Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2006   by Dennis Mellersh

Stopping Power (February 01, 2006)

Do voluntary brake testing protocols help customers choose quality and safety over price?

The aftermarket brake products supply chain is currently looking out onto a marketing landscape darkened by a number of stark and troubling features.

These include lowball pricing, some products of questionable quality, little consumer understanding of quality issues, performance and safety issues, and perhaps most significantly, no mandated standards for aftermarket brake products in Canada or the U.S.

This would astonish the vast majority of consumers.

Altogether, this is a worrisome scenario, and as in often the case, jobbers are caught in the middle between suppliers, service providers, and the consumer.

The advent of testing protocols such as D3EA and BEEP provides buyers of products that pass these test protocols comparative consistency when evaluating products not tested under either protocol. In general, responsible brake suppliers are making strong efforts through quality control and various testing procedures, to provide quality products that are safe.

The question is whether brake-buying consumers actually give much thought to quality or to testing protocols such as D3EA or BEEP, or to any of the other additional testing methods used by brake suppliers.

In the retail marketing world, experts talk about the “stopping power” of a product; that is, will a consumer literally stop to check out an item on a shelf, or stroll on by?

So, in the absence of federally mandated standards, can adherence to voluntary standards and testing procedures by reputable suppliers be an effective marketing tool in the aftermarket brake products supply chain? Can performance and safety diligence by suppliers translate into sales? Can safety trump price?

Chuck Greening Jr., of Greening Testing Laboratories, Inc, which provides D3EA testing, says, “People just can’t believe that there are no mandated standards. The customer is simply incorrectly assuming that any given product he is buying is safe. This tendency is part of overall customer expectations being higher than in the past, but I believe that safety can effectively be sold if the safety issue can be positioned properly in marketing. “If you can get the safety issue in front of people, they will understand it. D3EA in that regard could then become more of a marketing tool.”

Honeywell Friction Materials follows extensive instrument-based testing procedures for its Bendix brakes line, as well as what it describes as real world testing.

Honeywell director of international sales, Mark Marutiak, says, “When you get into the big brands, people assume the quality and the associated safety is there. In other words, the quality is a given, especially with companies that have an OE affiliation. Generally, consumers trust the advice they are given by the installer. In our formulations we try to get as close as possible OE, or better. Both consumers and installers are concerned with a variety of brake issue factors, including dusting, noise, stopping distance, and fading.”

For Ian Braunstein, vice-president of Satisfied Brake Products, effective testing is paramount.

“There has been an evolution to four-wheel disc brake systems and also an evolution in friction materials in general. With that, heat and friction coefficients have become more of an issue, leading to the need for better friction materials and materials that are more vehicle-specific. There are multiple formulations of materials out there in the market, all of which have their own unique characteristics.

“All of this points to the need for responsible aftermarket testing of brake products and systems,” he says.

“General Motors and Greening Testing Laboratories, Inc. have developed an effective simulated testing of OE real vehicle testing (FMVSS, or Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards), which is the basis of the D3EA system. Greening is an independent testing facility and its protocols are OE-endorsed,” Braunstein adds.

“Installers want to know they are working with materials that have been tested with a responsible testing protocol.” The difficulty, Braunstein adds, is that consumers are not specifically familiar with nor sensitive to D3EA or BEEP procedures and their benefits.

“People also assume that they are buying quality materials that meet all of the appropriate criteria. This places a greater burden on all industry participants, from distributors to parts stores, to take on the responsibility of screening their brake products, and insuring that they are meeting the OE established criteria,” Braunstein says.

He continues that effective testing procedures such as D3EA can be a good talking point for the installer in discussing brake products with the customer, particularly in terms of reviewing safety factors.

In assessing the marketability of brake testing protocols, Kenneth L. Selinger, marketing and product development manager–aftermarket and OES division, Akebono Brake Corporation, North America, says that well-known brands of brakes carry with them an inherent customer expectation for performance and safety. “In these instances, programs such as D3EA and BEEP serve as confirmation that a brand continues to consistently deliver the consumer’s product performance and safety expectations,” he says. “With lesser-known brands, D3EA and BEEP serve more as a validation tool, to help improve a brand’s eligibility for consideration within the consumer’s decision-making process.

