Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2010   by Andrew Ross

Forgotten Filters

Getting Required Service Back on Track

For many consumers, changing a filter, and even get-ting an oil change, is seen as a discretionary purchase, despite what their owner’s manual says.

This reality came into sharp focus in the wake of the late 2008-early 2009 economic crisis.

In U.S. data offered last October by research firm Frost & Sullivan, in late 2008 there was a spurt of consumers heading to their repair shops, investing in repair services as they prepared to hold on to vehicles longer. That burst, however, was short-lived. In early 2009, at the height of the recession, consumers retracted their spending dramatically.

Purchase rates of key maintenance services, including oil changes, air filter changes, tire rotation, and tire balancing, were an average of 14% below rates reported in 2006. The drops in these services were consistent across different vehicle types, vehicle ages, and vehicle brands.

“The threat from the recession was so broad that consumers did not know when or how they personally would be impacted. In response, they cut back on all types of spending. Twenty-five percent of vehicle owners reported cutting back on meals and entertainment expenses, even though they personally had not experienced a job loss in their household,” reports Mary-Beth Kellenberger, program manager automotive aftermarket, Frost & Sullivan’s Automotive Practice. Frost & Sullivan’s analysis indicated that these new behaviours allowed consumers to be segmented into one of three categories:

The fiscally challenged–those whose income has dropped substantially;

The fiscally responsible–those whose income is flat to moderately down, but are uncertain about future income;

“Cheap is chic”–consumers who believe they are financially secure but are cutting back.

Aftermarket professionals know that items such as oil and filter changes, cabin air filter changes, and other filters such as fuel and transmission filters have specified service intervals. They also know that consumers don’t adhere closely to those intervals.

However, in the recent economic environment, intervals didn’t so much get extended as they got eliminated altogether.

In the slower times, many businesses may have felt they were losing market share and reacted accordingly. However, Kellenberger says this is not the case.

“Research indicates that con-sumers did not report changing service locations in search of a lower-cost provider, and they did not shift their behaviours to become do-it-yourselfers; rather, they simply cut back on services. The challenge to the industry is that the cutbacks reduced not only the number of maintenance opportunities, but also the number of opportunities to identify needed repairs.”

Brought forward to today, with the lightening consumer mood, the goal is to ensure that these delayed service opportunities are brought to the attention of the trade, and by extension, the consumer.

“It’s a growing segment, but it is also one that has taken time to reach awareness at both the service provider and the end user [levels]. It is very much an education process,” says Phil Kasper general manager, TEC Automotive Industries.

“The challenge we face from the OE is knowing which vehicles have a cabin air filter and its location. Our task is to acquire this information and to communicate it to our customers and service providers.

One of the key areas for growth potential is the cabin air filter (CAF).

“Imparting this knowledge to our customers will insure confidence in their ability to communicate the need to have the CAF serviced at regular intervals. The sale of a cabin air filter is further facilitated by the show and tell of the customer’s filter versus a new filter. We have all seen the debris and foreign matter trapped by the CAF. This demonstration and the knowledge that this material was prevented from entering the passenger compartment typically translates into a sale.”

The jobber’s role to effect a change here is simple.

“Education, education, education,” says Ramon Nuñez, director of filtration for Bosch, joint-venture owner of Purolator Filters.

“While it’s always a good idea to offer customers options so they can select for themselves, the bottom line is to be able to recommend a filter that best meets your customer’s needs, including the driving performance desired, the cost involved, and even brand preference. If a high level of performance is desired from a vehicle, a jobber/service professional should offer the product that will ensure that result.

“As motorists are becoming more aware of the existence of cabin air filters in their car and the function they serve in keeping the air inside clean and fresh for occupants, the market for this category has been steadily expanding. According to Car Care Canada, 80% of new domestic and import vehicles sold in North America today come equipped with cabin air filtration systems or a slot where one can be installed. A large number of this audience is women, especially moms who regularly drive their kids to soccer practice, or music and karate lessons, etc. They are extremely concerned about the quality of the air that their children breathe when the car is stuck in traffic.”

Megan Currie, Honeywell CPG, makers of Fram filters, says that it is important to change tactics to maximize every coming service opportunity.

“Extended warranties and extended-life products continue to put the squeeze on repair opportunities, so it’s important that jobbers help educate and support their trade base to maximize their sales dollar opportunities. That means having product you can stand behind and a manufacturer that stands behind you with products and services that can help you grow your front-door or retail business as well as your trade business. The two do not need to be mutually exclusive. Consumers want to trust their service providers or local parts shop and a way to facilitate that trust is through nationally branded products–even if it costs a bit more, it can be sold for a bit more as well. As vehicles need repair less and less often and car manufacturers extend their factory warranties, it will become increasingly important for both the jobber and the service repair facility to make the most profit from each job or visit and retain their customer base.”

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