A key component of selling successfully into the exhaust, emission, and tune-up parts categories is knowing your customer’s needs and having the right products on your shelves. While it is virtually impossible to stock every unit given the number of vehicle models on the market today, to sell successfully in the exhaust market you need to focus on the sweet-spot years and know which models are predominant in your particular area. You should also have a comprehensive backup supply of some of the hard-to-find slow movers. It’s important to have the coverage and availability to complete every sale, particularly when you’re working with a technician who has a customer waiting for a repair.
Due to the wide variance in quality and price, catalytic converters have become known as the brake pad of the exhaust market. Fortunately, the market is beginning to correct itself as technicians realize that going with the least expensive product is not their best bet.
With the new OBD-II emission standards, technicians are becoming more cautious about just buying the cheapest product out there. Many techs are now ordering higher-quality cats, because they are concerned about comebacks from using a cheaper product. The general rule of thumb is the less loaded the converter, the worse it’s going to function. It’s the expensive precious metals that do all the work. That’s why prices can be so drastically different.
Catalytic converters have become strong performers in recent years, making up for the slowdown in exhaust system sales. More and more specialized aftermarket units are being engineered as manufacturers continue to improve the technology. Having a good selection of these units in your inventory can ensure you are the first-call supplier.
The popularity of direct-fit systems over universal fit systems may well play a role in your particular market. Take a close look at the particular street-level economic and demographic factors of your customer base. This data will tell you what you need to have in stock and on call better than then any national stats you may be relying on.
Converter development now requires not only catalyst expertise, but also extensive insight into manifold and gasket design. Overall fitment also becomes much more important, due to manifold runner configurations and positioning of the O2 sensor. In general, jobbers have to be vigilant of any aftermarket manifold converter that deviates significantly from the OE design, in order to prevent comebacks due to a poorly designed converter.
Some pertinent factors that have been raising the demand for direct-fit cats from the repair community include the time savings and convenience of a bolt-on repair, as well as the increased coverage and availability of these units. Tighter emissions regulations also have played a part by pushing vehicle manufacturers toward manifold converters, which help clean emissions more quickly and thoroughly by being positioned closer to the engine. Direct-fit replacement converters are needed for these applications as well as for many smaller vehicles, including imports, with very tight under-body packaging.
With consolidation across model years, we are now seeing kits that will fit a wider range of models. The one-piece-fits-all-models approach is definitely growing with manufacturers.
While direct-fit units are generally more expensive, they have the added benefit of enabling more service providers to perform these repairs, rather than subbing out the jobs to muffler shops and other specialty shops that have the fabrication and welding equipment and specialized skills needed to install universal converters, which broadens your sales market.
While some technicians prefer to order mainly universal product because they have the skills to make it work on all kinds of applications, many technicians won’t touch a universal unit because they just don’t want to deal with that part of it.
Flex pipe is another dominant replacement part, followed by mufflers and resonators. Even though stainless steel is very resilient to rust and lasts much longer, there are still several models out there that have vibration issues and insufficient flexibility issues that result in exhaust system failures.
Often, the aftermarket replacement parts are designed to be much more robust and will circumvent a recurrence of the problem. This is a good opportunity for counter staff to mention, “Aftermarket products are built better than OE.”
If you are in the game but are not always hearing what you’d expect from your customers, don’t dismiss this feedback out of hand. Look to your supplier reps as a quality source of information on ways to meet customer needs with options they have available that you may be unaware of. Keep in mind that different suppliers will have different approaches, should a change be necessary.
Clean Up On Emission
When was the last time you examined your database to determine if your main customers are avoiding purchasing emission parts due to an outdated perception that they must buy from OEMs?
You should look to your database and analyze their buying patterns. Are they buying only domestic applications? Are they only buying one brand from you? Are they only buying older application parts from you?
When it comes to engine management and emissions work, some technicians are reluctant to use aftermarket options because they are under the misguided belief that there is a risk of an unsatisfactory result. No technician wants the grief of a comeback over a faulty emission sensor. But while the question of quality aftermarket emissions components may have been a factor a few years back, that perception is no longer valid.
The fact of the matter is that the parts that make up the aftermarket inventory are actually the same parts they are able to obtain through the car dealer.
Have your field sales staff take note of what vehicles they see in customers’ shops. This way you can find out first-hand if you are missing out on an opportunity to increase sales of quality emission components to this customer. You can’t assume to know what type of vehicles your customers are working on simply by their buying patterns. By actually visiting them, your sales staff can look around and see what vehicles are on the lot and in their bays. Then ask yourself if what they are seeing matches up with what they are buying. If it doesn’t, then you have an opportunity to increase sales with that customer.
For savvy jobbers that know their market in terms of stocking, the aging car park is a booming market for exhaust system sales in a strengthening economy. By taking the time to educate your service provider customers on the value of investing in premium exhaust components, you will empower them with the knowledge they need to help their customers make the right choice and increase your sales at the same time.
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