The severe weather this winter has been a boon for the car care industry. The Highways Agency, with its Make Time for Winter campaign, gave drivers a checklist of items they should have in their cars before making any journeys. The list comprised: ice scraper and de-icer; warm clothes and blan­kets; torch and spare bat­ter­ies  or a wind-up torch; boots; First Aid kit; jump leads; shovel; road atlas; and sun­glasses (because the glare off snow can be dazzling). Most of these items, barring the boots, warm clothes/blankets and sunglasses, could probably be found in most forecourt stores.

Graham Tissiman, sales and marketing manager at Convenience Distribution Group (CDG), says the winter period of snow and ice has been good for sales of de-icer aerosols and trigger packs, ice scrapers and screenwash.

"Councils and highways departments have been putting salt on the road which is good for us because it causes a white film that drivers have to wash off. If you’ve got room you should have a pallet display of ready-mixed 5ltr screenwash because drivers don’t realise they need it until it’s run out."

Mark Saunders, chief executive officer of Saxon, agrees: "In adverse weather it’s good to dot anti-freeze around the shop. If the forecast’s not good, many drivers will buy another couple of litres just to be on the safe side."

You can have it on promotion but, in bad weather conditions when customers really need it, both Tissiman and Saunders say you don’t really need to cut the price.

"Bad weather represents an opportunity for a full-price sale because of the impulse/distress nature of the purchase. If you’re a driver and you’ve run out of screenwash in horrible weather, you won’t look at the price. The purchase is far more about availability than about keen pricing," says Saunders.

And, of course, you don’t need to worry about over-stocking, as screenwash is needed in the better weather too to prevent fly squash on the windscreen.

Both men are adamant that forecourts should not abandon the car care category. Says Tissiman: "The key thing for forecourt retailers to do is to manage their customers’ expectations. One of the main differences between a convenience store and a forecourt convenience store is that the latter sells petrol, and consumers therefore expect to find car care items in that convenience store. When they shop in that convenience store they are in a car-oriented frame of mind so will be open to buying items for their car.

"They might have run out of petrol and need an oil can. Or a bulb might have blown or their oil light might have come on. If they can’t find what they need in their forecourt store, it doesn’t reflect very well on the business. And retailers need to remember that car care products deliver a very healthy margin of 40% or more."

Saunders agrees: "Don’t under-estimate your customers and what they are looking for. They’ve driven to your store so they’ll expect at least one bay of car care. They’ll be very disappointed not to find car care in a forecourt store. Absolutely don’t give up on car care. You risk alienating your customers by not having it on offer."

He says a good forecourt retailer will have a dialogue going with his customers so they know what they want, whether it’s an ice scraper or a sun shade.

Specialists like Halfords take the lion’s share of car care sales, says Saunders, followed by forecourt stores, then the supermarkets. "The importance of the forecourt store is because a lot of car care purchases are distress purchases. Think fuel cans, tow ropes, booster cables, petrol caps, cleaning items and Little Trees. We sell thousands of replacement petrol caps each year. Then there are L-plates, sponges, scrapers, wiper blades and fuses."

Tissiman says one of the biggest items when it comes to impulse purchases in car care is the air freshener, which nowadays comes in all shapes and sizes. "While things like de-icer, jump leads and petrol cans are distress purchases, air fresheners are very much an impulse purchase."

He confirms that Little Trees continue to be a massive seller. "Consumers love them because they are a traditional air freshener. But they also find Jelly Belly fresheners very appealing as well as the California Scents which come in ringpull cans. Air Wick is another good seller as people know the brand name."

A new line from Saxon is Rimblades flexible rubber rims that protect alloy wheels from being ’kerbed’. They come in different colours including silver, black, red, yellow and pink, and retail at £39.99 for a pack of four. "It’s a new concept and it’s selling really well," says Saunders.

He believes 12-volt lighter items are under-represented in forecourt stores and represent a big opportunity for sales. "Keeping the kids occupied on a long journey is the number one concern for parents so chargers for ipods, phones and tablets are a must."

You can also get kettles, in-car heaters and coolboxes that all plug into the cigarette lighter. You may not have room for all these items in your store, but they might be worth considering come holiday season.

Tip top condition

People are holding onto their cars for longer and therefore want to keep them in tip top condition. "A car is an investment and owners are very aware of the sell-on value," says Tissiman.

