As forecourt retailers transform their shops into convenience stores, they might be tempted to push car care to one side, but the high-margin and distress nature of car care make it one of the most important categories to the forecourt shop. If a motorist runs out of fuel, breaks down or loses a headlight bulb, the nearest forecourt will be their first destination for a petrol can, tow rope or new bulb.
“Car care is extremely important because customers expect to see certain products stocked,” says Graham Tissiman, sales & marketing manager at Convenience Distribution Group (CDG). “Forecourts are also good for females because they’re more pleasant shopping environments than car accessory outlets.”
But while the pressure on space in store has grown, progressive retailers continue to recognise the importance of the car care fixture as a profit driver, says Peter White, marketing director at Saxon Industries. “The key issue is to maximise return from available space,” he says. “This means a need to focus on consumer-recognised brands and having an open mind to promotional opportunities – particularly within valeting and air fresheners.
“Clearly more space is always welcome but simple steps such as ensuring the fixture remains well stocked; that recognised brands are displayed prominently; price marking is clear; and that awareness of new products is made easy by additional display/off-shelf merchandising, are key disciplines,” he adds.
Park Garage Group’s Twenty Miles Service Station in Kent, which is supplied by CDG, can testify how greater space dedicated to car care can increase sales. Operations director Miles Harvey says monthly sales have risen 39% by increasing shelf space, flagging its presence in store, and by focusing on the brand leaders.
Meanwhile, Tom Donaldson, general manager of retail at Brown Brothers, highlights the importance of impulse displays. “Placing more focus on the value of counter-top displays can substantially drive volumes,” he says. “Clean, prominent merchandising units attract the customer’s attention and in turn promote sales.
“Exterior displays, without blocking the attendants’ view of the forecourt, are also very effective,” he adds. “They enable retailers to place seasonal products such as screen wash, shampoo and cleaning materials in full view of the motorist. The use of bunkers means products can be displayed with maximum impact and provide good storage for volume sales.”
Donaldson adds that retailers should also consider offering more promotions. “Five or six promotions each year do not provide a sufficiently big window to showcase promotional activities,” he says. “For independents, promotions are particularly important as they create a fresh focus of interest for motorists who are loyal to their stores and visit on a regular basis.”
While forecourts are the number one destination for distress purchases, Donaldson says forecourts must also consider impulse lines. “The average shop time spent in a forecourt is 57 seconds,” he says. “If a retailer has a strong display that is prominent and attractive, motorists won’t think twice about picking up a newly-designed air freshener or a novelty item as they go to pay for their petrol and other items.”
Graham Tissiman at CDG says Magic Tree and Ambi Pur are the best-selling air freshener brands, with character products such as Winnie the Pooh and Garfield growing in popularity. CDG is also poised to start distributing a new Wallace & Gromit licensed character product to coincide with the release of the feature film.
When it comes to fragrances, Peter White, marketing director at Saxon, which distributes the Magic Tree range of air fresheners, says that while Vanilla, Forest Fresh, Bouquet, Spice, and New Car Scent are ever popular, there are opportunities in new and seasonal fragrances. “A policy of adding new fragrances on a regular basis keeps customers attention focused on the brand,” he says. “The latest Black Ice Magic Tree is proving to be a fast mover.”
Meanwhile, Tissiman says: “Seasonal products are good for counter displays. They’re a bit of fun and create interest in store. People want to see what’s new and different.” For Halloween, Car Plan is offering its Scary Scent 3D pumpkin air freshener, which is a scented squeezable foam product, the Air Witch, and Draculair. Magic Tree also has a Spiced Pumpkin product. And for Christmas, Car Plan has a smiley Santa, and Christmas Santa with flashing lights.
The weather inevitably has an impact on car care sales, and most car care companies will operate two planograms – one for winter and one for summer. For winter, key products are de-icer and ice scrapers, and while screen wash is an all-year-round product, sales peak in the winter.
One of the latest trends in screen wash has been a move towards ready mixed products – such as those from Decosol and Car Plan. “The advantage of ready mix is motorists just pour it straight into the washer tank without water, and it prevents the reservoir freezing up,” says Tissiman.
Within the lubricants category, Tissiman says one-litre top-ups are proving popular with forecourt customers. “Forecourts are convenient, and consumers like the top-ups to bring their oil up to check,” he says. “When the oil light comes on, they want to take immediate action, so forecourts are a good location for that.”