Tailoring your offer to your individual location is the key to a good car care offer, according to Graham Sims, chairman of Top 50 Indie HKS Retail and he should know as the company has over 70 sites across the country.
"It is critical to recognise that each and every site and the community that it serves has its own specific needs and preferences," he explains. "Some are closer than others to larger retailers, and motorists can find their car care products there, but others can find this a struggle, especially in smaller towns and villages.
"Our goal is to ensure that we have whatever is needed for the busy customer at their convenience, not ours. To get this right, we need to be in tune with and be a part of the local community, not just a brand. There’s a peace-of-mind message here too. Imagine it is 10pm, you know you have a long drive the next day and you need to top up your oil or maybe you know you’re picking up a client in the car, and you want it to smell fresh and look good. We need to be there for that customer in the same way that we are when there’s a last- minute panic for gifts for Easter, for instance."
Graham continues: "Everything we are doing with our offering is built around convenience and what the customer wants from fresh food to air fresheners. Do we have the right car care products? Are they in demand from our customers? We won’t be driven by reflex purchases; they need to be informed and to add to the customer experience when they visit us."
With the role of the forecourt changing over the years, Gulf dealer Peter Baxter of Ruskington Service Station, Sleaford near Lincoln, has had to adapt. He’s been a petrol retailer for over 40 years and takes great pride in the promotion of his car care and lubricant products. However, space for the category has dropped dramatically as his store has changed.
"I’ve always offered a comprehensive range and until around 10 years ago our car care display accounted for around two-thirds of available floor space," Peter explains. "But the convenience retailing revolution transformed the shop and now car care occupies less than a quarter of its former glory."
Nevertheless, compared with many sites, it remains an impressive display, and providing choice for his customers is important to Peter.
"The emergence of hand car washes has hit the wash and polish market, but those customers who show real pride in their cars continue to buy. Car care and lubricants provide good margins but we do have to make sure that they are competitively priced. We stock a wide range of Gulf lubricants and, compared to 20 years ago, the quality of the products means that a compact range of fewer grades covers around 90% of all UK vehicles. That said, it remains essential to have strong point of sale and well-presented product information. Customers will invariably require reassurance that they are buying the right oil and it’s unfair to put too much responsibility upon the forecourt staff. In my experience, if your products are supported by clear and comprehensive application data, preferably with online back-up, you will sell more."
Paul Muncey, head of retail sales at Certas Energy, confirms that Gulf has a comprehensive range of high-quality lubricants and ancillary products, competitively priced with good margins and small delivery quantities, supported by a unique shelf edger that also serves as a planogram, a price indicator and oil guide. "The quality of the oil grades means that it takes only limited shelf space to satisfy almost every eventuality," he explains, adding that Gulf’s sponsorship of Manchester United and World Superbikes has led to greater awareness of the range and some eye-catching packaging.
Seasonality plays a major part in the car care market and Peter Lee, valeting assistant at CarPlan, says spring is when car owners look to see how the effects of winter have taken their toll on paintwork and mechanical parts.
"Weather such as snow and hail and road residue like grit and dirt all play a part in decreasing the overall condition of our vehicles. Thus, the end of this season is an amazing opportunity to bring new life back into your car, restoring it back to its pre-winter glory and protecting the interior and exterior ready for the summer months."
He says that before motorists start valeting, polishing and protecting their vehicles, they need to ensure they are happy with the surface paintwork.
"Cutting compounds such as T-Cut Rapid Scratch Remover are ideal for removing light scratches, blemishes and restoring faded paintwork. Many people think that any light scratch needs to be taken to a detailer or needs a panel replacement to be restored, but this is not always the case. Other specialised products can be found for headlights, bumpers and trims and metal restoration."
Once restoration is complete, Lee says it is important to clean and polish the car before you protect it from the elements to remove all the dirt and grime that has collected on the surface.
"This will also prepare your car for the final step, so it’s an important step to do thoroughly and patiently."
Lee says products for this job come in all shapes and sizes, and to suit different budgets. "Dedicated products such as CarPlan’s Wonder Wheels range are ideal for tackling grime and dirt build-up on wheels and tyres, as an example. A variety of other products are also available for upholstery, leather, trim, dashboards, carpets and windows.
"The final step is protection which, as the name suggests, ensures the car’s paintwork is shielded from dirt, dust and grime build-up. Protection can come in multiple forms, but the main forms are waxes, sealants and treatments. Waxes like our new Triplewax Diamond Liquid Carnauba Wax are very effective because they do both the cleaning and the protecting, offering a gloss finish combined with resistance to UV light and acid rain. Some products have their advantages elsewhere, for instance treatments like CarPlan No. 1 Super Gloss can be used on the interior and exterior of your car, not only protecting paint but also on dashboards, trim and windows."
Looking after the interior of your car includes keeping it smelling as fresh as possible. Obviously air fresheners do this well but today’s products are often more than just a scent, many are a fashion statement, showing that the owner of the car is keeping up with current trends.
One company that is particularly good at capitalising on the latest trends is Retroscents, which launched in 2008, to "shake up a pretty stale air fresheners market". Sales director Gary Digva takes up the story: "We began by negotiating a licence deal with Derbyshire confectionery firm Swizzels to manufacture products based on iconic sweets like Drumstick, Refreshers, Parma Violets, Double Dip and Love Hearts. This has become our signature product range, and we’ve since also branched out to include 3D gel, a gel pot, pump spray, tin can and vent sticks."
Digva says film tie-ins have since become something of a specialism for Retroscents and it has already worked on major deals with Star Wars, Angry Birds and Finding Dory."
And sticking with the film theme of films, the company will be releasing some Butterkist popcorn air fresheners to the market this coming autumn/winter 2017. There’s no doubt that air fresheners are a great impulse purchase, if positioned correctly in store. An eye-catching display at the till point will invariably lead to sales.
Convenience Distribution Group offers a vast range of air fresheners, many of which come in hanging displays for the counter top or freestanding displays for the aisles.
The company is currently promoting the Armor All range of air fresheners, which is available on the special CDG stand, where stock is rotated every two months to ensure customers get a good choice.
There are 10 fragrances in the Armor All line-up including Pure Linen, New Car, Mountain Air, Warm Apple Spice and Island Retreat. Cost to the retailer is 89p each with a suggested selling price of £1.99, delivering a profit on return of 46%.