Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2004   by Nate Hendley

Get Consumers Thinking About What They Can See and What They Can’t

Lighting and Wipers Require Attention-Getting Strategies

Most drivers only pay attention to their headlights and windshield wipers when it’s dark or rainy out. Bad move, say manufacturers in the visibility products sector.

To be truly safe, consumers should consider upgrading to high-end lamps and wipers. Promoting safety, say company reps, offers benefits for consumers, manufacturers and jobbers alike.

Mississauga, Ont.-based lighting company Osram Sylvania, for example, has made safety one of the main selling features of its products.

“We’re trying to build consumer awareness about the safety of headlights,” says JoAnn McKeown, national sales manager, automotive, at Osram Sylvania. “Most consumers don’t realize that their headlights [will dim] over time.

“For optimum performance, headlights need to be changed on a regular basis,” she continues. “When they are changed out, they should be changed in pairs. When one burns out, the other one is not far behind.”

To underline the company’s safety stance, McKeown refers to a recent study conducted by the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

The study found that “high performance halogen headlights produce a whiter light that helps improve a driver’s ability to see roadside objects such as street signs,” she states.

Whiter headlights also help drivers improve their reaction time and avoid road hazards, adds McKeown.

To this end, the company continues to heavily promote its SilverStar halogen headlights, which apparently offer greater luminance than other halogens. SilverStar’s suggested retail price ranges from two to three times that of conventional bulbs, but the company has run ads touting the safety benefits of its lamps on television and in major print media outlets to sell the benefits.

A consumer awareness campaign won’t work, however, if jobbers aren’t prepared to do their part.

McKeown urges jobbers to stock alternative upgrade products and talk up safety concerns with customers.

McKeown acknowledges, however, that counterpeople might be too busy or harried to provide detailed headlight information to all their customers.

This is why retail displays are also necessary to boost sales of high-end lights, says McKeown. “I think it’s important that there is something for walk-in [customers] to see, whether it’s product on pegboard or counter displays or whatever. This is what really helps to sell the product.”

A well-conceived retail display not only offers a consumer-friendly method of stocking product, it can impart information about the uses of the item on sale. Pamphlets can be included in the display or text written on the surface of the display itself.

Whether it’s through a retail display or through words of wisdom from a counterperson, convincing consumers to regularly change and upgrade their headlights is a win-win situation, states McKeown. “Consumers get a better quality and safer product. For the jobbers and installers, it increases their business.”

Other manufacturers and jobbers have also been busy merchandising visibility products.

Federal-Mogul will be offering its first-ever jobber/consumer reward program this fall. Starting September 1, jobbers will be able to purchase a counter display rack containing roughly two dozen Wagner TruView halogen headlamps–a product Federal-Mogul launched last fall.

Headlamps in the counter displays will be divided between capsules and sealed beams. According to company literature, TruView lamps use special technology to filter out harsh light, resulting in a true, whiter light without creating excessive glare to oncoming drivers.

Jobbers who purchase this display get four free capsules, says Crystal Longest, marketing manager of consumer products at Federal-Mogul.

Jobbers can also earn rewards for selling items from the display.

“If jobbers sell these displays, they can receive perks that have a visibility theme,” states Longest.

Potential prizes available to jobbers include binoculars, TVs, and other visually stimulating items.

Customers, meanwhile, are also eligible for rewards; anyone who buys a pair of headlamps can get a rebate if they mail a form to Federal-Mogul.

Federal-Mogul hopes their jobber/ consumer reward program will get the TruView lamps into the right channels, she adds.

Federal-Mogul also provides semi-permanent corrugated automotive lighting displays, for jobbers interested in boosting retail sales. “We have smaller displays that jobber stores will pick up and put prominently on their counters. We have a variety of counter displays that can be used.”

Federal-Mogul isn’t the only manufacturer to offer incentives, packages and displays to jobbers in the visibility products segment.

Robert Bosch provides a pre-pack for jobbers three times a year, says Cameron Young, national sales manager for the company in Canada.

“This pre-pack consists of an assortment of [wiper] blades prepackaged with a premium,” he explains. “We sell the pre-pack at the same price or better than what they would pay for the blades individually, and throw in a premium free of charge. Jobber salesmen can use this as a selling tool when they’re calling on installers. It gives them something more to talk about than the weather or last night’s game.”

Bosch also offers popularity listings to jobbers, Young continues. Based on market activity and tabulated electronically, these listings help jobbers select appropriate items and quantities for inventory.

The popularity listings “suggest what inventories to carry, specific to a particular market,” he says.

Jobbers and manufacturers alike say there is a trend towards high-end wiper blades.

“There seems more of a push towards premium and ultra-premium blades,” notes Young. “I think the consumer and the installer are looking for quality items, and are prepared to pay the premium associated with an all-steel blade, for example.”

Bosch’s European branch markets a blade made of a synthetic, two-component element. Called the Aerotwin, this blade has not had a major launch in North America.

As for what is falling out of fashion, Young says, plastic wiper blades seem less favourable with the public, due to concerns about performance under intensive hot or cold weather conditions.

Mark Ruzycki, president of Northern Performance, a jobber facility based in Hamilton, Ont., has also been keeping track of changes in the wiper department.

“I have noticed many companies have definitely tried to improve the quality of the material in the blade itself,” states Ruzycki. “I’ve seen two or three different samples that were definite upgrades in the blade.”

Among other customers, Ruzycki deals heavily with specialty stores and tuner shops.

For the past two years, he has been selling silicone-impregnated wiper blades from the PIAA firm, whose head office is located in Great Britain. As part of their promotion of PIAA blades, Northern Performance offers a rolling gondola in the retail section of their store that displays a variety of wiper blade components, says Ruzycki.

The product and the display were purchased from PIAA, and have been available to jobbers for about a year, he adds.

As for the fall, expect to see jobbers and manufacturers joining forces to promote a new vehicle safety awareness program called “Be Car Care Aware.” The Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA) is spearheading the initiative, which is based on a similar program in the United States.

Under the terms of the Be Car Care Aware program, automotive service providers will display a series of banners, stickers and posters. The initiative is designed to raise awareness of proper vehicle maintenance and improve the image of the automotive aftermarket industry. It kicks off in late September in Canada and will be highlighted by a major media relations campaign.

Tying company promotions in with this larger industry initiative could provide benefits across the entire category for jobbers, service providers, and consumers alike.

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