Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2010   by Auto Service World

Top Retail Tips: Motor Oil and Filters

Is he a Passionate? A Minimalist? Retail intelligence built in the oil and filter category can help every part of your business.

Few automotive product categories are as tuned in to the retail customer as the oil and filters category.

With a long history as a favourite job for the DIYer–changing your own oil is almost a rite of passage–it has served as an early adopter of retail marketing approaches such as category management.

More recently, the market has been challenged by environmental imperatives designed to lower the impact of the entire category on the planet. Everything from extended oil change intervals to tight rules on disposal have affected the market and those who sell into it.

“Sustainability is a key driver for all packaged goods right now,” says Megan Currie of Honeywell CPG, which manufactures the Fram brand. “Responsible product stewardship and reduced packaging is increasingly becoming a requirement to sell to key retailers. These trends will have an impact on the jobber community as well. Heightened consumer awareness, government regulation, and social conscience around carbon footprint is already driving changes in the car park. Extended life products by default help with sustainability goals in many automotive categories as, for example, oil management systems become more prevalent and commodity-driven categories like oil and coolant look for more sustainable resource options.”

With this in mind, it is important to understand the customers and the products you have to sell.

1. Which customer is which?

Among the more sophisticated retailers, companies in the motor oil and filter sector have developed four categories of customer, divided by the way they see their car and maintenance habits.

Passionates: These consumers are passionate about their car, and have some expertise about its inner workings. These are premium-product consumers. For motor oil, this means synthetic grades.

Minimalists: Price, price, and price are what dictate the behaviour of these consumers. They will seek out the best deal, regardless of brand, grade, or specifications.

Diligent and Dutiful: These consumers don’t know much about motor oil or their car, but will try to perform the kind of maintenance required. From a motor oil perspective, they understand the need to change a car’s oil, but don’t necessarily stick to the recommended change intervals.

Peace of Minders: These consumers want to be worry-free, so they are likely to choose a branded motor oil, any branded motor oil. They respond well to media messages and believe those messages are credible.

2. Communicate the Implications of Extended Oil Change Intervals.

While the early tendency of the trade was to dismiss the manufacturer-recommended oil change intervals as a recipe for engine damage, that message has little credibility in the face of automakers’ recommendations.

However, with extended oil changes come the very credible opportunity to recommend the highest quality, most durable products you can offer. This applies to both the motor oil you sell–semi-synthetic and full synthetic, for example–as well as filters that can withstand as much as five times the intervals you might have been recommending pre-extended interval trend.

3. Ensure DIY Customers Have What They Need.

Ensure that every customer is asked if he needs catch basins, disposal bags, and instructions on what to do with the used oil and filter. If your local municipality has a program (most if not all do), have the details on hand for the consumer.

It will help raise your environmental image and also help you guard against being accused of promoting non-environmentally friendly practices.

4. Be Brand-Focused.

Brands in this category tend to attract great loyalty from the consumer. Like many brand equations, it is not always clear why consumers will respond well to one brand and not another, but they do. Ensure you have a strong selection of brands and monitor their performance.

5. Employ Category Management Techniques.

While it may not be in your realm if you operate a smaller store, understanding the motor oil category as a whole rather than just as a set of competing brands can be an effective strategy. This means looking at overall profitability among the different classes of product–basic, economy, high-mileage, semi-synthetic, synthetic–and even the performance of different grades.

While an attentive supplier rep can be of great assistance for this, do not allow competing reps to steal shelf space from each other with successive detailing visits. Display the amount, type, and brands that work for your business.

6. Highlight “Forgotten Filters”

Cabin air filters–as well as other filters such as those in the transmission and fuel system–should be highlighted. While not every DIYer is willing to pull out a fuel filter, the relative ease of changing a cabin air filter makes them a fabulous retail sale opportunity, and one with genuine customer benefits.

7. Know Your Technology.

Despite the reams of information published by suppliers of motor oil and industry associations, there continues to be some rather broad miscommunication, particularly regarding synthetic motor oils and the relatively new addition to the marketplace, high-mileage motor oils.

In addition, the proliferation of European standards has also caused some confusion within the trade. The Jobber News Motor Oil Mythbusters Quiz–generously sponsored by Valvoline–regularly attracts as many incorrect answers as correct answers. (For the record, not every synthetic oil meets the Energy Conserving performance requirements needed to display the ILSAC star-burst. This has nothing to do with good or bad quality; some motor oil formulations focus on building in other performance characteristics that preclude passing that particular test.)

Ensure that your staff is properly versed in the right ways to communicate with consumers about motor oil technology. They should also understand some of the persistent myths (that synthetic oils can’t be mixed with standard mineral oils, for example), and know how to respond.

8. Learn About New Standards.

GF-5 is ready to show up on packaging labels this October. GM’s Dexron standard is also slated to arrive. These are just two of the latest developments. (See Jobber News February at for more on this.)

There are a number of motor oils and filters on the market emblazoned with automaker and other brand labels; this proliferation can confuse some customers. Staff should know that there are an increasing number of certifications that not all motor oils meet, particularly where European vehicles are concerned, and should know how to match products to vehicle requirements.

9. Aging Vehicle Population Effects.

With the drop in new car sales, and the growing desire by consumers to keep their cars on the road longer, comes the need to seek appropriate options for their needs. While the scope of products on the market is broad, expect the high-mileage category in particular to grow.

10. Develop a Retail Strategy.

As noted at the outset, few products lend themselves as well to a retail approach as motor oil and filters do. Sit down with your key suppliers and set retail targets for sales, and enlist their assistance to help you meet them. As with employing category management techniques, the expertise of your key suppliers may be even more important in strong retail categories than in more traditional segments where trade sales are overwhelmingly dominant.

Keep it simple, but focus on the consumer. Don’t have oil on one side of the store and filters on the other just because “they fit on the shelf better over there.”

You can be creative about it, by creating an oil change theme or an all-encompassing car care theme display, but whichever approach you choose, it should help direct a consumer to making a wise decision.

Displays that offer too many options or recom
mend an extensive list of items may only serve to confuse or repel the consumer. Oil, filter, oil catch basin, and even air filters are okay, but including every filter, additive, and treatment in your assortment as “recommended” is probably going too far.

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