Exhaust replacement systems are, for the most part, not sexy. Unlike tires or fancy chrome rims, which invariably attract person’s attention and open wallets, exhaust systems are something not normally displayed anywhere in a shop. And the selling points for exhaust replacement are tough as well. With motor oils or tires, a service writer or technician can easily point out the differences between products and how those differences will impact the performance of the customer’s vehicle. There are even handy sales and marketing materials at the ready that can be used to make the sale easier. No so with exhaust systems.
The reality is an exhaust is a part of the vehicle that is replaced only when it fails; and then replaced with something very similar to what the vehicle had when it rolled out of the sales lot. It is even harder with performance exhaust. For many independents, performance exhausts are seen by their regular customers as a product line only attractive to a small sub-set of car owners. That would be those with high-end muscle cars or the young who spend a large portion of their disposable incomes on performance enhancements for their cars.
The reality, however, is performance exhausts are a product and market segment that has a wider appeal than many independent shop owners might think, especially amongst their clients who drive traditional family-friendly vehicles. The challenge is how to sell performance exhaust and overcoming some rather persistent myths about the market for them.
Myth vs. Reality
The most common myth is performance exhausts are something only done by specialized shops, those that focus exclusively on exhaust work or performance upgrades. It’s not hard to see why. For years, exhaust work was often sold to customers as specialized repair or maintenance work. It required knowledge of how to bend and fit piping and how to use specialized tools. It was not uncommon in the 60s and 70s to see shops that exclusively did exhaust work, and even franchise operations sprang up that sold themselves on that work. Today, many television car enthusiast shows often give that same impression, that performance exhaust work is something best left to the specialists.
“With today’s systems, you don’t need special tools or training to do the work,” says Joe Pase, director of performance products with Tenneco Inc., maker of the popular Walker, DynoMax and Thrush exhaust systems. “The performance exhaust business today has gone the same way, and in fact, it is even easier. When you buy a performance exhaust system today, everything you need to put the system onto a vehicle comes in one box. Simply, you unbolt the old one and bolt on the new one.”
Pase adds this makes is very easy for a traditional independent to sell and profitably install performance exhaust systems. The real issue is how to go about selling it effectively, which is the challenge.
But it is a challenge that is rather easy to tackle. First, forget the persistent myth that performance exhaust systems are only meant for a small segment of your customer base. Many car and truck drivers are performance-minded. They may not interested in racing, but they are interested in getting more power out of their vehicles for a variety of everyday reasons.
“You may need more passing power for when you are doing a lot of highway commuting,” Pase says. “And with the summer months, if you are moving things with a trailer, you will get a benefit from the added power a performance exhaust system will offer.”
Jim Fox, sales manager for Maremont’s Canadian division, says service writers and technicians should pay attention to the subtle signals that will make an up-sell to performance exhaust easier. He gives several examples: seeing if the customer has some kind of customization done on their vehicle or has such things as custom rims. Each suggests the customer will be open to a performance exhaust upgrade.
Or for those without any customization on their vehicle, see if the owner is complaining about high fuel prices and is looking for ways to squeeze a few extra kilometers out of their gasoline purchase. Fox says a quality performance exhaust system can help a vehicle owner get that fuel improvement. He has heard anecdotal evidence that one might be able to get up to 100 km more out of a tank of gasoline with a performance exhaust system in place.
One opportunity to be aware of is that release of the latest vehicles onto the market – from pick-ups to the new Corvette, for example – all have newly-designed exhaust systems from their older versions. This opens up new avenues for performance exhaust up-selling. Maremont’s Cherry Bomb (www.cherrybomb.com) line of performance exhaust announced the release of their new exhaust kits for 2009-2010 Silverado & Sierra for V6 and V8 models, available in both single and dual systems. And Tenneco’s DynoMax (www.dynomax.com) line has released new exhaust kits for the 2010 Camaro.
These announcements confirm broad industry trends that show the performance exhaust marketplace, along with the traditional aftermarket exhaust market, has weathered the economic downturn better than some might have thought.
“The aftermarket in general, not just the performance segment, is pretty resilient to economic downturns,” Tenneco’s Pase says. “We are seeing in the hard parts side of the business, including performance, that demand is outpacing supply. Certainly this year, business has been very good and performance exhaust has seen near double-digit growth.”