If you’re a forecourt store and you don’t offer the basics in car care then you could be missing out. Because if Mr Jones goes to wash his car on a Sunday morning and finds his sponge has fallen apart, his local forecourt is going to be the most convenient place to get a replacement. Likewise motorists wanting screen wash will drop into the forecourt first. That said, you don’t need to go over the top. Shelf space in the average forecourt store doesn’t allow for a huge range so it’s best to stick to basics.
Brown Brothers Reds recommends a range for forecourts that comprises approximately 75 products. For impulse purchases there are air fresheners; for valeting there are polishes and shampoos plus interior and exterior vehicle-enhancing products; chemicals include screenwash, anti-freeze and engine additives; emergency items include petrol cans, tow rope, booster cables, bulbs and wiper blades; and finally there are accessories such as notepads, licence holders and L-plates.
The company’s view is that these types of products will satisfy the majority of consumers passing through the forecourt, but at the same time represent minimal retailer investment. Magic Tree air fresheners are Brown Brothers’ best sellers in forecourts because they come in a huge variety of fragrances that appeal to a wide range of UK drivers. Other products that sell well include Unipart 5-litre Ready to Use Screen Wash, Ambi Pur and Triple Wax shampoo.
At Convenience Distribution Group specialist cleaners – for upholstery, wheels and glass – are big sellers. Trade marketing manager Graham Tissiman says one of the biggest successes of late are Armor All wipes which are available for interiors, glass, or in an all-purpose version. They come in a tub like baby wipes and retail at £3.69.
Mike Metcalfe, retail marketing manager at Brown Brothers, says there is great potential for forecourts to sell more car care products. “The forecourt is now a convenience shopping environment generating a high footfall from the ever-growing car parc – now some 27 million cars; and also 35% of visits to the forecourt are non-fuel related. The opportunity within the car care category is still very lucrative, with growth areas in air fresheners, wheel and tyre products, external and interior cleaners, all offering incremental sales and income for the forecourt, especially when retailers are offered good support from suppliers which ensures products are consistently available.”
CDG’s Graham Tissiman says there are three reasons why forecourts should make sure their car care fixture is up to scratch: 1) they are high margin products, offering 40 per cent plus; 2) there’s less competition than other sectors; 3) consumers expect to find car care lines in the forecourt.
Says Tissiman: “If it’s Sunday morning and a driver goes to wash his car but finds he has run out of shampoo, he’ll nip round to the forecourt. He’ll go there because it’s convenient and he can be straight in and straight out again.”
CDG divides its range into impulse and distress purchases with impulse lines being things like air fresheners and distress lines including things like tow ropes and petrol cans for breakdowns and for lawnmowers. Tissiman says the till area is a good place to cash in on impulse purchases of air fresheners: “After all, nobody leaves home with the intention of buying one, but if they see them on display they’ll buy on impulse.”
He says the shape of the air freshener and the fragrance are important. The CDG range goes from £1.49 for a basic air freshener to £4.99 for an Ambi Pur plug-in that connects to the car’s air vents. Tissiman says these are gaining in popularity, particularly with women. The Fruits of the Forests air fresheners are also very popular. Character air fresheners are a big hit – top sellers include the Michelin Man and Winnie the Pooh. New ones are launched all the time as characters come in and out of fashion. There are also those launched to tie in with big events – such as Euro 2004, which triggered strong sales.
Whatever the shape, air fresheners are a must-stock for forecourts as they’re an impulse purchase and a repeat purchase after the fragrance has run out.
Of course not all car care customers are men, which is why Comma has recently redesigned its Premium car care range to appeal to women too.
A spokesperson for the company explains: “Women motorists have an increasingly important influence on the purchasing of car care products, especially products intended for interior care. And in contrast to the rather ‘macho’ atmosphere of the traditional auto accessory store which women can find intimidating, the female-friendly environment of the forecourt shop is a more familiar and relaxed climate for them to make their car care purchasing decisions.”
The upshot of the Premium car care relaunch is a new look that is softer and more in line with other packaged goods such as toiletries that are frequently purchased by women. Comma’s range includes several Auto Express ‘Best Buy’ and ‘Commended’ award winners including Comma Alloy Wheel Clean, Comma Glass Cleaner, Comma Interior Cleaner and Comma Top Gloss Polish. The latest product to join the range is Comma Air Conditioning Cleaner. This has been a big sales success, boosted by extensive editorial coverage in the broadsheet motoring columns and specialist car mags. Retailing at £11.99 it may seem pricey, but it is ideal for the health-conscious motorist who wants to clean and sanitise their air conditioning system against bacteria, viruses and allergens which can accumulate.
New cars hot off the production line have never been more affordable, which is good news for forecourt retailers, according to CDG’s Graham Tissiman, because people with new cars take great pride in them and want to maintain the ‘new car’ appearance.
Brown Brothers says new car sales mean there is less demand for polishing products, but greater demand for car shampoos. Consumers are turning their attention to wheel and tyre products, especially alloy cleaners. Meanwhile, those consumers with older cars are using car care products to enhance the overall look and increase the life of their vehicles. As a result, sales of exterior and interior ‘enhancing’ products are in growth as are engine additives. And despite the sophistication of car washes and the growing presence of car valeting operations – at shopping centre car parks for instance – many people still choose to wash their own.
Tissiman says drivers are keen to be seen in a clean car. “Psychologically men tend to see their car as an extension of their personality, so they want it to be clean, while women want to prevent any negative associations to themselves by having a dirty car.
“Even after you’ve just cleaned your car, you’ve only to drive through a muddy puddle or get hit by lorry spray and it needs cleaning again so there’s a constant need for cleaning products.”
He advises that retailers keep their car cleaning range simple: “The general public wants a shampoo that cleans and a brand name they recognise. Whether it’s Turtle Wax or Zip Wax, they go for branded products.”
Car care enjoys a fairly consistent sales pattern throughout the year, with the exception of winter – then things really step up a gear. “You can always guarantee there’s going to be a frost in the winter and the great British public aren’t always prepared,” says Tissiman.
When winter comes, it’s a case of protecting the car against the cold to keep the motorist on the move. This means sales of screen wash, de-icer, ice scrapers, de-mister pads, anti-freeze and battery top-up peak massively. But it is crucial that forecourts invest in these key products before the season starts. Brown Brothers suggests starting in late September and reckons investment in an additional winter fixture is worthwhile. This would ensure reasonable volumes are available. Retailers mustn’t wait for the weather to break to start stocking up because we rarely get enough notice of poor weather. If having cash tied up in stock is a problem Brown Brothers offers six months interest free credit.
MAKE IT EASY
Of course forecourt retailers can take the hard work out of managing a car care fixture by using a supplier or distributor to do it for them. Brown Brothers’ Mike Metcalfe comments: “We offer retailers the advantage of no minimum quantity order and plan the most effective product displays in store to maximise sales and provide a competitive advantage.”
The Convenience Distribution Group (CDG) offers a weekly delivery service where retailers can have as many or as few items as they need. The company produces planograms ranging in size from 600mm to 3m.
But no matter how you decide to play it, a decent car care range is vital in a forecourt store. Neglect the category and motorists will drive off and probably not come back!