Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2008   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Topping up Profit

Little things like wipers, additives and lights can add to the bottom line of any shop

With the economy looking like it may very well run into some tough times, shops across Canada are going to be looking for ways to add to their bottom lines. The most obvious route is to focus on such things as wipers, lighting and additives as ways of adding those extra dollars to the month’s revenues. The challenge for a shop is how to position those items in a way that makes up-selling them to a customer easier. This is where knowledge of what the products can offer on safety and savings will be crucial; and educating customers that such items as wipers and headlights, for example, are wear items and need to be replaced regularly.

Sale of lighting technologies not as tough as it might seem

One of the things customers never think about is the lighting on their vehicle. Many will drive with the same headlights installed when they purchased the vehicle, and use those lamps right up to when that vehicle is finally traded in for a new one, or scrapped. And it is a bit disconcerting to see some people driving about with one of their headlamps burnt out for some time before finally mustering the time to get the unit replaced.

The reason why this happens is most people never think that headlamps fade or wear out over time, unlike a brake pad or ball joint which owners know need to be replaced regularly. Lights are always there, running fine until they burn out or are damaged — and only then do they have to be replaced.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that headlights will dim over time,” said JoAnn McKeown, vice-president of sales and marketing for the retail division with Osram Sylvania in Mississauga, Ont. “Just like a wiper blade, headlights should be replaced on an annual basis. Just like you change the batteries in you smoke detector, you should change your headlights.”

The “rule of thumb” seems to be that headlights should be replaced anywhere between twice a year to once every other year. People often do not realize that dimming impacts safety. As the lights dim they impact the ability of the driver to clearly see potentially hazardous obstacles. When service writers convince a customer of the need to change the lights that is the time they should point out the advantages of today’s halogen-based headlamps. Many consumers are showing a greater interest in high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, because of their brightness and their distance of illumination. However, it is not possible to simply swap a standard headlamp assembly and bulb for an HID assembly and bulb. Halogen technology offers a way to give drivers the advantages of HID lighting, and a way to give shops a premium product to give customers and adds to their bottom line.

McKeown said the company’s SilverStar Ultra halogen product produces a white light very much like today’s HID lamps, but unlike some other halogens on the market, comes with improved down-road and peripheral illumination.

According to information provided by the company, the SilverStar Ultra is made to give drivers up to 25 per cent increased down road visibility with a 20 per cent improved brighter light. Because the lamps are made to last significantly longer than traditional non-halogen automotive headlamps, thereby making the change times between replacements longer, McKeown said Osram Sylvania set the SilverStar Ultra at a price-point that will bring in significant value to the shop.

“These lamps will sell at US$49.99 a pair whereas the traditional headlamp will sell for some US$20 a pair,” McKeown added.

Because of the extra safety and the quality of light that premium halogens offer, Philips Automotive Lighting released the NightGuide headlamp which is designed to provide specific illumination in three visual zones.

“The NightGuide bulb is a Philips exclusive with three zones of light, with the zone in the centre having a more white light and up to 50-feet longer beam,” said Michael Scheiven, director of the aftermarket channel with Philips Automotive Lighting in Framington Hills, Mich. “That white light is a clear safety feature for avoiding hazards down the road.”

In the right zone of the light a blue light provides improved readability of road signs and markers and the left zone offers a warmer yellow light that is made to reduce glare for oncoming cars while focusing a driver’s eyes on the centre zone where they can concentrate on hazards that may be in front of the car.

Additives for improved engine efficiency, mileage will be a bigger seller

With economic difficulties ahead, drivers will be looking to get the most out of their vehicles, both in terms of fuel efficiency and longevity. One area where service writers and technicians can both help the customer and the shop’s bottom line is by having readily available and clearly visible engine additives and cleaners to help in performance and efficiency.

Richard Navin, national sales manager with Radiator Specialty Company of Canada in Mississauga, Ont. said customers are starting to be more proactive in asking for such cleaners, especially as their cars age. Radiator Specialty Company carries a range of fuel injector cleaners and engine performance additives under the popular Gunk brand. The Octane Plus is made to remove deposits that impact a car’s octane requirements, and Injector Plus removes accumulated build up of deposits on fuel injectors.

“Fuel system products are very popular right now as are performance enhancers for vehicles,” Navin added. “For example, if a customer has a fuel system problem, and has not cleaned the system in a while, the injectors will be quite dirty and that will have a measurable impact on performance and on the fuel economy and emissions. Using a cleaner will be an easy sell, once someone sees the result on their wallet. And it is a pretty simple thing to add to the normal maintenance of a vehicle.”

Honeywell Consumer Products Group also has a range of engine additive products under the Prestone brand, from a fuel injector cleaner to an octane booster, and cleaners formulated for cleaning the injectors on SUVs and in diesel engines. Valvoline is another company with a range of injector and engine treatment solutions, such as the SynPower Fuel Injector and Intake cleaner and the Pyroil Fuel Injector cleaner.

Don’t forget the wiper blades even if the customer does

Wipers blades are often the most neglected item on a car: drivers never think about them and some shops often don’t make wiper replacement blades visible enough to put them top of mind amongst customers.

Cameron Young, national sales manager with Robert Bosch in Toronto said wipers, like others elements of a vehicle, should be considered a wear item and replaced, once every six months. Because people rarely think about their wiper blades, or that a wiper’s rubber compound can wear, become damaged or brittle, service writers should take the time to show a customer that wear.

“The visual inspection is likely the best way to go with a customer,” Young suggested. “Simply lifting the blade off the windshield and showing the customer that the element is worn or ripped or non-existent, and then pair that worn blade against a brand new one.”

Young also suggested a water test to show customers how deteriorating blades are inefficient in doing their job. Putting water on a car’s windshield and turning on the wipers will show that a deteriorating blade is not able to move the water cleanly, leaving numerous streaks across the driver’s field of view. If severe enough, those streaks can make driving in bad weather difficult.

Young added that shops should also take a page from the quick-lube shops in displaying wiper products.

“Wipers have to be a constant reminder to the customer,” Young said. “You enter many quick-lube places today and you will often find wiper displays right there in the waiting area and that makes wipers top-of-mind for the consumer. When they see the display, they will see t
he blades.”

For 2008, Young said Bosch has some new wiper blade products in the works and a new wiper blade display and sales material for technicians and service writers. He could not go into details, but expects the new technology and material to be released soon to the aftermarket.

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