Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2003   by Dennis Mellersh

Cover Story: Double Threat

Selling With Knowledge and Products in the New Brake Market

Brake system parts have traditionally been, and continue to be, one of the most important product categories handled by jobber counter staff.

According to data and analysis by J. D. Power and Associates, it is the third most commonly performed service job, behind lube, oil, filter (LOF) and tire service.

Today, however, things are not what they used to be in the world of brakes. Counter staff are now faced with a new landscape of brake parts. Ever-changing and advancing technology, combined with new product and service options, mean that counter staff must constantly upgrade their product knowledge and also have the product mix to back it up.

There may be an increasing desire for better quality brake parts among consumers, according to a Frost & Sullivan research overview of its new report, North American Brake System Parts Aftermarket. “Manufacturers should offset the price advantage of value-line products with the quality, durability, and longevity of premium line products.” Says the author, “Automakers are constantly improving their materials, and end-users demand the same original equipment quality in aftermarket products.”

Brian Moffatt of Inroble International says, “Brake parts remain for most jobbers the largest single element of their business. Replacement rates for such items as pads and rotors ensure that this market will remain vibrant. Parts proliferation is also contributing to this growth.” To cover this market, Moffatt emphasizes that the SKU mix must accurately reflect the vehicle fleet in the jobber’s specific geographical area, and that therefore no two inventories should be alike. He adds that reliability and proximity of supply mean that both breadth and depth of coverage are factors.

As with many other parts, brakes do not have specific recommended replacement interval recommendations. Moffatt notes, “Replacement rates vary considerably for brake parts. While time and mileage are factors, driving style and vehicle type are more important factors. We recommend that brakes be checked during spring and fall inspections to catch problems early and avoid more costly repairs at a later date.” Continued on page 28

In the area of OE technology, Moffatt says, “The continuing availability of ABS is the most obvious change in the brake market of late. More subtle changes revolve around the OE manufacturers’ ongoing efforts to improve brake performance and increase the life of the most frequently replaced components.” Because of these changes at the OE level, Moffatt suggests that jobbers deal with a “reliable supplier – one who will provide you with quality products on a consistent long-term basis. Stick with a name you can trust.”

Ritchie Porch, aftermarket products manager, TRW Automotive, sees quality, competitive pricing, late model availability and high visibility marketing as positive drivers of the brake market. Negative factors include many friction options to choose from, premium O.E. versus offshore economy products.

From a coverage perspective, Porch notes, “In today’s market, for the jobber to compete with the undercar specialist it requires a financial commitment to offer the same delivery service. This product category has pretty good turns if you know your local market, so having it on the shelf is paramount.” He offers guidelines for inventory: hydraulic cylinders, 120 SKU; wheel cylinders, 100 SKU; pads, 200 +; shoes, 120 SKU; reman unloaded calipers, 150 pairs.

Porch says that the impact of myriad advancements in technology that utilize electronic brake controls as well as advancements in friction technology varies by market area.

“It depends mostly on the installer base which the jobber services,” says Porch. “Many parts are available only from the dealership. Many of the systems require extensive training of the service technician and quite often require expensive and specialized testing and service tools.”

What are some of the routes to successfully selling brake products? Porch says, “Use counter advertisements and information and signage regarding strong inventory for imports and domestic applications and also, ‘if we don’t have it, we can get it for you quick,’ always helps. Have product displays of parts and/or packaging. Show the latest and the greatest. Even getting testimonials from some installer customers works. People want and look for quality (OEM or better), as well as price and durability.

“Knowledgeable, friendly, helpful counterpeople along with a clean store also go a long way in getting repeat customers.”

The DIY category is changing significantly in the brake market, says Ken Miller, president, Brembo North America. “With the cultural changes in our society, namely the increase in affluence, we have noted a steady decrease in do-it-yourselfers, paralleling with the reverse in do-it-for-me’ers.”

Marc Brunelle of Eurorotor cites miles driven as well as days sitting as key market drivers. “Conventional wisdom says the parts don’t wear if they aren’t being used; this isn’t always true. Humidity attacks the braking system more than any other system in the vehicle. Corrosion on the braking surfaces of both the pads and the rotors will contribute faster to wear than will an equivalent time in use. Calipers and brake cables seize, causing the breakdown or premature wear-out of other brake systems parts.”

For coverage, Brunelle suggests the rule of thumb for SKUs is following the percentage of sales for determining the percentage of brake SKUs. He also comments, “You also have to ask yourself how you are doing versus the competition. Customer feedback is a very important measure. If your customer likes your overall service, but complains that he has to rely on your competitor too often, then it’s time to make some adjustments in your inventory.”

In selling to the DIY market and even technicians, Brunelle offers some advice. “The DIY figure for brakes would be much higher if we could better inform our customers how each component in the braking system is interrelated. Most of the over-the-counter sales involve linings and/or drums and rotors. Before replacing these parts, consumers and even technicians should be asking themselves if the parts wore prematurely, and if so, why.”

Changes at the OE level will affect the aftermarket, Brunelle says. “The ability to diagnose, repair and stock the right parts can only come with a complete understanding of the technology and its components. Going forward, training in our industry has to occur at an accelerated pace.”

From a product perspective, whereas not too long ago brake choice was largely simply a matter of good, better and best, today quality and stricter conformance to OE-standard tolerances are becoming increasingly important in the replacement brake parts market. In describing this new market reality, Dana Brake and Chassis, which supplies the Raybestos brand, reports, “Today’s automotive brake systems are complex and technologically advanced. Original equipment manufacturers design their brake systems to critical tolerances; when these tolerances are compromised, the result is severe performance degradation.”

Several years ago, the company was the first to seek D3EA certification, a sophisticated brake dynamometer testing and evaluation procedure conducted by an independent testing laboratory. This testing is designed to provide an accurate simulation of real-world brake performance.

Recently, Dana was joined in having products tested and certified to the D3EA standard by Satisfied Brake Products. “Satisfied believes that measuring up to OE performance is important to responsibly ensure the safety of your customers, and to provide you with the peace of mind that comes only with the purchase and sale of D3EA Certified Satisfied friction,” says information from the company.

Recently, D3EA was joined in the marketplace by a standard supported by the Brake Manufacturers Council, termed Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedure (BEEP), which was designed to approximate on-vehicle results at a fraction of the cost, and also less expensively than the D3EA method.

Emphasizing the inc
reasing trend to higher standards, Satisfied reports, “In 1989, a landmark NHTSA study comparing OE to aftermarket friction revealed average braking distance increases of 10%. With instances of stopping distance increased by up to 50%, the study concluded that underperforming aftermarket friction was causing fatalities and significant societal costs.”

Federal-Mogul Corporation, supplier of the Wagner brake line, notes that different vehicles have different braking requirements, and therefore specific friction materials and application-specific formulas are required for the stopping power and durability that customers expect. “Today, vehicles of every size and shape have to handle a wide range of brake heat and stress,” says the company. “This is where our OE brake manufacturing expertise makes a difference. Wagner engineers employ the same research, development, and testing used for our original equipment business to create premium, platform-specific brake pads for the aftermarket.”

While price-conscious customers are a fact of life, the best arguments you can make against a reliance on cheaper brake parts is to convey the message that there are no mandatory standards and that quality brake parts do perform better and provide greater customer satisfaction. Customers will respond. They understand the safety imperative when it comes to brakes.

And, if you have the parts to back it up, you can become a considerable force in your local market with both the DIY and professional market.

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