Fuel prices may be at record levels and motor insurance sky high but, according to the car care companies, motorists are still willing to spend money looking after their vehicles.
Paul Caller, chief executive officer of Autoglym, believes that motorists who are reluctant to invest in new cars are instead investing in keeping their existing vehicles in better condition for longer. He says: "Irrespective of miles driven, many motorists see vehicle maintenance as a regular regimented process and as such unit sales remain largely intact.
"Maintaining a car on an ongoing basis will make it far easier for the driver to sell on. Regularly cleaning a car while general good practice to keep the car looking its best over the long term also helps motorists spot and address minor issues like stone chips and scratches that might otherwise go unnoticed but which, if left untreated, can result in costlier repairs later.
"Another example is tyres. Treatment with a specially-formulated protective dressing on a regular basis can help prevent degradation accelerated by road salt in winter and damage from the sun’s UV rays in the summer, prolonging their serviceable life."
David Kent, chief executive officer at Saxon, agrees that motorists are not necessarily spending less. "There are always the distress items such as battery chargers, wiper blades and bulbs which are the bread and butter products for most retailers. Discretionary premium products and accessories are the things that are moving a little slower in the current economic climate.
"Car care sales always slow down during the winter months but from March through to September sales really pick up."
He says best sellers are Little Trees, Stoplock products and Hycote paints.
"In the car care category our Sonax waxes tend to be our best sellers with the colour polish and wax being the top seller and the perfection polishing wax coming a close second.
"There are always the seasonal products in winter battery chargers, de-icer and screenwash sales tend to be higher while in summer the car care category tends to flourish. But Little Trees are a great all-year-round seller and appeal to a vast audience."
Air fresheners are certainly big impulse purchases. "Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking they’re going to buy an air freshener for their car today but we sell thousands and thousands," says Graham Tissiman, sales and marketing manager at the Convenience Distribution Group (CDG). "Little Trees what used to be called Magic Tree are still extremely popular, but so too are the Jelly Belly fresheners."
Tissiman says it’s important for forecourt retailers to meet customers’ expectations as customers have come to expect car care to be found in forecourt stores. He recommends a 1m bay and says it doesn’t need much looking after as CDG can do it for you.
Tissiman adds that distress items such as light bulbs, tow ropes and petrol cans are wanted all year round but CDG produces summer and winter planograms.
"Winter with its de-icer, screenwash, ice scrapers, demister pads and anti-freeze, brings consumers who don’t usually use car care products into the market so it’s a great time to get them involved. In the summer it’s all about cleaning and valeting.
"This winter was mild so sales of de-icer, screenwash and scrapers were not at the same level as the previous two winters," says Tissiman.
He believes there will always be a hard core of car care users. Despite the prevalence of automatic car washes and hand wash operations, Tissiman says many people still prefer to do it themselves, plus it’s cheaper.
"You can buy shampoo and a sponge for the price of a hand car wash and get 20 washes," he says.
However, the hosepipe bans that are spreading across the country will mean people resorting to buckets.
In January, Autoglym unveiled a new, more modern brand identity and also introduced an improved formulation super resin polish.
Caller says: "It’s very early days, but initial indications show that sales of our new super resin polish are on target and that our new brand identity is helping to bolster sales across the portfolio as customers notice the more modern packaging."
Super resin polish has long been Autoglym’s best seller but in addition, bodywork shampoo conditioner, instant tyre dressing and car glass polish are big sellers too.
Caller says that having a detailed understanding of the car care products, their performance characteristics, their method of application and which products complement each other undoubtedly helps independent retailers to compete with online sellers and multi-category retailers who lack detailed knowledge of the sector and its products.
"This is one area where bricks-and-mortar retailers on the high street and forecourts across the country can maintain a competitive advantage over other retail channels. Because Autoglym is committed to supporting the bricks-and-mortar retailer, its network of franchisees across the country is dedicated to maintaining an open dialogue with its retailer customers. We can provide as much product training as required; we offer opportunities to try the products or retailers can ask for product demonstrations."
