Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2011   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Selling On the Strength of the Brand

Brand recognition, history will make people pay more for certain products, including premium filter technologies


Certain brands are iconic. Watchmaker Vacheron Constantin commands top dollar for its timepieces and the company has an illustrious pedigree of buyers, from Napoleon to Harry Truman. Stereo component maker McIntosh is sought after by audiophiles around the world who are not shy of spending thousands of dollars on a single amplifier or pre-amplifier from this company.
The reason why someone is willing to spend those kinds of monies on such products is because of the exceptional quality of the products — from the materials used in their manufacture to the care taken in the construction. Those brand names are synonymous with quality and value. Companies that carry these products are considered by consumers to be exemplars of quality and service, and are extremely loyal to them.
Think for a moment about big box stores. No one is loyal to a big box retailer because of the quality of its goods. In fact, everyone pretty much agrees that most of the stuff in big box stores can range for the decent to the downright terrible. You only shop at a big box store because of price; and you will likely switch from one big box retailer to another if there are a few cents in savings to be found on a cheaply made piece of off-shore electronics or clothing that will last a few months or a year before falling apart.
The same goes for the aftermarket service industry. If you want to keep customers loyally coming back to your shop you must sell on quality, from the services your technicians and service writers provide to the quality of the parts used on a customer’s vehicle. This is why selling on the strength of a brand is key to customer retention and profit.
We in the independent service industry, however, are told that today’s customers are only interested in price. A customer coming into the shop for an oil filter change or engine filter replacement, the kind of filter used is a non-issue. They don’t care if the shop uses a no-name, off-shore filter or a domestic, branded filter product. What they will ask is if one filter product is more expensive than the other, why decide on the more expensive one rather than the cheaper product.
Why is brand important?
Certain brands denote quality. In the area of filtration products — air, engine, transmission, etc. — the brand will convey to the customer the quality of the product and what it means for the long-term operation of the vehicle.
“Being able to see the difference in quality of filtration is not easy for consumers,” said Paul Brosius, product specialist with Beck/Arnley. “Oil, fuel and transmission filters usually have a casing that prevents the customer from actually seeing what they are buying. Even when they can see the filter media, on air and cabin filters, it’s hard to judge the quality of the media. The danger with cheap, ineffective filter material isn’t the immediate impact on a vehicle, but the extended effect over time of accelerated wear due to higher levels of contamination as a direct result of substandard materials or components.”
Bert Verriet, program manager, Filtration Products with Affinia Canada said while service providers should carry a range of filtration products to meet customer needs, service writers and technicians should first promote a higher-quality filter product.
“For the customer that wishes to keep his vehicle longer and is sincerely interested in long-term maintenance, the option should be provided to supply a quality filtration product,” he added.
Verriet said in terms of oil filters, there are three things that need to be emphasized to vehicle owners. The first is the paper used, the amount (square inches), the type of filtration material used (synthetic, cellulose or blended) and the number of pleats packed into the filter product. All this will affect the filtration capabilities of the oil filter.
“Second is the construction,” he continued. “Does it meet and or exceed the original manufacturer’s specifications. This is difficult for the average consumer to make a decision, so they would have to rely on the advice of the parts professional to help them make that choice. Third is the gasket and anti-drain back valve construction. Does the manufacturer use silicone or nitrile rubber in these two components? If the vehicle owner wants to keep his vehicle for a long time, then quality parts should be used in the repair and maintenance.”
“Assigning a value to that assurance is difficult,” said Jason Best, vice-president of aftermarket sales and marketing with Spectra Premium. “Yet, that is because the message may not be communicated properly in terms of what that perceived value is. Visual differences can be demonstrated in terms of quality differences on products and these needs to be interpreted in terms of relevance to the safety and value of the vehicle. Being able to demonstrate these arguments and putting them in relative terms of understanding potential risks or future costs for additional repairs caused by price-driven solutions can only help to educate (customers) on the value of a premium brand.”
The most valuable commodity an independent service operation is the reputation it has amongst consumers and the community-at-large. H. Huntsman & Sons did not earn its reputation as England’s most respected and exclusive tailor of suits by selling poor quality products or using cheap materials.
A reputation for quality work and professionalism will drive work into the bays. “Selling branded filter products that consumers recognize enhances the shop’s reputation for quality,” said Jay Buckley, technical training manager, Fram Group. “When a customer knows you are using high-quality, branded products, they assume your workmanship is up to the same standards.”
“Shops can definitely get a reputation based on the parts they sell, especially if they specialize in a type or make of vehicle,” Brosius said. “For example, most vehicle owners want to take their vehicle to shops that know their type of car and all want a shop that understands how to properly car for it.
“If the customer knows that the shop carries a product that is well known in the OE and aftermarket, they are more likely to take their vehicle there and have those parts installed. It is no secret that name brands raise consumer acceptance and generate sales.”
Verriet added that “quality filter and other quality repair parts go along with quality service. I do not believe that everyone wants to purchase the lowest-priced pars for their vehicle maintenance. Independent service shops can gain customer loyalty by explaining to the consumer why they use quality parts in their vehicle repair and maintenance.
“This will improve customer loyalty when the customer understands that the shop has their interest in mind by (using) quality parts.”