Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2002   by Auto Service World

CounterTalk: Knowledge Building – Winter Chemical Sales

Despite efforts to smooth out seasonal bumps and dips, chemical sales remain very much affected by winter’s arrival.

A successful chemical sales approach cannot end there.

“It’s ever-changing,” says Chris Osborne, director of marketing, Kleen-Flo Tumbler Industries, of the market. He puts clear-language changes to Transportation of Dangerous Goods legislation at the top of the list for suppliers, but adds that the way that jobbers have been buying has changed dramatically.

“Stock orders are smaller and it’s a wait-and-see game. Everybody is trimming inventories. It makes for mayhem on our part when we get a cold snap.

“One part of the country always gets hit and then all hell breaks loose. We can sell as much of one sku in a day as in half a year and that’s when problems come,” he adds. It can lead to the inevitable: some jobbers are going to get caught short.

“There is a lot to be said for being prepared. This doesn’t mean overstocking, but being moderately prepared can prevent a customer from going elsewhere.”

Richard Navin, national sales manager, Radiator Specialty Company of Canada Ltd., says that the fuel system is the number one emerging target of chemical products in the winter.

“The first might be cooling system products,” he says, “but that’s really a declining category. The fuel system is one of the first things that needs attention and it is easy to do. Where there is a focus on emissions testing, this is a year-round requirement.” Even where there is not, he says, it can be a solid opportunity for the DIY and installed market alike.

“A lot of people think chemicals are a nuisance. Some of the jobbers consider them to be a necessary evil. That’s the wrong attitude, especially in winter. It’s just such an easy sale. The customer wants the car to start every time they go to work.

“We can’t deny the reality of success at retail. Eventually we all work for the consumer. We have to provide the products and service they think have value.”

One of the reasons proportionately more chemicals might move through mass merchandisers is likely their ability to display. The other, however, might just be that they make the effort to display.

While many jobbers may feel they don’t have the type of floor or shelf space to compete, even smaller stores can be effective, says Jim Hollins, vice-president marketing, Honeywell Consumer Products Group, which supplies Prestone, Autolite and Fram brand products to the market.

“Some have done a pretty good job,” he says. “These are impulse items. You can do a modest amount; even a facing is fine. Get it out there, otherwise the customer is thinking about Canadian Tire. The medium to heavy DIYer is going to the jobber store, but still going to Canadian Tire for his impulse items.” While the idea of a DIYer picking up a water pump at his local jobber then proceeding straight to the local Canadian Tire store for the coolant he’s going to need may seem unbelievable on one level, it is precisely what can happen.

And, while the loss of the margin on a bottle of coolant may not send most jobbers to re-evaluate, the cumulative lost sales from chemicals not displayed should be a different matter.

“Flush products, stop leak, all the cooling system products, offer a better margin,” says Hollins. “The store doesn’t need a pallet load out there. A couple of facings, clean and bright, with a representative display of the products you carry is enough.”

The result might just be enough to warm some of those cooler sales periods.

Don’t Forget Heavy Duty

The heavy-duty truck fleet and owner/ operator customers can be heavy users of chemicals for diesel fuel systems and for coolant additives. Cultivate these relationships and keep stock on hand to ensure that you are able to fill orders on zero notice.

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