Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2005   by Dean Askin

Selling Smoothness

Premium ride control means less bounce for consumers and more for your business

Pothole season — that time of year when winter takes its toll on asphalt and puts vehicle suspension systems to the test. It’s the perfect time to be taking advantage of upsell opportunities when a vehicle’s on the hoist for an inspection or a brake job, and you can clearly see there are worn shocks and struts that need to be replaced.

With cars being kept longer today, the opportunity to upsell to premium ride control is a big one. And it can arise any time you have a car on the lift — all you have to do is take the advantage.

“The installers that are already doing the work will take advantage of premium product. It’s all about fit, form, function,” says Brian White, Director of Marketing for North America at Addison, Ill.,-based KYB America LLC.

For shops that aren’t, it’s because of a lack of knowledge, he declares, adding, “They don’t know how to talk features and benefits and it turns into a price thing.”

Says Dean Clarke, Regional Manager for Central Canada at Tenneco Automotive Canada, “I think what you’re seeing is that when there’s an upsell opportunity based on a lifetime warranty, the installers are taking advantage of it and promoting it.”

Clarke says Tenneco “got away from limited lifetime warranty” for a couple of years but reintroduced it in 2004 and sales of Reflex and Sensa-Trac premium products “are coming back.”

Making the most of the opportunity requires knowledge in two areas: knowledge of the technology, features and benefits; second, sales know-how. “They need to be better educated on the quality of the products compared to an economical line, and the upsell,” says KYB’s Brian White.

Tools for the upsell

Each manufacturer offers programs to help you learn about their specific brands, as well as the general benefits of premium shocks and struts, plus incentives. “We’ll provide the tools, it’s just up to the technicians to take the carrot and run with it,” affirms Clarke.

To help shops and technicians benefit from its Monroe Reflex and Sensa-Trac products, for example, Tenneco ran a billboard advertising campaign recommended replacement of shocks and struts at 80,000 kilometres.

It also held “ride and drive” clinics for technicians in 8 cities across Canada, using Jeep Grand Cherokees, Chevrolet Ventures and Pontiac Grand Prix, all at the 80,000 kilometres mark. “They got to drive vehicles with original equipment and then the same vehicles with brand-new Sensa-Trac or Reflex. The difference was night and day, obviously.”

Tenneco also runs the Expert Plus Program on Monroe and Walker shocks, which gives technicians an opportunity to earn reward points by selling premium products and then redeeming end tabs. Training components such as brochures, catalogues and online resources are also part of the Expert Plus Program.

Consumer seasonal promotions offering rebates, and a 90-day “Safe and Sound” satisfied-or-your-money-back guarantee, are other tools that Tenneco offers to help shops take advantage of the upsell.

For its part, KYB operates KYB Safety Centers that offer clinics on KYB products and their features and benefits, as well as how to identify the upsell, make the sale, and install the product. It also provides shops with window danglers that direct the customer to the KYB website “so they can see the benefits of the product and feel good about the purchase.”

The technology can be advanced, depending on the product. In order to be able to upsell to Monroe Sensa-Trac, for example, it’s important to know about the grooved pressure tube. Grooves allow oil to flow by the piston in the middle riding range, but at both the top and bottom where more control is needed, oil must flow through the piston valves, which firms up the ride.

And consider advanced suspensions found on high-end vehicles, like Continuous Damping Control (CDC), introduced by ZF Sachs in 2002. This technology is found primarily on European high-performance cars but is also built into VW and Audi vehicles. CDC consists of dampers on the front and rear axles, and sensors and control electronics. The sensors provide all the information needed by the electronic system during a drive to achieve optimum damping and the electronics regulate the needed damping force on each wheel. CDC generates only the damping force actually needed.

“They definitely need to be enabled to change these parts…you need to make them feel comfortable selling these parts, or enable them to,” says Oliver Hill, Marketing Manager for ZF Trading North America (formerly Sachs North America). “Normally a sale is more difficult on more expensive shock absorbers or struts compared to a traditional product.”

Think “OEM equivalent”, not “premium product”

It might make the upsell easier if you don’t think of premium products as such. Instead, think in terms of replacing OE parts with equivalents. “What’s being taken off the car is exactly what’s being put back on the car,” says KYB’s Brian White.

For vehicle owners, the advantages of OE-quality ride control products are clear: improved control and comfort, and longer vehicle life. “Just replacing it with an OE product you’re going to see a big improvement if the other units are worn,” says White.

“The main job of a shock or strut is to hold that tire on the ground…you improve your braking, your wear and tear on chassis parts…and your power steering and your CV axles.”

Premium shocks and struts “take the thump out of the bump,” adds Tenneco’s Dean Clarke.

White adds, a premium shock or strut can add an additional 113,000 to 119,000 kilometres to the life of a vehicle. Which is important because today, vehicle owners are keeping their cars longer and want quality parts that are going to last a long time.

He says the demand for OE parts is often what drives vehicle owners back to the dealership. Installing premium aftermarket parts give independent shops the opportunity to capture at least part of this customer base.

Oliver Hill adds, premium ride control products give vehicle owners “access to high-quality suspension that reacts quickly to road conditions, which you don’t get as quickly or as profoundly with a regular product.”

For shops and technicians, the advantages are also clear. Upsells help increase profitability and margins. They also help shops build their reputation as a trusted operation known for quality work, which in turn helps build profitability through word of mouth business.

“The technician still makes the decision for the consumer. He still decides that where he has less maintenance, the parts don’t come back because they don’t work, so they must be reliable. That makes him, due to his experience, more open to arguing for one brand that might be a little more expensive. But he also wants to keep his good reputation.”

When the car’s on the hoist and you see worn parts, ask questions about what they’re experiencing during the drive; give examples of how a bad shock or strut affects steering, stability and braking, then go for the sale.

Says Tenneco’s Dean Clarke: “I think basically the consumer will follow the installer’s recommendation if the installer is making that recommendation.”

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