“Preceding these assumptions is the fact that consumers must already be knowledgeable, with regard to the benefit and perceived added value that D3EA and BEEP actually represent. This is typically the shortfall of the assumption that testing protocols, regardless of origin, add value from the consumer’s perspective. Therefore, in order for D3EA and BEEP testing to help generate sales, consumers must first understand and then place a value on these and other testing protocols,” Selinger says.

“Once a brand is established in the mind of a consumer, synergistic benefits may be realized through the combination of a powerful brand image with credible testing protocols and successful long-term product implementation within the market. More simply stated, the brand is most important, followed by products that deliver solutions, followed by testing which may enhance brand credibility over time with consumer education,” Selinger says.

Kurt Pursche, ACDelco product specialist – brake systems, comments, “Although there are no explicit standards for aftermarket brakes in the U.S. and in Canada, ACDelco adheres to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) established for new vehicles.

“We then voluntarily submit our DuraStop brake products to rigorous independent D3EA testing because we’re committed to doing the right thing for our customers. ACDelco believes the D3EA seal is easily identifiable and gives installers and consumers confidence in what they’re purchasing.”

Pursche says that both the brand and the certification are important. “ACDelco is a well-recognized, respected brand and we’re a global leader in automotive aftermarket replacement parts and services. Part of the reason we have such an upstanding reputation is that we exceed not only requirements but also expectations.”

Effectively used, adherence to testing protocols can be an effective marketing tool, in the view of Ted Zahara, advertising and sales promotion manager, Affinia Canada, makers of Raybestos brand products. Zahara says that D3EA testing is a critical component in the company’s brake products program.

“We believe the D3EA testing protocols are the best available.

“The old adage that ‘you get what you pay for’ is certainly true with brake products, and by using D3EA effectively as an education tool, the service provider can show the reasons for price differences in products. We encourage the installer to tell customers about the benefits of D3EA-tested products. It’s not only good for assisting in the pre-sell of quality, it can be very important for reaffirmation of the sale to help customers justify their choice of a quality brake product. In other words, once customers understand the benefits of D3EA tested quality products, they will not feel they paid too much if they hear about a lower-priced product. We consider D3EA to be a true value-added concept,” Zahara says.

Overall, a conclusion that might be drawn is that wider brake supply-chain promotion, and education to consumers of the benefits of responsible voluntary testing protocols, might help to paint a brighter operating landscape for jobbers and suppliers alike.

Consumer Reports View of D3EA and BEEP

Noting that many consumers mistakenly assume that all aftermarket replacement pads will perform just as well or better than factory parts, Consumer Rports says the following about D3EA and BEEP: “The two tests certainly aren’t meant to confuse consumers; they simply offer different options for the industry…

“Consumers must remember that not all of an aftermarket manufacturer’s lineup gets certified, only pads designed for a specific vehicle that passed the designated test…The best advice is to look for manufacturers that aggressively test their standard line, then move up in grade if you need more performance or seek other advantages…”

Jobber Perspectives on Testing Protocols

For jobber Evroi Lynch, vice-president and general manager of Redfern Auto Parts in Toronto, Ont., testing protocols and certification are not top-of-mind within the market.

“I don’t think it’s really a concern with the consumer, nor with the service provider, so it’s not really a major selling tool for us. Our customers really don’t ask us about it, and assume that the quality is there. I frequently talk to the counterpeople to see what the emerging trends are, and brake testing protocols do not appear to be an issue.”

“Price, price, price” is the brake products refrain that jobber Robert Dykeman of Royal Auto Parts, also in Toronto, seems to be hearing more and more.

Dykeman says, “The whole business now seems to be a race to the bottom with everything being a matter of price and people not seeming to care about quality. They seem to assume that the quality is there and they may think, for example, that a product is a first-line pad, when it simply isn’t.

“On the other hand,” Dykeman says, “we do have some customers who consistently demand top-quality brake products, and these people also seem to be the most successful operators.”

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