Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2001   by Auto Service World

Countertalk For the Counterperson: The Diy Brake Customer

While the vast majority of your brake sales are likely to the professional installer, the Do-It-Yourselfer portion of business should not go unnoticed.

DIY brake business, like all over-the-counter sales, may carry with it more time commitment than a quick telephone transaction with a large trade customer, but it also carries greater profitability as a result of retail pricing, cash payment at the time of the sale, and the fact that there is no delivery expense. It is no stretch to assume that a cash sale is worth ten or more points than a trade sale as a result, but you have to do it right.

The percentage of brake business that goes to the DIYer varies by region–from 11% to 20% of the overall service occasions according to J.D. Power and Associates–with the largest proportions occurring in Western Canada. There is good reason.

“With the resource-based economy, a lot of guys came off the farm–a lot are still on the farm. They got a lot of exposure to doing their own maintenance and a lot have multiple vehicles,” says Grant Paterson, owner of the oldest PartSource store in Saskatoon, Sask. (there are now three).

“We have a tremendous DIY market here. In our store we get the whole gamut. Guys who have never done brakes before and are buying the book, and guys who seem like they do it every day. Probably the majority are fairly experienced. I’m surprised at how many young people there are in that group. And there is an element who are cautiously inquisitive. They are asking for advice–a couple of people have coached them–and they always start with questions. They always end up buying, but their first approach is to ask questions.”

Paterson says that sometimes it’s not that clear why they are asking the questions they are, which takes a certain degree of patience, but that the outcome is generally the sale of additional items like specialty tools, caliper lube, etc.

“They’re usually the ones who buy more than just brake friction, because they don’t have everything they need to do the job. Especially with the guys who are novices, they are more than willing and appreciative of your assistance.”

The situation is much the same further to the east. “In Manitoba we have a law for vehicles safety at every sale. So brakes are obviously one of the things that show up a lot,” says Pete Lepage, manager of Uni-Select member Hood Auto Parts Plus branches in Brandon and Winnipeg, Man.

He says that, while the DIY business makes up probably only about 5% of their brake business, he does notice a tendency for customers to be price-sensitive.

“People that are doing the safety certification tend to want to keep the cost down, so they’re looking for the economy line. But, if you can get them to listen for a few minutes about the different grades of friction and rotors, you can sell them on the difference. Our counterpeople are trained to not just go the lowest price, but to find out if the customer takes pride in their vehicle or wants to keep his vehicle for more than a few weeks.” He credits Dana Brake and Chassis’ Raybestos training for helping get them to that point. Those courses, which cover everything from basic brake hydraulics to advanced technical issues surrounding specific ABS system types, are complemented by a selection of point-of-sale materials. Cutaways of brake rotors show, for example, what the differences are between an OE design and a low-quality replacement.

In truth, says Lepage, it’s not that different from what they talk to the installer about, and has the added benefit of reducing comebacks to the point, he says, they have been completely eliminated.

“They’re dealing with the same type of clientele and we try to sell them on the same idea, that selling the economy friction will increase your risk of comebacks and a customer’s dissatisfaction.” This doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t want to lose a sale, though, so they are prepared to sell the economy brake products if need be.

“It’s not that easy to talk about the difference sometimes. A lot of times it’s hard to explain the differences between two rotors, for example. Sometimes you can tell the customer about rotor thickness and cooling and the types of metals and they don’t care if an economy rotor is $30 and a premium is $100.”

“There’s a mixed bag,” says Paterson of the DIY customers, “except for the real novice guys. In most cases, the ones tackling the job for the first or second time tend to go to for the good stuff. The rest are evenly split, but there’s a small group that you can sway.”

He laughs about the tendency for price conscious customers to say that they’re just about to sell the car. “Based on what we see, you’d think that most of the cars in the province are for sale.”

He doesn’t laugh about the other reason often given. “You’d be surprised how many say ‘It’s just the wife’s van. She only takes the kids to school and to hockey.’ We have gotten to the point where we’re starting to turn this around, asking them, in a way, if they just heard what they said.” He reports some degree of success in engaging the customer in a conversation about quality in cases like this.

Stewart Kahan, president of Satisfied Brake Products, says that part of the challenge is to cut through confusion that can face the customer.

He says more and more outlets are offering economy line selections, premium line selections, plus what he calls a signature line.

“Some will offer a specialized product. You end up with a good better best and then some sort of a signature line that becomes the differentiating feature or factor for the specific retailer.” This could be a fleet offering, a high-performance line, or some other friction offering that sets the store apart from the competition.

“You see a lot more of that–signature lines etc.–as you see the business evolving. The problem for the DIY market is that there is an overly complicated choice.”

He says that Satisfied has worked to rationalize its offerings to help dispel this confusion, but he offers that it is also important for counterpeople to understand the differences and offer advice.

“He needs to steer the customer to the right program. What’s important to the customer? How do they use the vehicle? Do they tow? These are all features that need to be discussed, but there are so many options it can lead to confusion. Without the right discussion and supporting materials–including detailed installation instructions–the customer may leave more confused than when he arrived in your showroom.

“It’s a question of educating, and everybody has that problem. Anything that you can add to the countertop that will make the counterperson’s job easier, such as P.O.P. materials, counter mats, or pamphlets, is important.” With this approach in mind, Satisfied has a varied selection of materials and training.

Other companies have materials on offer, too. Federal-Mogul has its popular long-standing CounterLink correspondence program for counterpeople, as well as a slate of clinics and training sessions for both field delivery and more in-depth training at its own facilities.

In addition, it has an expanding on-line resource. “FMeConnect (accessible through is getting about 2,000 page views a day, and about 400 customer sessions,” says Tim Wheeler, director of e-business development for Federal-Mogul. While much of the initiative is dedicated to on-line commerce functions, there’s a growing list of other resources. “The most popular portion is the download section. It has everything from price sheets to buying guides, MSDS sheets, UPC information. There’s also an entire technical services section with tech bulletins.” It can, he says, be a good resource for counterpeople at the time of a sale, or when dealing with a DIYer’s concerns. The whole service is being expanded this summer. “We have barely scraped the surface of what we can do,” says Wheeler.

And, not to be left unmentioned, Honeywell has a set of Bendix training materials including a dedicated counterperson training program and product videos. The essential message is that it is easier to s
tart at the top, and go down from there where necessary, than it is to try to upsell the customer.

There are plenty of resources at hand for counterpeople to become more comfortable with discussing brake maintenance issues with the DIYer. The key issue for most DIYers is honest, informed communication. Master that and you will surely improve your chances of achieving the most profitable sale and the most satisfied customer.

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