Auto Service World
Feature   September 18, 2015   by Andrew Brooks

Ride Control How Proper Staff Training Can Benefit Your Bottom Line

Ride control is a simple idea, but there are a couple of major misconceptions that are holding back sales, limiting service levels, and even endangering lives.
Most drivers, and even many technicians, view ride control as shocks and struts, but the category extends to other systems and components such as brakes, steering, and tires. A further misconception is that ride control delivers nothing more than driver comfort; the safety dimension, which tends to get overlooked, needs to become a real focus for jobbers and their customers.
“I don’t think that many people realize ride control components are a safety feature,” says Billy Love, parts manager for Motormania Parts and Service Ltd. in Slave Lake, Alberta. Love says that he and his counter staff make a point of impressing on their customers the importance of doing a thorough job when it comes to ride control, even when the technician is under pressure to do the minimum work to save the driver money.
The importance of educating jobber sales and counter staff so that they can take a big-picture view when advising the customer also isn’t lost on Christian Baillargeon, who does counter sales for NAPA Auto Parts Inc. in Montreal. “You need to know what the piece will do to the car, what problem it will solve,” Baillargeon says. “You have to know what you’re selling. Sometimes the customer needs more than shocks and struts.”
Safety is a proven trigger point for consumers who might otherwise assume these components are only there to provide comfort, says Mark Boyle, Tenneco’s director of marketing, product and brand, North America Aftermarket. “When you explain that ride control parts play a crucial role in ensuring safe steering, stopping, and stability, and that the presence of even one worn shock or strut can increase stopping distance in certain situations, the consumer gains a broader understanding of why this repair is so important. Being able to communicate this information at the counter and over the phone is key to growing your ride control sales.”
Ride control ranks as a high-value repair, says Boyle. “It offers the jobber comparatively strong replacement rates, a proven link to consumer safety, and perhaps most important, a benefit that can actually be felt by the consumer following the repair. This isn’t true of many product categories, but when worn ride control components are replaced with quality units, the difference in vehicle performance is obvious.”
Brad Scott, director, strategic accounts for Gabriel (Ride Control, LLC), cites a Royal Automotive Club 1990 study. “The study examined two average family sedans, one with brand new shocks all around, one with 50% resistance removed in the rear,” Scott says. “The sample with lower resistance took almost 7 extra metres (23 feet) to stop from 112 kph (70 mph). That’s longer than most vehicles.”
The problem is that because the consumer is the one who ultimately pays, financial questions often trump questions of safety – even when saving now actually means paying more later. That pressure is communicated directly to the technician, who passes it on to the jobber. With the technician under intense pressure to turn jobs around as quickly and cheaply as possible, it logically falls – or should fall – to the jobber to take the big-picture view and try to educate technicians on the importance of looking beyond the single-part quick fix.
In an age when consumers do an increasing amount of product research online before even leaving the house, the Internet is really the new front line for jobbers and technicians when it comes to providing information to the consumer. It’s also the primary choice for accessing training, technical tips, and specialized product information, not to mention online ordering.
“There’s a lot of online training that our staff can access,” says Kevin Addison, sales rep for Maslack Supply in North Bay, Ontario. “A lot of manufacturers will have a website that a tech can access to do training modules – and a lot of manufacturers have a YouTube link to videos that show how to do different kinds of jobs.”
Brad Scott notes that while manufacturers like Gabriel have had parts catalogues online for a long time, it’s only in the last five years or so that manufacturer websites have developed to their full potential. “Five years ago the online catalogues were antiquated,” he says. “No parts lookups, no videos, nothing like that. Today we’ve rendered the paper catalogue obsolete, and like all the major manufacturers we have a wealth of online videos that offer training, technical help, installation tips, walkthroughs, highly detailed product information, etc.” Gabriel is also working on app-based technology that will not only test for worn shocks and struts, but just as importantly, enable jobbers to show drivers exactly how much their ride control system performance has deteriorated.
