Busy with Biz Ops
You already know how important business opportunities, or “Biz Ops,” are to profit. You also know that every time a prospective customer walks through your door, a number of Biz Ops are available to you.
But, are you and your service technicians analyzing their real needs? Are you selling them what they really need while maximizing the potential to your bottom line?
There are three areas of business that offer business opportunities and normally do not get too much attention. This article will focus on three parts categories: shocks and struts; brake pads and rotors; and tune-up parts. It also will address the differences between direct OE dealer parts, OE-quality replacement parts, and aftermarket parts.
First, you need to understand what your customers really need for their vehicles, not just what they think they need. Then you need to meet those needs, while building a higher gross ticket.
To clearly identify our profile for the average customer, you must understand the “commuter.” Commuters drive at least 25 miles to work every day. They live in, or close, to a city of one million or more people.
Not everyone lives in a city this size or drives the miles in this profile, but by reviewing registered vehicles state-by-state, there is good reason to use this profile in your business.
It is also important to realize that the great interstate highways built by the Eisenhower administration are crumbling day by day, and overall, they are in poor condition at best. They need major repair, but what they get is potholes filled, which is not even a good Band-Aid.
Because of this, our profile customer is much the same in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and all the other cities throughout the nation with a population of one million or more people.
Their vehicles take a beating over some of the worst roads in the country. Driving in the New York metropolitan area will beat up a car or light truck as if it had been driven full throttle off-road in Baja, Calif., for a couple of thousand miles.
Suspension and braking systems and engine performance all are affected by the harsh environment of commuter service. It is easy to understand why replacing worn components is so critical after you drive over these roads.
Aftermarket shocks and struts
In the world of shocks and struts, aftermarket parts can be a more appropriate alternative in many cases. As KYB Corp.’s Marketing Manager Aaron Schaffer says, “OE shocks and struts are designed specifically for a vehicle with all new parts. Once the vehicle has close to 50,000 miles on it, replacement shocks will perform better and restore the ride to almost new.”
With stricter laws about selling parts to customers, a simple bumper bounce is no longer an appropriate testing scheme. Instead, you must either:
• actually encounter damaged or leaking shocks and struts, or
• sell based on your own knowledge. You can use mileage-based information to explain to customers why they should replace their shocks even though they are not physically damaged. (This is not up-selling; it is doing the right thing for your customer.)
One dealer told us that he had been selling new shocks and struts with a free test drive program.
He let customers leave with new shocks and struts and a promise that if after 24 hours they didn’t feel the difference, he would re-install their old parts for free. He never had to re-install anything.
He feels the success of that program was his knowledge of the products and the vehicles’ weaknesses. (Sadly, he doesn’t do it any more because of employee and customer hassles during the sale, not after the test drive. People are just too suspicious of a free test drive on suspension components.)
There are several major players and each has OE-type replacement parts as well as replacement parts. KYB, Tenneco Inc. (Monroe), ArvinMeritor Inc. (Gabriel), Bilstein Corp. of America, Koni North America and Tokico (USA) Inc. are the major players. There are many other brands on the market, but most of those are private label products made by one of the major manufacturers.
OE replacement shocks are engineered for suspensions with more than 50,000 miles. They are built knowing the vehicle has worn suspension components that will influence performance.
Almost every manufacturer offers three types of shocks; twin tube hydraulic, twin tube gas/hydraulic and monotube gas/-hydraulic. In all three, it is the oil going through the valves on the plate at the bottom of the piston rod that determines the ride quality and shock absorption.
The gas adds pressure to help keep the oil from foaming, which helps the shock/strut perform as designed, even under harsh conditions.
Shock absorbers get hot during use. The oil temperatures can get hot enough to country fry chicken, so the oil better be able to last long under metro-area driving conditions.
The question, “Which shock/strut package should I recommend?” can be answered only after talking to the customer and learning about the driving environment he/she is in almost every day.
• If the vehicle only runs 5,000 to 10,000 miles a year, the customer is a low mileage driver, and OE replacement shocks at 50,000 miles is a good recommendation.
