Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2008   by Matt Shilton


Knowledge Building

For the Counterperson

There are two sides to every story, and the contrast between jobber understanding of chemicals and additive products, and the quantity of actual product sales, is one example.

If companies want to see jobbers push products more efficiently, they are going to have to grab the bull by the horns and invest in more training sessions, says Richard Navin, national sales manager of Radiator Specialty Company. At the same time, jobbers need to request and demand more product knowledge sessions.

“We’re guilty of not putting enough time and effort into training our customers,” says Navin. “It’s something that is an expensive tool that is underutilized by everyone. We don’t spend enough time doing it, and our customers don’t spend enough time asking us to do it. [But] it’s training. Who can be overtrained?”

Currently, Radiator Specialty Company uses its website, promotional mailings, and commercials to get knowledge out to everyone in the distribution chain. As for jobber-specific training, responsibility for product knowledge falls on the sales team in the field, typically including what a product does, what kind of results a customer can expect, and how frequently it should be used.

Radiator Specialty Company’s trainers occasionally hold what they call a “lunch n’ learn.” This is where the sales team will do training sessions at a jobber site that feature an information session on new products (and of course, pizza). Jobbers learn what each product is used for, why customers need it, how to sell it, technical aspects of the product, features and benefits, and cautions. Among the selling tips is the idea of timing. This basically means don’t sell swim trunks in the winter when you can’t go swimming. (Or, for a more propos example, don’t sell car wash in December.)

Kleen-Flo’s Chris Osborne uses the same philosophy.

“Right now, we are getting lots of questions about diesel fuel conditioner, starting fluid and so on. As we hit spring, it’s going to be more related to detail products–washes and waxes,” says Osborne.

Richard Navin explains that jobbers can do a better job of selling products that are naturally tied to a service, like selling brake cleaners when a customer gets a brake job.

Navin admits that things could improve. But how can manufacturers go about bringing the information to jobbers faster and more efficiently? Not every jobber is on a mailing list, and it is impossible to reach every jobber with a face-to-face workshop. Investing in research that could build a contact list would be beneficial. But what Navin says could really help would be what he refers to as Automotive University.

“If a jobber group were to fund a get-together three or four times a year, and everybody took part in it and we were just put in front of a group for thirty minutes (to answer questions), that would be an ideal situation,” says Navin, adding, “It will never happen though.”

If this were to happen, manufacturers would be fighting for the opportunity to enlighten jobbers, but low demand and lack of resources at the corporate level make it difficult to implement. In the meantime, there is always the Internet.

“As far as literature and documentation, especially with the Internet, you can get a lot of information out there. But how do you get somebody to take the time to go on [the site] and learn that?” Navin goes on to note that in general, if you get in front of someone and explain something, that person will take it in. “We send out documentation, product literature, but nothing beats actually standing up in front of somebody and answering all his questions and explaining all the things that you can’t put in a brochure.”

Richard Osborne of Pineridge Auto Supply in Oshawa, Ont., says that jobbers are now using company websites more than ever to get information, as visits by sales reps only occur three or four times a year. Even when reps do come out to a site regularly, Osborne says the Internet can be more useful.

“Unless you come right out and ask them a specific question, you don’t get an answer. And they can’t know what you want to know,” says Osborne.

For example, says Osborne, with Kleen-Flo’s diesel fuel conditioners, there are so many products out there now he wonders why he should keep so many when most customers only use a few of them.

“They have about four different conditioners, and we [want to know] why we have to keep them. We’ve brought it down to two instead of keeping all four.”

When asked how manufacturers could improve their salesmanship and methods for keeping jobbers in the loop, Osborne says that creating a highly user-friendly website would be the biggest help. The demand for knowledge varies from jobber to jobber, so the easier a website is to use, the more jobbers will seek out information.

Navin says that while having a more educated jobber to sell products is the ideal, there are many obstacles. It takes commitment from the entire supply chain to keep people informed, but at the end of the day, training only takes you so far.

“You could have the best training in the world, and some customers will still buy based on price.”

Merchandising in the chemicals and additives market is something that has been exceptionally difficult to pin down. In terms of the overall market, the research experts say that sales are good and getting better, but figuring out how to get your slice of that growing pie is a challenge. “There should be some growth in the market over the next few years as the average vehicle age in Canada rises,” says Jasmine Sachdeva, a director at the NPD Group. “As vehicles age there is obviously going to be the need for some kind of fuel additive or cleaner to help maintain performance.” In fact, according to the research, some 43% of respondents said they had used some kind of DIY additive, and that number is only likely to go up as the Canadian car park ages. Unfortunately, where matters get a little more difficult to understand is on the merchandising side of the coin. How are consumers making their additives decisions? According to the research, the answer is old-fashioned, and very low-tech. “As for merchandising, brand recognition and comfort level with a particular brand are the consistent leaders in terms of in-store decision making, but word of mouth is also seeing some significant increases.” What’s more, Sachdeva also points to a decline, or at least a stagnation, in the effectiveness of advertising and in-store recommendation on the final sales decision. In all estimations, the effectiveness of both of those tactics falls well below the others mentioned. So, for a jobber looking to increase business in the additives market, it would appear as though simply getting customers to try it, as opposed to spending a great deal of time and money on advertising, might yield the best results.

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