One way to raise awareness and educate jobbers and technicians alike is through in-person education. Tenneco brings its well-known Monroe Ride & Drive program to dozens of markets each year to help distributor, jobber, and repair shop professionals experience and learn how to communicate the benefits of ride control replacement. The program also provides instruction on market and product trends, and hands-on training in undercar technologies. “We also offer a helpful ride control flipbook that can be used with the consumer at the counter, as well as a variety of interactive training tools to help counter people and technicians sell the value of this important service,” Boyle says.
Crash avoidance
For its part, KYB Americas Corp. has mounted a door-to-door campaign where its sales and training managers conduct onsite jobber and service provider training, with a particular focus on the link between ride control and today’s highly sophisticated crash avoidance systems.
“The term ‘ride control’ is often misunderstood and undervalued, so it’s important that jobber salespeople take a closer look at how these components have become critical to the performance of the electronic, smart, integrated vehicle,” says Mac McGovern, director of marketing and training, KYB Aftermarket Sales and Distribution Center. As many as 80% of all vehicles on the road today are not fully capable of their designed crash avoidance performance, McGovern says.
McGovern also points to National Highway Safety statistics that show that vehicles four to eight years old are the most likely to be involved in an accident. “Since all of these vehicles were equipped with some level of electronic crash avoidance systems, it’s easy to conclude that as ride control component wear occurs, the performance of crash avoidance does too,” he says. “As the vehicle gets older, the mechanical side of crash avoidance can’t support the expectations of the onboard electronics; the driver is actually driving a vehicle that is incapable of achieving its advertised safety performance. A good guess is that as many as 80% of all vehicles on the road today are not fully capable of their designed crash avoidance.”
McGovern believes jobbers aren’t yet playing their full role in getting the word out. “It still seems that it’s being looked at as a parts question: we have boxes with parts in them, we look them up, we get the service provider a component that meets their expectations at the right price point.” Jobbers need to become more active in driving information to their shop customers, to have a positive influence on what parts get sold and in particular to help to ensure that those parts are of the appropriate quality for the vehicle.
“Instead of saying ‘yes, we have it,’ it should be ‘tell me more about the vehicle you’re working on, so I can do research and make sure you’re ordering the correct materials to do the job,’” McGovern says. “That’s when the job gets complicated – as it should.”
Red flags
Mark Boyle lists some of the common signs that ride control components could be worn: uneven tire wear – particularly “cupping” of the tires – and unsatisfactory ride characteristics, including excessive suspension bouncing, brake dive, acceleration squat, and increased roll and/or sway. Physical signs, he adds, include fluid leaks from the shock or strut body, dents or other damage to the unit body, and broken, damaged, and/or corroded mounts and bushings. “Failing to replace worn shocks can lead to accelerated wear of the vehicle’s tires and brakes in certain situations. More importantly, worn ride control units can impact vehicle steering, stopping, and stability performance, so the customer’s safety could be at stake.”
Brad Scott arranges the warning signs into two categories: physical evidence and telltale ride characteristics. Bent, corroded, and leaking components are obvious red flags – though it’s not always an open-and-shut case. For example, he says, on heavy-duty vehicles, a uniform ring of moisture around the top of the shock right underneath the dust boot with dirt and grime adhering to it – referred to as “misting” – is in fact normal. “These heavy-duty shocks are hitting such a high operating temperature that when the rod extends, a sheen of oil appears, and evaporates when it hits the cooler atmospheric air and settles on the top of the shock. An actual run of moisture would be a sign of leaking.” Worrisome ride characteristics include excessive nose-diving, excessive swaying in corners, and steering wheel vibration.
Derek Dewar, counterperson, Carquest Auto Parts, Ajax, Ontario, says the safety aspect of ride control needs to be better understood by jobber staff. “That’s especially true for walk-in customers. I show them what we have and explain to them what’s better for the suspension ride, and then let them decide what they want to spend. But for shocks I make sure they buy two.”
Sales staff awareness is critical, says Paul Michaud, owner of Matheson Auto Parts in Matheson, Ontario. “We try to explain what’s needed before the customer places an order so they know what they’re getting into before they start a job. If they’re replacing something and we feel they need an added component to facilitate the change, we explain it to them. But if you don’t have the knowledge, the parts just aren’t going to work for them.”