Driven by ever-increasing consumer expectations, retailers in all sectors of the economy are striving to offer their customers the best quality-price equation possible, as well as value-added services and features.
The aftermarket brake products sector is no exception. In this product category, quality and value-added are becoming the passwords for entry, survival and growth.
The demand for quality is being felt through the whole aftermarket brake products supply chain. Installers and jobbers, responding to the pull of consumer expectations, are increasingly aligning themselves with those manufacturers offering the most effective marketing programs, sales assistance, training services and support, product backup and overall product quality, particularly in the premium product segments.
One manufacturer notes in a comment that really applies to the entire supply chain that the professional installer now relies more on the manufacturer to support him, with the exact formulations and problem-free products he requires to satisfy his customer.
What are some of the factors involved in the demand and provision of quality and value-added brake products and services?
Dennis DesRosiers, president, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., comments, “The whole automotive market has moved to quality. A vehicle today is expected to last 250,000 km or more compared to 150,000 km just 15 years ago.
“What this means is that the OEMs, through this increased longevity, which is really a factor of quality, have built into the mentality of the consumer that they will get a long quality life from their vehicle.
“This thinking then spills over into the aftermarket, in that the public wants and expects the same quality or life from the replacement parts used in repairing their vehicles. This is essentially why the new car dealer sector has increased its share of aftermarket brake jobs and parts to a 30%-plus share from 20%-plus share in the last decade. The perception of the public is that they get OE quality parts and service from the new car dealer.
“The traditional aftermarket has had really no choice but to follow suit. The market will always run to quality.”
Garth Cole, marketing manager, Brake and Friction Products, Federal-Mogul, Southfield, Mich., says, “The first and foremost factor in the brake business today is quality. The quality of the product is key. The various sectors in the aftermarket, such as jobbers, are looking to the manufacturers not only for quality in the product but also for quality of support. They want useful and effective programs, for example, to help them in their sales efforts. The quality of technical support is also very important to the aftermarket.
“Training is another factor in the quality equation. We have a 65,000-square-foot training facility in St. Louis (plus a facility in Brampton, Ont.) and this gives us a tremendous amount of feedback, which in turn allows us to provide better assistance to technicians.
“Because we are OE as well as aftermarket, we know what’s going on in the OE area and are familiar with the current issues with braking products, such as the OEM’s desire for noise reduction and smoother stopping, for example. In our premium products, we specify to OE standards, but we also apply our OE knowledge to all our brake product lines. Generally, with the issue of quality, although there is a market for low-end, we are finding the aftermarket customer is beginning to realize that when they buy the lower priced products they are giving up something. They are beginning to understand the price/quality equation.
“We do focus groups with technicians and one of the things we are finding is that more and more technicians want to sell the premium quality product to the customer because they want the customer to have the right solution to their problem. The technician does not want to see the customer back in the shop essentially revisiting the technician with the same problem.”
Brian Fleming, marketing manager, Dana Brake and Chassis, notes, “Value added is becoming a key trend in the aftermarket brake sector. We are trying to show our customers why it is important to move beyond the white box concept. We also need to get across the idea that you can’t give value added and top quality while providing white box pricing.”
Fleming notes that a variety of services and other factors are involved in the concept of value added. While there are many attributes involved, here are a few of those noted:
Marketing: brand recognition; national advertising; quality packaging; catalogs; POP/signage.
Technical: technical clinics; tech help lines; product consistency; high quality product; warranty policy; product support.
“With the white box concept,” Fleming says, “you are in a situation where you are selling strictly by price–the quality is just not the same as the premium product offered by full-line manufacturers. When the appeal is limited to price, there is generally not a lot of support offered. In fact, the marketers of these products are often riding a lot on the marketing and data-building work of the major premium quality manufacturers, such as the work we have done in developing catalogs.
“Jobbers and installers need the value added services and features, but it involves a cost factor; you have to pay for that, especially quality,” Fleming says.
Ian Braunstein, vice-president, sales North America for Satisfied Brake Products, Pointe Claire, Que., says, “Brakes used to be primarily a white box business, literally. Satisfied took the approach of developing creative packaging with strong colorful graphics and text on the packaging which outlined features and benefits.” Satisfied has a good/better/best brake products line and applies the packaging principles to each.
In promotional activity, which is also part of a stronger product offering, Satisfied is looking at sponsorship in auto racing. They are currently involved with Motorola Cup sponsorship, which in addition to marketing advantages also has research and development benefits for the company’s brake products, Braunstein says.
He notes, “Customers want a stable product source and a long term commitment by the manufacturer to invest in their business. To be successful in the brake market today, manufacturers must really be leading-edge operations. In the service area, another development is our website, which will have business-to-business features in the future. We are doing whatever we can to provide added-value service to our customers.
“We are using OEM as a benchmark and this is important because there are a number of issues involved with OE that are important to the consumer, such as reduction in brake noise. We are also QS 9000 registered, which is a very strict quality system. Overall, we feel that our strong efforts to re-invest in our business have enabled us to continue record growth in this industry while offering our customers the right product at the right price. We will continue to offer our customers a forward thinking business with a strong pulse in technical advances at the OE level.”
Braunstein points to the company’s vision statement, which states in part: “Satisfied is simplifying friction purchasing by combining vehicle-specific friction formulations with full line coverage at every price level. We are providing true value by creating and refining tuned friction formulations that match each platform and every part number.”
Communicating those facts to the customer is important for all the players, wherever they fit into the supply chain. Although there is much work done behind the scenes, packaging is increasingly being relied upon to provide that quality image and all-important first impression. Premium packaging presents the customers with information on the product’s features, applications and, by using compelling graphics, its level of quality.
Honeywell, for example, recently redesigned its Bendix brake product packaging to provide clear demarcation among its various products and their target applications. The company says that the right packaging goes a long way to allowing the customer to better understand the features, advantages and benefits of the brand, and to make a more informed purchasing decision based on their vehicle’s specifications and the desired performance.
For all players in the market, that is the goal. There are many resources available to the jobber to help them provide more than just a product and a price. The challenge for counterpeople and salespeople is to continually reinforce the quality side of the equation by reminding their customers of the services and value-added programs available: in short, that there is more to a complete brake package than just a box.