Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2003   by Dean Askin

Up your Profits with Upselling

Upselling isn't snake oil...it's a profit booster that benefits consumer and motorist


Upsell. It’s almost a dirty word that leaves people thinking you’re just trying to sell them something they don’t really need. But if it’s done right-and for the right reasons-the upsell, whether it’s an additional vehicle service or a premium headlamp, simultaneously benefits the car owner and boosts your shop’s bottom line.

“If I was to stand up in front of a group of independents the first thing I would tell them is not to think of upselling as upselling for dollars. Upsell for the benefit of the car owner,” affirms Dave Peck, vice-president of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers Association of Ontario (AARO) and owner of Peck Brothers Limited, a Thornhill, Ont., shop.

“By you being honest and fair with your customer and selling them legitimate services and products, the money automatically falls in your pocket.”

Upselling encompasses the whole gamut-from an oil change package, to a wheel alignment, to a premium synthetic oil or a whiter, brighter headlamp.

“The most common complaint we hear from people about their headlights is that they’re not getting enough light,” says JoAnn McKeown, National Sales Manager-Automotive, for Mississauga, Ont.-based Osram Sylvania Limited.

An older person whose eyesight may be waning could benefit from a premium lamp with a higher light output, whereas a younger person “with a lot of toys on their car” could be sold a whiter light “which is more of a look rather than increased light output,” she says.

You make more on a premium headlamp sale, and the customer drives away with better night-time visibility. All it really takes is knowing your customer, McKeown says.

But the actual product or service you’re pitching is often supplicatory to how you upsell and why you should be upselling at every opportunity.

“We look at the oil change as the perfect opportunity to get people in the shop. It’s the most frequent service, it’s a maintenance service…it’s not repair related. So it’s more of a positive interaction with the consumer. And it provides the opportunity to begin the conversation,” says Anthony Stadelman, Marketing Manager for Castrol Canada Inc.

Engine fluids are supposed to be changed at certain intervals, so it’s natural to suggest an upsell when you check the mileage and realize the car may be overdue for a transmission fluid service, says Stadelman.

The real key to a successful upsell is presenting it as an informed recommendation-odds are the customer won’t even realize he or she has just been upsold.

“It’s not that tough a job. It’s just getting the customer to understand the reason for it, rather than him thinking you’re just there to try and sell him another $100 of work,” says Peck.

“I think when you develop repeat customer business, the consumer expects some recommendation from their trusted installer,” says Cameron Young, Sales and Marketing Manager at Robert Bosch Inc. in Mississauga, Ont.

Even with wiper blades, there are benefits to be had and profits to be realized, he says.

“There certainly are healthy margins to be made on the installer level. They’re selling a safety feature, particularly at a time of year when roads are a mess and salty, and visibility is critical.”

There’s plenty of upsell potential stemming from the fact that a lot of car owners don’t bother to read their owner’s manuals, which specify what services should be done and when; what additives and lubricants should be used.

“If it’s right in the owner’s manual in many cases, yes it’s an upsell as far as the dealer is concerned, but he’s just pointing out what’s necessary for that consumer to have ongoing satisfaction with their vehicle,” says Ross Ayrhart, National Sales Manager at Wynn’s Canada Ltd. in Mississauga.

A complimentary 21- or 39-point check is a great tool for reviewing the vehicle’s maintenance condition and being able to recommend products or services. Menu boards of provided services and products are another excellent tool.

But when should you go for the up sell? It depends.

Ayrhart is a firm believer in not going for the upsell up front; rather than after the vehicle’s on the hoist. Technicians can get a good look at what’s going on and be in a position to make informed recommendations, he says. “Afterwards, it sounds a little more educated, I think.”

When there’s a repair issue, Peck says, the customer ” Wants to know what that problem is first. So in that case, you wouldn’t even consider doing an upsell.”

But if a customer comes in for routine maintenance that has been neglected, “That’s a perfect opportunity because that customer has come in focused on bringing his maintenance up to snuff.”

How much profit potential is there in upselling? Lots, says McKeown. “Typically a garage might have five per cent upsell products. If they focus on it, they can increase that to 40 per cent. That’s a big jump.”

“Even with motor oil, there’s opportunity for upsell, whether you’re going to a partial or a full synthetic, and again there’s an education process there both on the part of the consumer side and the trade side,” says Castrol’s Stadelman.

Don’t keep your stock of upsell products on shelves in the service area. Up-front merchandising in the waiting area that explains the features and benefits, the experts say, is critical for effective, profitable upselling.

“If they have a light bulb display, or a wiper blade display or something like that, somebody coming in for an oil change might say, ‘change my headlamps,'” says McKeown.

Posters, says Ayrhart, can be very effective, particularly with cooling systems and cooling system additive needs. “A lot of people don’t realize that if they leave the coolant in too long, corrosion starts within their cooling system. So these posters depict what’s happening, explain it, and explain very simply what you need to do as a consumer to avoid it. And that’s a support to the service writer who’s telling the customer the same thing.”

McKeown is a big fan of counter displays. “I really like counter displays. Because you can put some point-of-purchase material on it that actually shows the features and benefits of the product, and they can actually see the product.”

If you’re not profiting from upselling, you’re probably not concentrating enough effort on it. “Probably less than 50 per cent of shops out there in the independent sector neglect upselling. They’re still in the car repair business as opposed to the maintenance business,” says Peck of the AARO.

You have to think like a retailer. Training in the area of upselling is available-but it generally isn’t being taken advantage of.

“There’s a lot of shop owners out there who don’t have the money to throw at training, or just choose not to go through the learning process because they feel they’re already doing it right. And we know they’re not,” says Peck.

Often the best-and overlooked-way to upsell is simply to ask, affirms Ayrhart. “I’ve been ready to pay for something, and they just wouldn’t get me to do it. If you’d just ask, I’m going to spend the money.”

You have to upsell, but don’t over sell.

“Our philosophy here is that if you bring it to the customer’s attention…whether it may be an additive to the engine on top of the oil change…or an additive in the cooling system…you’re basically suggesting that it’s something they’ll benefit by and letting them make the decision about whether they’d like it or not,” Peck says.


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