The aftermarket can learn from what its brethren in the ride control business have done.
Saddled with a technology change–to struts from shocks–that masked wear and also increased the average ticket price, replacement rates fell further and further behind the accepted useful life of the products on the road.
The number of vehicles that reached the end of their useful life without ride control replacement–some reports said more than 80% of the vehicles in scrapyards had their original ride control still in place–was so great that it played a large role in the remanufactured-strut market that blossomed a few years ago.
However, beginning some years ago now, ride control manufacturers took the nearly unprecedented approach of using effective training focused on what ride control technology really does, with a big emphasis on how to communicate the need to consumers, and have been delivering the benefits of this to the aftermarket ever since. Although every supplier has had its own approach, collectively they agreed to an industry-sanctioned 80,000-km inspection and/or replacement mileage benchmark.
“The training has really helped our whole outlook on the suspension side of things,” says Jim Bintas, co-owner of 2009 Jobber of the Year Spark Auto Electric in Toronto, Ont., who attended a Tenneco ride control training event this summer. Bringing some select customers along as well as staff, Bintas says the training session delivered benefits on several fronts.
“Attending the meeting was very educational. It does help them understand more about what is happening. Our customers are missing the boat on a lot of things.”
He says that improved build quality at the OEM level has legitimately pushed out replacement rates from what they would have been years ago, but a lack of focus on the need to replace ride control is still a main reason jobbers aren’t fulfilling the potential for the market.
“The cars are breaking down now. I saw a car bouncing down the street the other day and I thought, ‘That’s just like what we were talking about at the seminar.’
“Seminars and training will do a good job of helping bring in those older vehicles that will otherwise just have the shocks on forever.”
A key benefit of the training that he emphasizes is the need to slow down, inspect, and communicate.
“It does matter. It goes down to the basic idea that the guys in the bays are still turning wrenches and they don’t have time to slow down and pay close attention.” Or at least they feel that way. “But they have to slow down and spend more time with customers. They need to communicate with the customer.”
He says that while the need exists throughout the year, a move to seasonal campaigns is also a good thing, as it provides the opportunity for a high-energy focus that isn’t possible to maintain year round.
“Remember, we used to have the seasonal things, like mail- in rebates, and other promotions? We kind of got away from that; we want to get that thinking back again.”
There is certainly no shortage in opportunities to learn about ride control, and to apply that valuable information in what jobber store managers and their staff tell their customers. In the best possible fashion, it operates as a partnership of you, your suppliers, and your customers in product, sales, and information.
And there is no downside to that.
We’ve all heard of the four Ps of marketing:
1. Product. The right product to satisfy the needs of your target customer.
2. Price. The right product, offered at the right price.
3. Place. The right product, at the right price, available in the right place to be bought by customers.
4. Promotion. Informing potential customers of the availability of the product, its price, and its place.
For Bintas, a product mix that did not meet the local needs of Spark’s customers had them virtually out of the ride control business. However, the focus brought on by the addition and expansion of the company’s ride control product offering has him singing a different tune.
“We were offering just one line; now we have two lines. Half my customers want the top end and half want the low end, and it changes from month to month who wants what.
“We knew we could be more to our customers. We needed the pricing and we needed the coverage.”
Now, with both on board–plus the recent training– he is already seeing a significant growth in ride control business for the company.
The vast majority of consumers, and more than a few aftermarket professionals, don’t understand the role of ride control, nor how important it is to the safe operation of a vehicle.
There have been a number of research projects identifying the impact of degraded ride control on handling and stopping. While most consumers consider the function of ride control is to keep their vehicle smooth- riding, its real function is to keep the tires in contact with the road. When ride control begins to fail, tires begin to lose traction under turning and braking, possibly compromising safety. Testing has shown an increase in stopping distance of more than three metres from 100 km/h.
Here are more tips to help educate the consumer.
• Most customers will have heard of shocks, and may have heard of struts, but may not have a clear idea of what they do. Explain that they are there to do more than make their car ride smoothly.
• Degraded or damaged shocks or struts are not visible to the average consumer looking at his car; they will not make the car sag, or leave pools of oil on the driveway.
• Car owners will not notice the gradual wear, so will not likely be aware that there is a problem. It has been recommended that shocks and struts be considered for replacement at 80,000 km.
• Shocks and struts keep the tires on the road when the car encounters bumps and dips in the road. Ask the customer if he has noticed any problems with control over severe bumps or when turning. It may indicate a shock or strut problem.
• Old shocks and struts allow the tires to bounce, losing contact with the road, compromising control and safety.
• Research has shown that having just one degraded shock or strut can lengthen stopping distances, because tires can lose contact with the road.
• Research has also shown that degraded shocks and struts reduce a car’s ability to handle turns, especially in evasive manoeuvres.
• Worn shocks and struts also cause other suspension components to wear, meaning that additional repairs will be required earlier.
• Recommend a visual inspection of the shocks and struts, tires–which can show signs of “cupping” with worn ride control–and a “bounce test.”
• There are a number of ride control options for virtually every car on the road: standard replacement units, increased damping for cargo and towing, increased smooth riding for certain customers, performance models, and adjustable models. Inform customers of the options and their benefits.