Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2014   by Steve Pawlett

New Technology, Safety Concerns, Boosting Premium Brake Component Sales

Brake part sales across Canada and the United States are skyrocketing as consumers choose to keep their vehicles longer and spend more on parts and service. According to a recent Frost & Sullivan report on the North American brake pads and shoes aftermarket, brake pad sales reached approximately 89.2 million units in 2013. The increasing average age of vehicles will continue to drive the aftermarket for brake pads, rotors, drums, and calipers.
“With lower scrap rates and the improved durability of newer vehicles, we are seeing an increase in the average age of light vehicles in Canada,” explains Terry Heffelfinger, vice-president, product development, R&D, and quality, Brake Parts Inc. “This bodes well for the aftermarket in Canada and specifically, brake components. The consumers that are keeping their vehicles longer have a stronger willingness to perform regular maintenance, using premium brake products to bring their vehicles back to ‘like new’ condition and braking performance. Professional inspection and service are key factors for longer vehicle life, performance and reliability.”
“Regardless of the age of the vehicle, when it comes to brakes, they are number-one as far as safety requirements are concerned for any vehicle, and even more so as the car ages,” adds Ernie Fields of Promax Auto Parts Depot. “Jobbers and technicians should always point out to the customer that higher-quality premium brake pads are the only way to go, regardless of the age of the vehicle.”
“I do think there is an excellent opportunity here for jobbers, but it all depends on how it is presented to the technician, and how the technician presents this to the customer,” explains Kevin Fleury, sales director for Transbec Inc. “The technician has to sell the job and the value of going with a premium brake. There are a lot of premium brake pads now available at mid-level pricing. For example, our Bremson pads and rotors are positioned as a premium product but [carry] a mid-level grade price.
“Most brands of brake pads, shoes, and rotors on the market today meet or exceed current safety standards. The questions that have to be asked and the factors that have to be considered include the type of vehicle, the type of driving conditions, and what the consumer’s needs and performance expectations are – for example, low dust and sensitivity to noise,” explains Dean Weber, vice-president of sales and marketing for Proforce Automotive.
“With consumers looking to stretch their dollars, it only makes sense to use premium pads and rotors, which gives longer life to their braking system and reduces the frequency of brake service work. As an example, the new Raybestos brand Element3 brake pads with enhanced hybrid technology provide 35% improved wear capabilities. For an optimum brake job and to get the longest life from a brake system, it is important to pair premium pads with premium rotors,” adds Heffelfinger.
“Our Promax Brake pads now come with the option of hardware included, and this added feature is really taking off now, because most customers don’t mind spending a few extra dollars for the new hardware, and technicians prefer to use new hardware because they can do a better brake job and reduce the risk of comebacks,” explains Fields.
Taking the time to educate customers on the benefits of investing in premium brake components, by showing them the difference between inferior and premium brake pads and rotors, makes the sale that much easier.
“I have a customer in the Maritimes who took me to one of his technician customers that had the most complete showroom as far as POP material went. He had samples of defective parts and new parts as well as inferior-grade brake parts and superior grade parts, all on the wall. He would do a five-minute clinic with each customer and inform them about what was going on with their vehicle,” explains Fleury. “He also had two Geo Metros that were exactly the same except one had worn-out shocks, a loose ball joint, and the cheapest brakes he could find. He would have customers drive both vehicles on his lot and compare braking distances. He was able to demonstrate and teach his customers the true benefit of using premium-quality brake components.”
“Yes, an inferior brake pad doesn’t cost a lot initially, but it will in the long run. When you want to come to an emergency stop and your brakes fade and stopping distance increases by 15% or more, the proof is in the pudding. This technician was able to put something together where he was able to show and teach his customers the true benefit of using premium quality brake components, allowing him to sell a premium brake job every time,” adds Fleury.
It’s a well-known industry fact that the decreasing service life of vehicle parts will continue to support demand for brake components. For example, brake rotors wear more quickly now, as they have become lighter and thinner and need to be replaced more often.