And Danielle Walton, brand manager at Turtle Wax, says last summer’s wet weather saw a surge in sales of Rain Repellent. "Drivers also invested in products to re-proof and protect their cars, including Soft Top and Cabriolet Kits, sales of which increased by 15%."

She says we are a ’convenience-driven nation’ and therefore want quick and easy solutions at our fingertips. "This is reflected in sales of Detailers, which experienced 11% growth last year. A ’must-have’ item for any car owner, Detailers are a quick and easy way to restore shine and enhance protection between wax applications.

"Turtle Wax Waterless Wash is another convenience product that has also grown in popularity. Initially we thought sales were driven by the hosepipe bans earlier in the year, but consumers soon realised how easy and convenient these products are to use and now include them as part of their regular car wash routine."

Paint Restorer is another category that saw growth in 2012. "Using products such as Turtle Wax Color Back and Original Car Wax Liquid, consumers are improving and protecting their current vehicles, rather than upgrading to a new model. In tough financial times a scratch repair at a bodyshop can be an unwelcome expense for many consumers. Turtle Wax Precision Scratch Remover is a professional way to polish out light scratches and scuffs, especially around door handles and key locks."

Don’t forget lubes

Most drivers don’t think about oil until their warning light comes on, but Mike Bewsey, sales and marketing director at Comma Oil & Chemicals, warns that they need to be careful.

"Today’s engines are designed to go exceptional distances between oil changes, a happy consequence of the advanced lubricant technology that has enabled service intervals of 20,000 miles and more," he says.

"But motorists have to be aware that cars do still consume oil as a normal effect of the combustion process, and that means checking the oil level on a regular basis and topping up with the correct product when necessary.

"Many workshops recognise this, and now routinely supply their customers with the appropriate top-up oil packs when their vehicle has its scheduled oil change. If they don’t, forecourts can and must play a major role in coming to the rescue by stocking a wide range of the right oils for most vehicles."

"It’s essential that drivers never allow their vehicle to run low on oil in the first place, and that they make sure they always top up with ’like-for-like’ products if it does.

"At Comma, we regularly conduct national oil check surveys, and the sobering fact is that at any one time, over 30% of cars on Britain’s roads are dangerously low on oil. Nothing is more harmful to an engine’s reliability, fuel economy and longevity.

"It’s a false economy and potentially disastrous to neglect the evidence of the dip stick, and it could well be too late to do anything about it if drivers wait for their dashboard oil warning light to come on. By then, they could have already done lasting and irreparable damage to the engine."

He adds that modern cars need to be serviced with exactly the right engine oils and coolants as specified by the manufacturer.

"That means re-filling and topping up with the ’engine specific’ oil and coolant that was used on the production line. If you don’t, and something goes wrong with your engine, cooling system, catalytic converter, diesel particulate filter or turbocharger, and the fault can be traced to the wrong oil or coolant being used, there’s every likelihood that your vehicle’s warranty will be invalidated. And that can be painfully expensive."

Bewsey says the online vehicle registration number look-up facility on the home page of Comma’s website is an invaluable facility for forecourts and their customers to identify exactly the right Comma lubricant for any UK registered car or light commercial vehicle.

It also lists similar information for Comma antifreeze/coolants, gear and transmission oils and brake fluid.

Retailer view

Gareth Moore, supervisor, Pelican Service Station, Whitehaven, Cumbria:
As winner of the Best Car Care and Lubricants Outlet prize at the Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards 2012, Pelican Service Station in Cumbria was described as having "a great car care offer within a fabulous store".
Supervisor Gareth Moore says: "We have a 5m-long display with four or five shelves; we have absolutely everything anyone might need. Plus it’s right at the front of the shop next to the tills so customers can’t miss it.
"Windscreen wash, petrol cans and air fresheners are probably the best sellers. The products fly out so we don’t need to run special price promotions. We have summer and winter displays and our supplier advises us what to stock."

Top tips for car care

Forecourt retailers need to remember that the majority of their customers will have never set foot in a car care specialist store and so products must target and appeal to the everyday, non-specialist consumer market.
Wipes, trigger sprays and aerosols are popular as they’re especially easy, convenient and quick to use. Strategically displaying these products near the checkout area will encourage impulsive purchases.
Too many options can confuse consumers and actually prevent them from making a purchase, so less really is more when space is tight.
Organise the fixture logically by consumer need and locate it where footfall is greatest.
Draw attention to seasonal products using themed point-of-sale material.

Source: Turtle Wax