• If the vehicle runs 13,000 to 25,000 miles a year and is run in a harsh metro area every day, you might be better off selling the owner something better than OE replacements. (Although they cost more, quality aftermarket premium shocks and struts do offer real ride and handling improvements.)
Talking with several dealers about this, their most common concerns were how to sell shocks/struts when the shocks/struts are not damaged or leaking.
If you go to the Web sites of each manufacturer previously listed, you will find a lot of great information about their product offerings. They also have product sales information and product catalogs with specific applications and unique differences.
The Web sites have a strong emphasis on OE or better performance shocks/struts that still deliver a smooth ride and can take the harsh environment of metro commuting. All the companies offer a heavy-duty line that may be as soft as or softer than the OE units, but are engineered with tougher components to make sure they can work under tough, rough driving conditions.
The shock valves and the oil in the shock control the ride going down into a pothole as well as going up when the tire hits a bump. How they react is based upon vehicle size, weight, tire size and other things that affect ride and handling.
Two of the dealers I talked with told me they change a lot of shocks/struts, but only if they are damaged, leaking or the customer complains about ride issues. One told me he defers his product choices to his auto parts supplier. After he has given him a background on the vehicle, customer and the vehicle operational environment, he relies on the supplier’s expertise to determine what to buy.
Using a 1997 S-10 Chevrolet pickup as a base vehicle, good shocks that are direct OE replacements or the next step up revealed pricing that ranged from $22.50 to $96.95 each. Based upon this pricing, you really need to know your customer’s financial position to close a sale. For $46.95, for example, there are several great shocks available for this pickup. The key is to understand the options and pick just one or two to offer the customer/prospect. (Showing him/her all of the options will just confuse things, so I suggest you pick two and go with it.)
One dealer said he is always selling shocks and struts, but 95% are OE replacements. He says there is great resistance toward premium shocks, even though he knows their benefits. He said only one in five customers listen to reasons why; the rest simply say, “Go with the lowest cost option.”
He says he has told many customers he will not repair their vehicles using poor quality parts, especially in brakes and suspension. His philosophy makes it easy to sell OE-quality brand suspension and brake parts.
Brake pads and rotors
Brakes are a far simpler product to sell, since worn pads and rotors sell their replacement counterparts by themselves. If you show the customer a pad worn to its limit and a rotor that looks like the rings around Pluto, it’s a closed sale.
But, how many dealers sell the customer pads and rotors that will really serve them well in the metro commuter areas across the nation?
How many service dealers take the time to explain the new technology in brake pads and rotors?
Once again using the S-10 as a base vehicle, here are some of the prices for the following brands:
Performance Friction $41.95
The differences between these are mostly technical, with both ceramic and carbon pad compositions being offered. Some are semi-metallic. The composition is also important from an environmental protection position. Some offer good braking with low dusting, while others offer more aggressive pad composition for faster stops as well as longer life (up to 3X standard brake pads on OE installations).
“Rotor and pad kits are always a great buy because they will have been designed to work together,” said Issac Mance, marketing manager for Performance Friction Corp.
Many dealers install only OE pads to eliminate any problems that are caused by noise or other braking issues. It is easy to say, “They are OE pads and rotors directly from your new car dealer.” In many cases, they buy from the OE dealer directly. They know they will get a smaller gross, but feel fewer problems are worth the loss. Is this the best for your business as well as your customer?
Others will take the recommendations of their parts suppliers, especially if they do not keep up with technology changes in pads and rotors. Some dealers still turn used rotors to give them a new surface without any wear groves. But even freshly machined, they can be problematic because of heat cycling during thousands of miles.
It is probably far better to change the rotors if the brakes have been put through more than 50,000 miles of commuter service driving.
Another consideration for replacement is always the ABS tone ring, the part of the rotor that has teeth to generate a speed input into the ABS computer. If these get rusted, they do not perform well.
With turning, you may have a new pad surface, but you may be installing something that will not allow the ABS system to work.
Remember, when selling better brake components, you must know the reasons why the higher cost products are a better choice. If the customer had more than 50,000 miles on his OE brakes, you might offer parts that will lead to less noise and less brake dust. But if the OE brakes are worn out in 30,000 miles or less, more aggressive and longer wearing brake components might be the answer.
