For years, industry pundits have been telling us the do-it-yourself market is declining as boomers become older and move out of the market or die off. The younger generations of car owners who follow the boomers, we have been told, are just not as inclined to do their own repairs, so there really is no one to take the boomer generation’s place.
However, new research says just the opposite is happening. Do-it-yourself automotive repair has become one of the fastest-growing consumer trends in Canada and the United States. The latest reports say it is flourishing, based on the parallel growth in home DIY projects. Fuelled by more than a decade of consumer-empowering messages from home maintenance store chains such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, homeowners who have found DIY to be a route to sustained cost savings in home improvement have turned their attention to the garage.
The statistics are very appealing for jobbers. In a 2013 DIY study by AutoMD, 37% of those surveyed reported that their financial situation has improved year over year, but 79% still choose to do their own repairs. Moreover, once automobile owners try DIY, they stay with it. According to the same AutoMD study, 90% of car owners who undertake DIY repairs are doing the same amount or more of their own auto repairs and maintenance this year versus one year ago.
The rationale behind this growing trend is simple: automobiles are staying in service longer, and are becoming an investment, rather than an expense. According to a recent Polk report, the average age of cars and light trucks on Canadian and U.S. roads has increased to a record 10.8 years. The average age of passenger cars is now 11.1 years, while the age of light trucks, which include pickups and SUVs, has jumped to 10.4 years. Polk also reports that the average length of ownership of vehicles has grown to more than 53 months, an 18-month increase since 2001.
Automobile owners are transitioning away from the “disposable-vehicle” mindset of the 1990s and 2000s and relying on DIY maintenance to keep vehicles running longer, at lower cost. DIY cost savings over that longer ownership horizon adds up to meaningful amounts, too. In the AutoMD study, 96% of respondents report saving more than $100 annually, while nearly 60% say they save more than $500, and 30% reported saving $1,000 or more. A longer vehicle ownership lifespan multiplies these annual savings into real fiscal gains over the decade-plus that vehicles are now expected to operate. Even as vehicles in service are getting older, the drivers interested in maintaining them are getting younger.
Millennials – those born between 1980 and 1994, and representing the largest generation of car drivers since the 1960s – are a growing “sweet spot” for the next generation of automotive DIY. Hit hard in earning power by the Great Recession, Millennials increasingly rely on DIY auto maintenance and repair, according to a study by the NPD Group involving over 18,000 U.S.-based auto parts stores. The study showed that stores in neighbourhoods with significant Millennial presence registered greater dollar sales per store in multiple categories; hard part sales were 11% higher in such neighbourhoods, and tools and light application categories, such as filters and spark plugs, sold better, too. But Millennials are not the shade-tree mechanics of decades gone by. They expect local part stock to be visible by smartphone, how-to videos to be available on their tablets, and tools and technologies offered for working on every aspect of their vehicles – from cleaning to maintenance to improvement. But these will be table stakes compared to what they will expect a decade from now: augmented-reality applications like the ones Inglobe Technologies recently demonstrated, will overlay how-to guides directly over an image of a car component, accessible by tablet or Google Glass.
Millennials are not just driving the growth of automotive DIY; they are also building the next generation of DIY enablement technologies. The trend topography and competitive terrain of the automotive aftermarket retailing market are positioning the industry for landmark change over the coming decade. The key challenge is capturing a dominant market share among the growing ranks of automotive DIYers. Based on an analysis of the individual trends emerging in the industry, market leadership is expected to accrue to the organization that can achieve four key transformational points in the customer experience: applications, analytics, alliance, and assistance.
n Applications keep a retailer’s brand presence and value promise in the customer’s pocket or purse at all times. For DIY projects, that level of persistent connection provides a venue for aftermarket automotive retailers to shine.
According to AutoMD, more than 80 million people turn to the Internet for automotive-related advice, many utilizing social media and mobile applications to do so. Because of the portability and high-speed data access rates of smartphones, apps can deliver an aftermarket DIY experience, from the garage to the store counter, like few other channels. But applications can do more than just provide project specifications and parts lists; they can also comparison-price parts via the Web. Doing so is expected to become a key battleground for customer loyalty in aftermarket automotive parts retailing. NPD’s automotive aftermarket research found that only 37% of consumers rely on the same retailer for all of their automotive product needs. Almost half of DIY consumers compare prices from at least two different retailers.
n Analytics play an increasingly important role in every aspect of retailing, and the aftermarket automotive sector is a particularly good fit for analytic capabilities. Analytics can detect social media activity with potential brand impact, identify high-value target customer demographics within a store’s local area, and enable dynamic bundling and promotion of multiple products with a specific margin goal for each. More importantly, analytics empower the retailing system to “see” deeper into a customer’s shopping basket, providing a valuable knowledge support system for busy retail employees.
Common projects such as changing a vehicle’s oil or replacing spark plugs are easy to support at the register. But brake, transmission, and engine projects require more parts, more tools, and more shop supplies. Analytics platforms can sense, based on the product bar codes being scanned at purchase, what a customer might be doing and can recommend, via screen pop, additional necessary supplies, discounts, or project guidance material.
n Alliance, as a retailing culture, is the next evolutionary step in advancing the value proposition of automotive aftermarket retailing. Selling parts and supplies is no longer expected to constitute the core of the customer experience in the automotive aftermarket. Parts and supplies retailers, like their home DIY counterparts, must become project partners in a productivity alliance, working together to save customers time and money. That begins with a holistic awareness of customers’ project goals and experience levels, and evolves into a support structure for the customer at every level of expertise and interest. From in-store clinics and “group garage” weekend events, to printed and electronic guides, to common projects, the leaders in aftermarket automotive retailing are going to become knowledge and experience destinations, not just retail stores.
n Assistance rounds out the next generation of automotive aftermarket retailing services by adding a rich layer of empowerment and enablement to the three components mentioned above.
In AutoMD’s study, 91% of “do-it-for-me” (DFM) auto owners reported that they were open to performing their own repairs if they had easy access to how-to information. While explanatory videos and guides can go a significant distance toward bridging that knowledge and confidence gap, there is no substitute
in many instances for live assistance.
A knowledgeable partner can transform a challenging task into an easy, money- and time-saving task. But asking store staff to step into that role requires either increasing retail staffing, or forcing other customers to wait. Neither is an ideal solution. nJN
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