Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2015   by Steve Pawlett

Demand for Quality Brake Parts Continues To Grow

With customers hanging onto their vehicles longer, most are much more receptive to investing a little more for aftermarket parts that will give them good performance, increased safety, and a longer life. With the price point between first-line and second-line brake parts being much narrower, it’s now easier to convince those customers sitting on the fence to choose better quality first-line brake parts.
“We sell to a lot of DIYers, and they usually have issues with the brakes rotting off, due to the salt usage up here,” explains Dave Nesseth of H E Brown Supply in North Bay, Ontario, which is owned by Muskoka Auto Parts. The Muskoka Auto Parts (MAP) Group consists of 10 stores across central Ontario that service the automotive, fleet, industrial, marine, powersport, and snow and ice-control markets.
“Up here, they use a lot of salt and brine on the roads, and the more metal that is in a pad, the more it rots off with the salt. A lot of the rears get replaced just because they have corroded so badly, because of the conditions. The salt brines they use on the roads now are really hard on vehicles,” says Nesseth.
“We are seeing a lot of newer cars coming in sooner for brakes, and for most of them, they don’t really have any choice other than a premium pad and rotor,” explains Kevin McBride of Brighton Automotive of Brighton, Ontario. “We give our customers the choice of good, better, best, and ask them about their driving habits and if they are keeping the car.”
Nesseth recommends his customers have their brakes serviced twice a year, due to harsh winter conditions and the problems caused by the highly corrosive brine used on local roads. “I find a lot of people get confused with the differences between ceramic and semi-metallic pads. Then you have the used car dealers, who want the cheapest product in captivity, and we don’t have that here. My policy is, if I will put it on my car, I will sell it to you, and I stick to that policy. I’m very stubborn.”
“The newer vehicles use ceramic pads, and the market is pushing it towards that,” adds Nesseth. “I get DIY customers who have been using semi-metallic all their life, and that’s what they want to go back to even on their newer vehicle. Even though ceramic dissipates heat better, that’s what they want, and you have to go with what the customer wants. You can make recommendations, but it depends on how many brake jobs they’ve done, and they may say, ‘No, Dave, I want to go with the semis.’ The DIYers all have their own little niches.”
Another factor influencing upscale brake part buying patterns is the recent popularity of coated rotors. “Initially, coated rotors were a little slow to take hold, but because the pricing difference between the cheaper uncoated ones and the coated rotors is now only $15 to $20 per rotor, most are opting for it, because they go on a lot easier, they look good on all those open rim designs that are out now, and when you take them off a vehicle they are not rusting up – and they come off a lot more easily, too.
“We are selling more coated rotors now because of salt and brine issues. In the case of the newer vehicles, you pretty much have to go with the premium brakes and rotors. Their stuff is all higher-end and there are fewer options,” adds Nesseth.
“We just started carrying the coated rotors a little while ago so they still need a bit of time to catch on here,” says McBride.
“A lot of people want quality aftermarket parts at a fair price, and most vehicle owners are interested in the longevity of their vehicle, and are willing to spend a little more for quality parts and peace of mind,” explains Doug Curlis, sales manager of Promax Auto Parts Depot. “Boosting premium brake sales really comes down to the technicians. These are the guys who are selling the jobs to the consumers, so depending on what market sector they are in, they may have customers who walk in prepared to buy only on price. So they have a bigger sales job when it comes to the upsell, while other shops that are in markets where the customers are looking for higher-quality brake pads and rotors are going to have an easier go of it.” 
“The demand for premium brake products is increasing as the consumer trend is increasingly towards a low-dust, no-noise brake pad with smooth reliable stopping power. We have seen a phenomenal increase in premium-coated rotors, even with the traditional cost-first customer, like the used car lot who wants a product that will not incur ‘lot rot.’ The customer wants a coated rotor that does not rust, looks attractive in an open wheel, and even provides labour savings with the dismantling of the brakes due to the coating on the hub of the rotor,” explains Proforce Automotive vice-president Dean Weber.
One strategy that has proven to be effective is arranging for a refresher brake clinic for your local repair shop clients. While it may be a bit challenging to get some of these busy technicians to stay late one night to do a brake clinic (since this is something they think they already know inside out), assure them that they will be pleasantly surprised at some of the new product information you have to share with them. Be sure as well to use this opportunity to share key sales and marketing advice that you and your supplier partners can provide to them that can increase their sales volume and profitability.
It can be a good exercise to go through the logic of a typical brake purchase with them. By taking the time to share with the customer the differences between a white-box brake pad and a quality pad that includes new hardware, as well as the differences between a white-box rotor and a quality coated rotor, it’s often easy to upsell a customer that originally walked in bent on getting the lowest price, when for the sake of a few extra dollars, the shop can do a quality job with something that has longevity, stopping power, and is non-squeak, and the rotors won’t rust or warp. 
Most brands offer hardware with the ceramic pads now, so that helps to eliminate uneven pad wear and ensures more responsive braking. Selling a premium coated rotor that is not only a rust protector but also comes with OE weights, fins, and other characteristics will help to eliminate pulsating brakes and heat checks. Choosing a good mid-grade ceramic pad that is scorched in for proper mating with the rotors, and making sure to remind the technician to properly torque the lug nuts, will all go a long way to eliminating braking issues and result in selling more brakes to your customer.
“Our pricing is close on both the first- and second-line brake parts, so people trust the parts. We find we are selling more and more of the first line. People are clearly looking for more quality and reliability now. Coated rotors are also very popular these days,” explains Bestbuy member Eduardo Gabarro, owner of West End Auto Supply in Toronto.
“Typically, when you show a customer several different rotors, they can’t really see any difference between a second-line and a first-line rotor. But when you put a coated rotor on the counter, they can see the difference and they can understand how it will help the rotor to not rust. They understand it will help it to perform better, last longer, and cool better, because the fins will not get caked up with rust and dust, reducing the ventilation of the rotor. These are tangible benefits the customer can see, which makes the upsell to better-quality brake components that much easier.”
Most consumers trust their service providers to make the best technology choices for their vehicles and budgets. If a consumer shows some price sensitivity, the counterperson or shop professional should clearly explain the disadvantages of choosing a lower-quality part, including p
otential noise issues and shorter service life.
OE or better-than-OE quality is an important benchmark for automotive service providers who want to earn more of the consumer’s business across all repair categories. Because a brake job is one of the first service opportunities on a late-model vehicle, it’s vital that the shop get it right the first time, which means quiet operation, excellent stopping power, and outstanding pedal feel. The best way to hit that target every time is by relying on high-quality premium brake pads and rotors from a trusted supplier.