’s more diluted – than the Wynn’s X-Tend injector cleaner.”

And why are consumer formulations diluted? They have to be, according to Aryhart: “It needs to be safer for the DIY-er,” he says. That’s one way to help independent repair facilities compete against the major chains.”

Pro-grade formulations can rescue a substantial investment. In the April, 2000 issue of 4Wheel&Off-Road, a Los Angeles-based 4×4 enthusiast magazine, the editors installed an aftermarket performance (i.e. higher lift, longer duration) camshaft and rocker arms in a 320,000 km-Chrysler 318 V8 to see if the performance improvement was worth it for an engine with one rod in the grave. They were just about to conclude “no” when, after flogging the truck on the chassis dynamometer for a second time, power and torque numbers plummeted from stock. With guidance from the cam manufacturer, they hypothesized that years of crud gummed-up the engine to the point that the valves were now jamming themselves open in the guides thanks to the new cam pushing the valves deeper into combustion chambers for the first time. The dyno-operator/ shop-owner saved the bacon by flushing the engine with a powerful, commercial-grade flush, and the power and torque numbers subsequently jumped past stock. Perhaps not the most typical example of what you’d see daily, but a taste of how you could be your customer’s hero.

Another trump card independents have over the big stores is that most customers are coming to shops for a simple reason: they’re not DIY-ers. “They’re less likely to go to one of the stores and buy automotive chemicals in the first place,” Ayrhart added, “so the garage is in fact offering a value-added service.” Offering these stronger, professional formulations may satisfy customers because they may stave off more expensive repairs like a full-on rebuild in this case or maybe an expensive water pump replacement. A happy customer will most likely come back for the proper repair when it’s absolutely necessary.

The consumer, not DIY’er principle applies to lighting sales, too.

Wayne Westbrook, national marketing manager for consumer markets, Osram Sylvania Canada reiterates: “Very rarely would a consumer shop around from store-to-store for the best price on a sealed-beam and then take it to a garage and say, ‘put it in’. As long as your prices are reasonable compared to a large retail outlet, a customer is not going to complain because they’re getting the superior service.”

“Superior service” might mean offering immediate, “while-you-wait” beam or bulb replacement with ‘no-appointment necessary’ much like quick-lube facilities offer. Lighting also offer another upsell opportunity because of a new performance trend: Lighting as a styling acessory.

Osram Sylvania’s “Cool Blue” halogen replacement capsules, for example, are aimed solely at youthful motorists. “All the kids who’re putting money into their cars are converting to these custom capsules,” he says. At its exhibit at the Toronto International Auto Show this past February, the company couldn’t keep enough of these things on hand. Like many upsell products, they cary a small price premium over stock components. But a few more dollars adds up over a year. Maybe not enough to start a foundry, but certainly enough for some extra pizza toppings.

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