Friday, 31 December 2004 17:00

Redefining expertise can increase target markets

Written by Tom Franklin

What do automotive service buyers think of their local collision repair shop - compared to other automotive services? They probably see their mechanic as the expert who fixes their engine, maintains brakes, suspension, oil, lubrication, and more. And they may have an expert who repairs and maintains their transmission. So what expertise do they attribute to collision repair shop people? Are we fixed in their minds as only being capable of pounding out dents, replacing body panels and straightening frames or unibodies? If so, we may be losing a large piece of the market. 

Where the money is

As I made my way through both the NACE and SEMA 2004 trade shows in Las Vegas, I couldn't help noticing that SEMA occupied more than a million square feet of floor space, while NACE occupied only about ten percent of that amount. SEMA hosted thousands of vendors compared to NACE's hundreds. I wondered what could account for the enormous difference in the two markets.

I found the answer in an article that compared the sale of specialty vehicle accessories in 2002 to sales in 2003. From 2002 to 2003, the sale of vehicle body accessories increased a billion dollars, from $7.3 billion to $8.3 billion. Audio and entertainment component sales increased from $3.4 billion to $3.8 billion. Even wash and wax product sales increased by $200 million. Performance tires, custom wheels and suspension and steering enhancement sales increased by nearly a billion dollars - from $6.5 to $7.2 billion. We're not just talking millions, here. We're talking about billions! This is serious money!

I couldn't help wondering what percentage of this revenue a body shop owner might capture with a slight change in how he or she defines the business? And more importantly, what would it do for his or her collision repair business to get these vehicle-savvy buyers with money to spend visiting the shop? Many of the items I saw at SEMA called for a sophisticated level of vehicle body knowledge to install the products correctly. There was definitely a need for the kind of expertise that most shop owners have in abundance.

Products - naturals for upselling

The SEMA show directory was nearly a half-inch thick. While it was impossible to see every booth in the limited time I had there, going through the directory afterwards, I found several categories of products that could be marketed and upsold at most collision repair shops. Here are just a few broad categories you might consider:

Appearance items: Body decals & graphics, Body styling kits, Body trim molding, Car & truck covers, Car cleaning products, Decals & emblems, Exterior dressup accessories, Flares (fender, body, etc.), Gold trim, Ground effects, Headlight protective films, License plate frames, Neon lighting, Paint protection films, Pin striping, Rear decorating lenses, Spare tire covers.

Safety items: Alcohol detectors, Backup cameras, Backup lights, Camera Vision Products (Crimestoppers), Center/high mounted stop lights, Child restraints, Child seats, Electronic parking sensors, Fire extinguishers, Pet restraints, Radar detectors & scramblers, Rear fog lights, Safety belts & harnesses, Security devices & alarms, Taillights, Air scoops, Bumper covers, Bumpers, Consoles, Defrosters & defoggers, Driving & fog lights.

Body enhancement items: Custom grilles, Halogen bulbs, Headache racks, Headlight lenses, Hid/Xenon headlights, Instrumentation & gauges, Light bars, Masks & bras, Mud flaps/splash guards, Running boards, Spoilers, Steps (Cab, side, & tire), Storage boxes & compartments, Sunroofs, Tailgates, nets & protectors, Towing items & mirrors, Wheel locks.

High performance items: Boost controls, Breathers, Chassis kits, CNC & Racing Performance Products, Exhaust headers, pipes & tubing, Flashers, Fuel additives, Lowering kits, Tachometers, and much more.


Miscellaneous accessories: Air Fresheners, Armrests, Bed liners, Bug deflectors, Bug guards, Clocks & chronographs, Collectibles, Compasses, Cruise control units (retrofit), Cup holders, Dashboard covers, Dashboard trim & overlays, Fabric protectants, Fascias, Floor mats, Horns & accessories, Interior dressup accessories, Interior graphics, Interior lighting, Interior mirrors, Leather, LEDs, Litter baskets, Luggage racks, Mirrors, Misting fans, Mugs, Racks & carriers, Replica cars, Seat covers, Seat heaters, Seat upholstery, Custom Seats, Speedometers, Strip lighting, Tables & snack trays, Vinyl & leather protectants, Visors, Window blinds, curtains, & shades, Window film, and more.

Wheels & tire items: Aluminum wheels, cast & forged, Composite wheels, Custom wheels, Drag racing tires, Dual wheels, Modular wheels, Recreation tires, Replica wheels, Spinners, Tire inflation systems & monitors.

Audio, tv & electronic items: Antennas, Cassette players, CB Antennas, CD Changers, players, recorders, Cellular phones & accessories, DVD Players, Equalizers, Headset units & receivers, Speakers, Subwoofers, TV & Radio tuners, Two-way radios, Video antennas, Video cassette players.

Computer items: Communication software, Computer controls (emissions etc.), Monitors, Navigation systems, Telematics, and much more.

Apparel: Apparel, Caps, Hats, Foot-ware, Gloves, Helmet communication kits, Helmets, Jackets, Sunglasses, Sweatshirts & T-Shirts and more.

Defining yourself as a merchandiser

I've found shop owners reluctant to make a change in identity from just service- oriented to also merchandise-oriented. They've relied on auto body repair and refinishing jobs as their only business for so many years, it's difficult to start thinking in a new direction. But it's becoming more and more necessary (and possibly more profitable) to do so.

Entering the merchandise sales arena can be scary for a shop owner who's never had to compete in that area. Merchandise advertising, offering coupon specials and stocking merchandise inventory could call for an entirely new set of tasks for most shop owners. The upside of the activity could be hundreds - and possibly thousands - of new prospects informed of the existence of his or her business. And profits as well!

Our culture has become more and more a car culture. People spend an enormous amount of time in their vehicles. With cell phones, CD stereo systems, laptop computers, TV & computer games for the kids, and various wireless devices they can operate in the car, today's drivers have mobile offices and recreation rooms they can take on the road. This opens up a market for an endless array of products that could be sold at a body shop just as easily as at a dealership or any other location.

A more profitable way to define your shop

I can recall a time when you just went to a grocery store for groceries. If you wanted cosmetics or cough syrup, you went to a pharmacy. Today every major grocery has a drug store component. Most gas stations now have convenience stores attached. We've arrived at a point in time when it's no longer productive to address a small, narrow market and hope to survive.

The shop owner who wants to continue to be profitable well into this new century may have to broaden his or her horizons. Just start upselling your customers, or even put in an accessory and restyling counter. You can train your estimators and desk people to mimic that famous waiter and waitress line: "And do we have room for some dessert?" They need to start asking every customer, "Is there some accessory we can sell you to enhance the comfort, power, or beauty of your car?" A slight change in how you define yourself and your shop could result in an entirely new and more profitable dimension for your business.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for more than forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465- 2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol.com.


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