Kent agrees that for a retailer to really support a product, they need to know it inside out. "The best way to ensure this is for them to use the product themselves and offer a full endorsement to the consumer."
On the subject of pricing, Caller says some customers will always seek out the cheapest products. Others, however, prefer to ensure that the product they buy will deliver value in terms of quality, performance and ease-of-use.
"Autoglym is a premium brand in the car care category that is founded on a solid heritage. Its products deliver exceptional results for minimal effort.
"While other brands may have a lower retail price, retailers should offer advice about the value of the product in relation to how well it performs."
Caller says Autoglym’s quality is reflected by exclusive recommendations from luxury car brands such as Aston Martin, Bentley and Jaguar, and in its two Royal Warrants of Appointment. "With these endorsements come security for customers that the products and the brand have integrity, are trusted, are developed and tested thoroughly and will deliver an excellent finish. Autoglym’s marketing programmes are designed to focus on these attributes to ensure customers understand and realise the benefits of a trusted premium brand."
He says the company also recognises the importance of supporting retailers and so regularly offers promotions to generate increased awareness, on-shelf appeal, product trial and, ultimately, sales. For example, for a limited period to support its launch, Autoglym has bundled a free Hi-Tech finishing cloth (rrp £7.99) with every pack of its improved formulation super resin polish to maximise the value and on-shelf appeal for its first few months on sale.
Saxon’s Kent says car care manufacturers usually offer aggressive pricing on products in spring time to encourage sales. "Discounting is largely dependent on the brand. Premium brands don’t need to heavily discount as they have usually already captured their audience and that audience strongly believes in the product. Budget brands will always discount as it is a price-competitive market."
Finally, over at Turtle Wax, operational marketing manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Vicky Jones, says the biggest sellers are alloy wheel clean and zip wax super concentrate wash and wax. "These continue to be firm favourites with car owners looking for quick and effective results. In today’s economic climate price is a key factor for many purchase decisions and both of these core items provide outstanding value, as well as exceptional cleaning performance."
She adds that while many motorists use automatic and hand car washes, they complement that by using multi-purpose interior products like Turtle Wax’s Fresh Shine 400ml aerosol or new format 300ml spritzer.
These new premium additions to range combine a fast-action dashboard shine, which instantly cleans all interior plastics to their original pristine condition, with a long-lasting fragrance of either zest, berry, glacier or refresh.
Jones says shampoos and wheel cleaners are essential ’must-stock’ items and are particularly effective when merchandised together. "Brake dust, road grime, dirt and oil can quickly take their toll on wheels and their condition can affect the overall appearance of a car, which is why using a specific wheel cleaning product is recommended, in addition to shampoos."
WHAT’S NEW IN CAR CARE?
The Sonax range of car care products has been used by the McLaren F1 team and, from this year, will be used by the Red Bull Racing team. The collection, which has been specifically designed for the UK, includes a deep gloss shampoo, polishing wax, paint renovator, wheel cleaner, glass cleaner, interior cleaner, cockpit shine and cockpit cleaner. Prices start from £3.99 for a 500ml bottle of shampoo.
A tough-spot car wash mitt, drip-stop drying towel, dust-off detailing towel, flow-through bristle brushes with accessories and a three-in-one wash mitt are all new items from Sakura’s valeting range for 2012.
Little Trees air fresheners are available in 30 scents from fruity varieties such as bubble berry, lime and strawberry to the popular vanillaroma and the all-time favourites forest fresh
and new car scent.
Jamie Ashton, Vyrnwyside Garage, Llansantffraid, Powys
"We have a 3,500sq ft store and allocate 3-4m to car care. I wouldn’t want to be without it it’s not the best-selling section in the shop, but it’s not the worst.
"We use a company called Gap who come and merchandise the section for us every four weeks. Oil sells steadily all year round but you do need to change the rest of your range for summer and winter, and Gap does that for us. We don’t run offers and pricing is not an issue because if people need car care products, they buy them."