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

Cover Story: White Box Myths


They’re the same products as the premium.

While the manufacturer of white box, “entry level”, or “economy brand” products may also manufacture premium, branded products, this does not mean that the same product goes into both boxes. There may be occasions when a part number may be unavailable in the usual white-box quality part and for a short period the premium product may be substituted, but the inherent costs in the product itself are too high to permit this to be a common occurrence.

The only difference is the cost of marketing and the fancy box.

There are no legislated standards for most automotive products. Liability concerns may curb the worst quality products from entering the market, but only the very worst. In brakes, for example, the friction materials in top-line brands are substantially more expensive that those of lower quality product. In addition, product testing to determine application suitability, life, noise and performance costs money. For some products, the packaging, marketing and support costs are estimated to add only about 15% to the cost of a premium product, not nearly enough to explain the price difference between white box and branded product.

Original Equipment Fit versus Original Equipment Performance

Just because a product fits an application, and “fits like OE,” does not mean it meets OE performance specifications. In fact, many aftermarket parts exceed OE performance specifications. Materials in white box product may differ from OE–iron vs. aluminum, e.g.–and they may be dimensionally different.

Here’s an example of two levels of brake rotor:

“Premium Rotor””Second Line”

Surface thickness.445 in..317 in.

Weight18 lbs. 14 oz.15 lbs. 6 oz.

In addition the “premium” rotor has a finely controlled surface finish, runout, and material hardness that meets or exceeds O.E. specification and features the proper SAE compliant studs.

My garage customers’ customers don’t have the money.

How many of your garage customers ask the car owner if they want the premium product or the “cheap product”? How many make the assumption that, because the car is older, the customer can’t afford good quality? Then again, how many garages even discuss the issue with the customer? Only you can answer these questions, but think about the last time one of your family members or friends who is not working in the aftermarket had a discussion on brand options with the garage. Probably never. The fact is that this discussion is not happening in most cases; the garage is making the decision to install the lowest priced product they can find.

“I can make 10 white box sales in the time it takes to upsell one customer on premium.”

With a walk-in retail customer, if you don’t lead with white box, why would you have to talk about it unless the customer insists? Most consumers do not know what parts for their car cost. They take their lead from you. And if they do, they may still be candidates for an upsell with substance. Even so, a transaction may take less than two minutes to complete, and yield a higher margin. Why not take the time? If counter staff are not talking to customers about products other than those with the lowest price, consider what this is saying about your business–“we’re the low-price, low-quality leader”–and whether your “inside sales staff” are really sales staff or order takers.

There’s nothing we can do, the customers only want to pay for white box.

If the “white box” situation is so insurmountable, why is it that promotional periods generate a rise in branded product sales? Manufacturers will tell you that whenever they run a jobber promotion with a prize or spiff for counterpeople, branded product sales take off. This is not about customer concerns, it’s about sales incentive and the desire to make the effort.

I don’t get comebacks so the white box product must be pretty good.

Comebacks are a very poor way to judge the quality of the job. If your refrigerator breaks down, you call a repair technician to fix it at a cost of several hundred dollars. What if, several months later, it breaks again? Are you going to call the same repair business or will you go to another repair outlet–one carrying the “brand certified service label”–or perhaps you’ll just go and buy another fridge? Yet, as far as the first repair person is concerned, there wasn’t a comeback so everything must be fine.


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