“The thought is that a newer vehicle owner will be more prone to purchase a premium brake product than a vehicle owner with a much older vehicle, for obvious reasons. Again though, jobbers and technicians need to ask the pertinent questions on driving habits, owner’s expectations and/or needs, affordability, and other factors. More vehicles are open-wheel, and the wheel is more relevant in the appearance of the vehicle, so a coated premium rotor that resists rusting and a premium ceramic pad that offers low dust may be two influential purchase factors,” explains Weber.
“Since they are such a wear item, brake rotors, more so than brake pads, have become the race to the bottom,” adds Fleury. Brake pads now have a lot of new technology, so jobbers and technicians are able to upsell them. But rotors are a piece of steel with no moving parts. What you see is what you get. That being said, there are a lot of parts stores in a fight based on price, and it becomes one big race to the bottom when it comes to brake rotors.”
With the recent introduction of coated rotors, jobbers and technicians now have a reason to upsell customers to a premium rotor.
“Transbec and Promax were among the first Canadian manufacturers to bring coated rotors to the market. When it was introduced about a year ago, the market wasn’t ready for it. No one believed in it. But now, coated rotor sales are huge, and continue to grow,” adds Fleury.
“I can’t begin to tell you about the interest in our coated rotors,” adds Promax’s Fields. “There are weeks that go by that we sell more coated rotors than we do any of the others. They have really taken off.”
Probably the biggest reason for this growth is price. Before, many of the premium lines used to coat the hub and the edges, but the price was practically triple the cost of a second-line rotor and customers would simply not spend the money on them.
“Promax’s coated premium rotor is made with 20% more pure steel in the rotor and is less than half the price of other premium rotors out there. If you can get a premium rotor that is coated for an extra $10 or $15 that will not rust, it’s now an easy upsell. We also recently added coated brake drums to our line,” adds Fields.
“Premium pads can offer better braking performance, [as well as] better control of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Lower dust and longer pad and rotor life can also be a benefit to the consumer. Probably the biggest trend now in rotors is coated Geomet rotors. They offer a better appearance for open wheel, resistance to rusting, and overall better performance and longer life,” adds Weber.
“Too often the counterperson or service writer gravitates to offering the lowest-priced brake products to the consumer to avoid confrontation over price. The consumer will typ
ically make the right choice when the front line staff takes the time to explain the differences between economy and premium brake components, such as better stopping performance, improved wear and better heat dissipating characteristics, which can contribute to improved safety of the vehicle and its occupants. When you consider the cost per mile of a premium brake job, it’s an easier sell,” adds Heffelfinger.
“When selling a coated rotor, you are not selling an auto part,” says Fleury. “We try to get our customers to get that out of their head. You are not selling a brake job, you are not selling an auto part, you are selling profitability. There is no other way to improve a brake rotor, and it works at all levels of the distribution chain. It works for the jobber selling to the mechanic, and it works for the mechanic selling to the customer. It’s one of our fastest-growing lines.”
“When a customer comes in for a brake job and is looking at two rotors on the counter and one is a top of the line – best steel possible, perfect fin count, the whole nine yards – and the rotor next to it is just as good but it’s coated so it won’t rust, the customer is going to choose the coated rotor.
“The service advisor can explain all the factors about the two rotors, but when they see the coated rotor, which has that visual difference right there and you tell them it will not rust and will last a lot longer and make your vehicle look a lot better, this is especially attractive for all these vehicles that now come with beautiful mag wheels where you can see the entire braking system. If they can’t see it, can’t feel it, or can’t touch it, a lot of times they think it doesn’t exist. But with the coated rotor you now have an added value over other rotors that they can see and you can sell,” says Fleury.
Clearly the aftermarket has done a good job of responding to changes at the OE level with products that properly replicate the fit, form, and function of original parts and even go beyond OE quality. With an aging car parc, and consumers now more willing to maintain their vehicles in like-new condition, demand for premium pads and premium, coated rotors remains high and will continue to gain market share from lower-priced parts.

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