Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2007   by J.D. Ney

Countertalk: Knowledge Building: High Performance Oil and Additives

The motor oil category seems destined to remain plagued by tough margins, and as a result the retail market is largely dominated by big box stores selling discount oil to the frugal DIY crowd. Still, jobbers can maintain their place in the supply chain when it comes to their installer customers; but it will take education and insight. With razor-thin margins on most products, counterpeople can make a major difference when it comes to sales by focusing on performance and high-mileage product offerings. But to do so requires a wealth of knowledge and a solid stable of tactics in order to convince your client to take the leap. The good news is that it can be done, and the following suggestions should help.

Become a Chemist

Consumers of high performance oil are reasonably serious about what they put in their cars. High performance oils in today’s market are highly adaptive, and actually change the way they operate depending on driving conditions. For instance, Q Horsepower from Quaker State features specially designed molecules that change size and shape to improve viscosity under differing conditions. “Think of it like molecular spaghetti,” says Mark Ferner, principal technologist and team leader for Shell Global Solutions. “These long molecular chains travel through the oil, and if it’s cold, they stay bunched and tangled and they pretty much just go along for the ride; but when the engine gets hot, they unwind and change the way the oil works,” he says. While you don’t have to be a technologist, some basic salesmanship can vastly improve your chances of selling a more profitable product, and most of that effort revolves around highlighting key differences. “With a product like Q Horsepower, it is important to make an appeal to the enthusiast,” says Alain Portelance, brand manager, lubricants for Pennzoil-Quaker State Canada. “Counterpeople have to provide a way for installers to understand the differences, as well as identify a benefit or benefits attached to those differences,” he says.

When it comes to oil, even a cursory examination of corporate web resources will likely provide a counterperson with more than enough comparative ammunition to explain some of those key benefits.

For example, Valvoline provides those curious enough to check with a comprehensive scientific section on the firm’s website that clearly explains the added advantages of synthetics and other high performance products. As an article available on the site suggests, “Crude oil contains hundreds of thousands of different types of molecules that come in various shapes and sizes. The lubricating qualities of these molecules can range from very good, to okay, to not so good, to downright awful. The refined mineral oils still contain a variety of different molecules that have different sizes, shapes, and lubricating qualities. Therefore, they will perform at different levels, break down at different rates, and be affected differently by heat, pressure, and other factors inside your engine.”

In order to provide that all-important up-sell ammunition, the resource goes on to describe the key differentiating factors. “In contrast, synthetics use molecules made (or synthesized) to fit a specific molecular design. Through a variety of chemical processes, molecules in synthetic products can be consistently made with the right shapes or sizes, or to provide specific performance characteristics or to enhance lubricating quality.”

Know your OE specs

Manufacturers are beginning to see the benefits of high performance motor oil and are starting to identify certain oils and formulations as being ideal and certified specifically for their product. For example, a special formulation of Q Horsepower was recently selected by Ferrari and Maserati as being their OE oil. By having a complete list of OE specs at your disposal, you can often provide particularly important assistance to installers, who may or may not be aware of such designations. “Different OEs have different specs that should be met, and some have more than one,” says Chad Cole of Wakefield Canada, the domestic marketer of the Castrol brand. “Counterpeople should always have an up-to-date understanding of those requirements, because you almost always want to stay with what’s recommended. There are lots of oils out there that simply don’t meet the specs required.” Cole says the evidence of that is even more stark when you move from strictly automotive applications into heavy duty ones. “When you have some heavy duty trucks that are running with a $30,000 engine, it’s even more important that the counterperson know his stuff,” he says. According to Cole, recent changes in fuel economy standards have brought this issue to the forefront. “For example, if you were to put a CI spec oil into one of the new ’07 diesels, you’re going to have problems, and that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the counterperson.”

Additives Still Relevant For Older Vehicles

Despite the innovations that have pushed the oil market to new levels in terms of longevity, performance, and maintenance intervals, the size of the Canadian car park for vehicles in the 8- to 12-year-old market indicates that there is still customer demand for a variety of oil additives. Richard Navin of Radiator Specialty Company notes several segments in which oil additives have continued to play a significant role. “Crank case additives have been around for a long time, and they continue to add benefit to older engines,” he says. Further, despite their reputation as being the sole domain of the DIYer and the retail specialist, oil additives play a significant role in the technician’s tool box. “The bulk of our business is through the professional installer trade,” he notes. “We also have a large retail segment too, in terms of product spread and distribution, but we still do most of our sales with the installer segment.” While reputation has long been an issue for the chemicals market (and the additives segment in particular), Navin says this is starting to change. “People are starting to come around to the notion of additives thanks in large part to fuel additives,” he says. “Almost every car on the road today is fuel-injected, and so consumers are getting used to, and see the benefits of, injector cleaner. From there they can expand and see the validity of other products like oil additives.” Navin does note a need for caution when it comes to dealing in oil additives. “There are still some very damaging products available today in which the chemistry is pretty horrifying, but you can usually pick those out by the claims they make.” In short, Navin says if the claims are too good to be true, they probably are.

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