Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2003   by John G. Smith

Think Winterization for Cool Profits

The little things can add up when you winterize vehicles

Tf you’re wondering whether it’s worthwhile to push wiper blades in your shop this fall, consider that Canadians replaced 19,335,485 of them last year, along with 6 million headlamps and 7.1 million bulbs. The facts, compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants for the Automotive Industry Association of Canada’s 2003 Car Maintenance in Canada Report, prove that there’s business to be had.

Still, the report also shows that “do-it-yourselfers” tackled 72 per cent of these easy replacements themselves. So your best opportunity to earn the business is to present customers with their options when you’re conducting other maintenance.

You won’t have to look very far to find work that needs to be done. Twenty-one per cent of vehicles inspected this April during the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association’s National Car Care Month needed replacement wipers. Nineteen per cent needed work on battery cables, clamps and terminals, 10 per cent had low battery fluid, and eight per cent needed work on at least one turn signal.

Each low-cost replacement presents an opportunity for profits during traditional “winter maintenance” programs if you follow a few steps:

1. Don’t forget to ask

Many technicians overlook the chance to replace a wiper that has been split by exposure to UV rays, or pitted by chemicals. And if the customer isn’t asked if they would like a wiper replaced in the first place, there’s no opportunity to promote more profitable designs that can better handle a load of snow and ice.

“Take the opportunity when they’re (in the shop). Make sure you ask the customer,” says Denise Faguy, the Automotive Industries Association of Canada’ s manager of public relations.

2. Sell the benefits

Whenever you’re presenting customers with a choice, ensure that you put it in the context of the difference that it will mean to them.

For example, consider presenting a low-cost blade and its winter counterpart side by side when explaining how a rubber boot can prevent a build-up of ice and slush. Explain how they won’t be left squinting through a streaked windshield when they’re already dealing with the reduced visibility that comes with a snowstorm.

3. Flow the fluids

A customer who rolls into the shop for a scheduled oil change is already thinking about fluids in their car, so it’s an ideal time to sell the importance of fluids with seasonal properties. After all, customers who understand that they need a different washer fluid to clear slush from their windshields may not understand that a synthetic oil will make it easier to start their cars in cold weather.

“With antifreeze, you find it’s something they tend to neglect,” adds John Maclean of Maclean’s Automotive in O’Leary, PEI. “Once you explain it to them, they usually understand.”

In fact, almost 50 per cent of the customers who walk through the door of his garage this time of year choose the $39.95 winter maintenance package that gives him a chance to check such fluids in the first place, while lubing doors with silicone and checking battery levels. Every point on the checklist offers another opportunity for a replacement or an upgrade.

4. Gentle reminders

Larry Cutler of Larry’s Service Centre in Sudbury, Ont. is among shop owners who take this practice to heart. Cutler works to ensure that winter safety — and the maintenance that makes it possible — is at the top of mind among his Sudbury customers every fall, when he sponsors back-to-school reminders on the local radio station and posts “drive safe” messages on a sign outside of his shop.

“They have to be reminded (about seasonal maintenance),” he says. And a benefit that any motorist can understand is safety.

The reminder obviously works. About 20 per cent of the customers who roll into his shop purchase both the $39.95 safety inspection that includes checks of such things as steering and brakes, and the $49.95 regular winter service package that includes topped-up fluids and a heater inspection.

“We always tell people to remember to come in before Halloween … everybody knows that day. It sticks with them,” says Joe Gigantelli of Gigantelli Auto Service in Calgary, referring to the way he reminds customers to book one of his 54-point inspections for $24.95. The fee doesn’t cover the cost of the 45-minute check, “but you’re always finding a power steering flush, a tire,” he says.

Bill Sobaram of Good Guy’s Automotive in Mississauga, Ont. says he’ll actually do winter check-ups for free, with the hope that it will turn into long-term business. ” I do it, they appreciate it, they come back,” he says.

It’s the same reason that Gigantelli offers two-for-one wiper blade specials. “It’s a good gesture, and it’s basically a service that you give for the customer,” he says. “It’s also a repair where they can see an obvious difference.”

5. The point of the purchase

Not every shop has a huge showroom, but the stock displayed on the shelf in your waiting room can make a difference.

Cutler, for example, ensures that winter grade oils are stacked high this time of year, “so they can see it, touch it, feel it.”

Even the packages can make a difference, he says. With bottles in hand, you’ll be able to explain how the lower viscosity of a winter grade oil will shorten the time that the lubricant bypasses filters — meaning, of course, that fewer contaminants get into their engine.

“Visual sells,” says Gigantelli. It’s why he carries “white box” wiper blades as well as higher-priced name brands, so that he can point out the difference in quality. And test strips or plain white cards can be ideal to demonstrate the need to replace any fluid, he says: “A picture is worth a million words.”

Maclean admits that the point-of-purchase displays don’t promote the winter-related products. “We don’t, but we should be,” he says.

If you’re looking for some third-party literature to promote winter maintenance, the AIA will be posting seasonal bulletins on its Web site ( that can be printed out and distributed.

6. Leave no lamp unturned

“The one they always miss is a licence plate light,” Gigantelli says of customers who might replace other lamps.

According to the AAIA’s car care study, eight per cent of inspected vehicles need work on at least one turn signal, six per cent have problems with at least one brake light, and five per cent failed side light inspections. And every replaced bulb can be another line on the invoice.

7. Take the time to know your customers

If you take the time to know your customers, you’ll be able to learn about those who are more likely to see benefits in winter upgrades.

Lance Bodger of R and D Auto Service in Prince Rupert, B.C. says his customers are likely to come into the shop for wiper blades on their own: “We are in one of the rainiest territories you could ask for. But a hundred miles away from us is a whole different climate.”

By talking to his customers, he says he can learn about those who are planning trips “up country” during the course of the winter, and might benefit from such additions as block heaters and upgraded spark plugs.

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