Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2006   by Auto Service World

Top Retail Tips: Selling Exhaust

Selling exhaust products at retail may seem to be out of the ordinary–few consumers change their own muffler–until you consider the persistent growth in the performance and appearance exhaust market.

As the exhaust market overall continues to exhibit little if any growth, chrome tips, high-flow mufflers, and even highly polished catalytic converters are attracting enthusiasts of all ages in increasing numbers.

Tip #1: Have Product In Plain View

Giving a potential buyer the chance to look at and pick up the various components, as opposed to simply having catalogue pictures, can make a huge difference in the purchase decision.

It’s hard for customers to make a retail-style decision on any product, from jeans to exhaust systems, without being able to examine the product in person. Think of the last time you were at a grocery store and bought fruit. Would you have bought that fruit if you could only see a picture of it?

Tip #2: Take Advantage of Promotions

Manufacturers want their stuff in your store and they want it to move. Most have complete promotions to which you can add your store’s name–including flashy posters, product stands, and buying incentives. Establish your store as the place to get certain brand names, and let the marketing resources help drive the consumers to you.

Tip #3: Use Web Resources

Every jobber can afford free, and most manufacturers are offering more and more free resources online. Take a look, and even think about showing customers some of the fun, interactive online material. Some brands have recently launched in-depth features on their sites; one even includes sample sounds. All of these features will help you match a product to your customer’s needs, and make the client feel as though he is being taken care of.

Tip #4. Take Advantage of Eye-catching Products

Simply placing highly reflective items like that new fancy exhaust tip in plain view will attract the attention of retail buyers. It’s a trick retailers have been using for years, like placing pictures of celebrities or using reflective gum wrappers at the checkout counter. Seeing a sexy-looking custom exhaust tip in person also allows consumers to visualize what that very product might look like on their own car or truck.

Tip #5: Ask Questions

Good retail communication is a give-and-take in terms of information, especially when it comes to performance exhaust.

As the vendor, you need to find out exactly what your customers are looking for–or perhaps more importantly, what they are listening for. Different exhaust products yield different flow rates. A good jobber will find out what kind of sound the client wants, and match the system accordingly. A satisfied retail customer is one who is likely to return, and that’s the name of the retail game.

Tip #6: Use New, Clean and Attractive Products

This tagline should be the motto for your display area. Don’t allow your retail showroom to become filled with out-of-date, dusty products. While your stockroom and trade sales are an important part of your business, don’t treat the showroom as a complete afterthought. This is not the way to increase sales. Take the time to ensure that the products on your shelf aren’t neglected. In short, they should be new, clean and attractive. If not, they belong out of sight.

Tip #7: Be Observant, And Recognize Motivated Buyers

Take a second to examine the client who has just driven into your parking lot. What kind of car is he driving? Study after study has shown that the performance aftermarket is a very incremental business. As a SEMA report said: “These products are the non-enthusiast’s initial contact with the specialty automotive industry. Some consumers keep coming back and in the process escalate their involvement with other industry products along the way.”

If the individual has a body kit and new rims, this could be the opportunity to introduce him to performance muffler items. As such, both the store owner and the counter staff need to start making the effort to note the telltale signs of a motivated buyer.

Tip #8: Performance Is Not Just For Racers

Performance muffler brands have long been the hallmark of the import custom kid or the all-American muscle car fanatic. However, as fuel prices begin to soar, these products are becoming increasingly accessible and viable for broader applications.

The customer who tows a boat, the RV enthusiast, or the SUV soccer mom can all benefit in terms of real dollars saved at the pump from a performance exhaust system. They just need a jobber to inform them of that financial fact.

Tip #9: Train Counter Staff To Upsell

The counter staff in a jobber store can make or break the retail side of the business. As such, they need to be up to speed not only on the products in the store, but also the latest trends in the business.

For example, one of the hottest trends in the exhaust business right now is performance, not only because of appearance and sound, but for fuel efficiency as well. If a client is looking for an OE-equivalent product, your counter staff should be able to recognize the opportunity to talk about such a hot button issue as gas mileage, while explaining the benefits of a performance exhaust.

Tip #10: Use Point-of-Sale Material to Your Advantage

All of the leading manufacturers have Point-of-Sale (POS) items as well as display pieces. These products help inform your client, and also make your retail space look more like a store that wants to do business and less like an afterthought. If you show your potential client that you’re in the business of making retail sales, he will be much more likely to make retail purchases from your store.

Tip #11: Take Advantage of New Catalogues

Most manufacturers these days are getting more and more into electronic catalogue systems, and you should too. With catalogues containing upwards of 9,000 items, even the best counterperson might have difficulty noticing new additions. As such, computerized search systems can help you find the part that the consumer might be looking for, and do it faster and more accurately.

Tip #12: Talk Back . . . to the Manufacturer, That Is

Just like you need to know what they are up to, manufacturers need feedback from jobbers on what sort of market trends they can identify.

As an independent aftermarket distributor, you are much closer to ground level than an office-bound marketing executive in a city far away. As such, don’t be afraid to take advantage of their hotlines in order to let them know what you’re seeing. They can’t fix a problem unless you tell them it exists.

Tip #13: Choose the Right Products

You won’t be a successful retailer if you are choosing to sell the wrong products. Not all exhaust systems are made equal, and selling an inferior product may end up being more expensive for your business in the long run. By selecting the right exhaust system parts, you’ll be able to sell your retail customer a product that will be reliable. Sell them an inferior product, and they may blame you for the problem, and go someplace else next time.

Tip #14: Provide Assistance Locating Installation Service

Although you might not want to actually install exhaust products, be prepared to offer customers assistance in identifying someone who will. Make arrangements in advance with a consumer-friendly shop (clean and cheerful) so that the customer who might end up wanting more than they can install by themselves isn’t left having to shop, system in hand, for a place that will install parts they supply.

Tip #15: Know What’s Hot

Become a market observer in your own right. Know what the trends are and what the DIYers in your area are into. By keeping your ear to the ground, you will be able to anticipate your inventory needs more effectively and reduce the number of times you lose a sale because you don’t have a particular product in stock. The very nature of the one-off retail purchase is that if you don’t have it right now, they probably won’t wait until it’s ordered, but rather find somewhere that has it in stock.

Be the place that always has what they’re looking for.

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