Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2007   by Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

No Cold Comfort

While the change of seasons has always had its challenges, I never would have expected to be worried about rain on New Year’s Eve, or looking for a tee time January 3.

But here it is: in what would have rightly been called full-fledged winter here in Toronto, my snow tires were still in storage–I put them on mid-month, I swear–and that guy on the sport bike was still zipping around the neighbourhood.

While the experts at Environment Canada have sought to assuage our worries by saying that the unseasonably warm weather in central Canada is only an anomaly, not evidence of global warming, that knowledge does little to quell my concerns over what another warm winter might mean for the aftermarket.

And, it seems, those of us in central Canada are not alone. In 2006, wacky weather was widespread: Edmonton recorded its highest temperature in 70 years; Montreal had its rainiest year on record; Yellowknife had its snowiest November ever; Fredericton experienced a record number of thunderstorms in July; Winnipeg had its warmest January on record; and Vancouver and Victoria had record-setting months for rain in November.

What about the positive aspects of a warmer-than-usual winter?

As with my local sport biker, consumers may well be driving more than if the road conditions were questionable. Instead of hunkering down by the fireplace till the tulips come up, more Canadians may make a few extra road trips to the in-laws, the cottage, or just to friends for dinner.

(I offer this view with apologies to those in British Columbia, where the torrential downpours have no doubt curtailed driving, though I understand that urban boating was on the rise this past fall.)

Those added kilometres should add to the general wear and tear business: more kilometres mean more oil changes, more brake jobs, more spark plugs, ignition wires, wheel bearings, and virtually any part that wears a little every time the car rolls down the road.

Perhaps they will be more inspired to keep their cars clean, spelling a boon for car care products. (It was 9 degrees C on New Year’s Day in Toronto, chilly but amply warm enough to wash a car by hand, for those so inclined.)

There is a catch, of course; many of these additional opportunities are of the maintenance variety, as opposed to the business-arriving-on-the-hook variety.

So, if they haven’t already, your automotive service provider customers had better get a plan in place to attract maintenance business. This means working hard to have customers schedule visits and plan repairs. It means doing more than sending out “specials”; customers need to be attracted for the qualities that brought them to choose a given service provider in the first place.

It probably means getting on the phone and making some personal calls; it definitely means having a conversation with the customer when he’s at the service reception desk. It would seem obvious, but if you pride yourself on providing “that personal touch” when the customer is in your store, why not apply that to your customer outreach? (My vet recently sent out a reminder postcard for my cat’s shots; the postcard was an actual photo of my cat, unobtrusively taken during his last visit. Nice touch.)

As the jobber, you are uniquely positioned to counsel your customers on how to achieve a profitable balance in this new reality.

None of this is, of course, really new at all. The idea that we should take a more orderly approach to maintenance has been touted for decades. And even if this winter is mild where you are, those failing vehicle systems won’t last forever.

But when Mother Nature ceases to be your best salesperson, it’s time to take another approach.

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