A tune-up is seldom done before the 50,000-mile mark. OE requirements from the federal government demand emission compliance to performance parameters for 50,000 to 100,000 miles from the original equipment manufacturers.
No longer is it necessary to open the distributor to change points, the rotor and the condenser. And it is not necessary to take the time to get the clearance between point contacts set properly and change all plugs at the same time. In the 1960s, tune-ups were required every 15,000 to 25,000 miles. In the 1970s, when electronic ignitions became available, these tune-up intervals were extended significantly.
Today, most new vehicles do not have a distributor, and use short plug wires that go to the coils mounted on the engine or right next to the spark plug it fires.
Spark plugs. Spark plugs for a 2005 Toyota Corolla can cost from $2.99 to $18.95 each, depending where you buy. When you start talking about plugs for a Mercedes or a Porsche, you will say “Wow!” Plugs for a late model Porsche Turbo can cost between $35.95 and $48.99 each.
Today’s OE quality spark plugs are expensive because they are made from metals like iridium and platinum. The cost of not being in compliance with emission standards for 100,000 miles is simply too expensive for OE manufactures to risk anything less than the best.
Like the OEMs, you, too, should keep emissions issues in mind.
There are at least 13 different spark plug brands, plus the store brands from the mass retailers. The following list was comprised from a simple Google search of “spark plugs”: DENSO, NGK, Champion, Autolite, Bosch, AC-Delco, Motorcraft, Accel, HKS, Splitfire, Mopar, Nology and BERU.
Spark plug wires. Spark plug wires on distributor-equipped engines range in price from $18.95 for an OE replacement on a four-cylinder engine to $85 for 8mm wires that are protected by a heat resistant covering.
For a Volkswagen, there are low cost wire sets ($45) and more expensive ones ($78.95 for a Karlyn Ignition Wire Set). If the car has coil-on-plug ignition, like most of the newer vehicles do, you will pay from $388 to $700 for a new set of coils/plug modules. But you will only consider changing a coil-on-plug module if an engine code “tells” you to check it out.
Keep in mind that today’s spark plug wires are called upon to do more work than ever before. They must pass higher current voltages (40,000 volts and up) more often (due to distributor-less technologies), and in higher under-hood temperatures on late model cars and light trucks.
This must be done without any voltage leaking that could upset delicate electronic components.
You will find thicker wires with more high technology insulation. Taking all these factors into account, it is probably more important to change plug wires on a preventive maintenance schedule unless the engine uses coil-on-plug modules (50,000-mile intervals minimum).
Chemicals. You also can sell vehicle owners something to keep their injectors and combustion chambers clean. If customers will buy into this service on a quarterly basis, they will be able to drive a long time on their OE plugs and injectors.
There are many products on the market, including chemical blends, that will clean out varnish and carbon deposits in the injectors, combustion chambers and the back of the exhaust valves. They all claim to clean the spark plugs at the same time. (I recommend petroleum distillates, which smoke when burned, and nitro paraffin mixtures — strong commercial solvents that burn without smoke and clean well.)
Whatever chemicals you use, do your homework and test them.
One dealer told me he carries one German brand and one American. He uses both of them himself, and feels that both are effective and equal in performance. Every car that comes into his shop for a tune-up or engine issue gets chemically cleaned before it leaves.
There are three service categories that can lead to more Biz Ops and increase your bottom line with the help of aftermarket products that deliver OE quality or better performance: shocks and struts; brake pads and rotors; and tune-up parts.
It is easy to sell the lowest-cost parts when a customer comes in with a problem. But a 30% gross on a $2.50 spark plug is just 75 cents versus a $9.95 spark plug which delivers a $2.98 gross. The same goes for brake pads and rotors, shocks and struts, fuel filters and the chemicals required to keep injectors and fuel systems clean and operating to the required EPA standards. Doing the right thing for your customers also can be the right thing for you.
The key to selling aftermarket premium products is to know the service application of every vehicle that comes into the shop, and then be able to recommend a premium product you use yourself and believe in.
In other words, your faith and trust in a product will convince the customer to belly up and buy the best product to solve his or her vehicle problems, whether it is the least expensive or not.