The supermarkets are always there to spoil the party aren’t they? With the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury now selling more non-food items than ever before, car care has become yet another area where forecourts face extra competition from the multiples. But they are perfectly placed to rise to the challenge, says David Rogers, sales director of premium valeting products company. Autoglym. "Car care products are big sellers, and their increasing popularity is illustrated by the fact that they are now readily available in supermarkets. Forecourts should be capitalising on this trend, rather than seeing their market share decline as the supermarkets and car accessory stores seize the potential."
Forecourts have a big advantage over all their competitors when it comes to car care - a regular captive audience. "The consumer is already in a car-oriented frame of mind because they’ve just filled up with fuel," says Graham Tissiman, sales and marketing manager at Convenience Distribution Group (CDG). More importantly, he adds, drivers simply expect to find car care products being sold at a forecourt. It will usually be their first port of call, so you should be prepared.
Female drivers are particularly important customers, as they can find the specialist stores intimidating. Alastair Wright, business development manager at distribution company Maccess, says research shows that more women are buying car care products than ever before. "This is because they feel more comfortable in the customer-friendly retail environment that forecourts now offer," he says.
CDG’s Tissiman echoes this view and says petrol retailers should make the most of their appeal to female drivers. Air fresheners and interior valeting products, such as dashboard and upholstery cleaning products, are said to be particularly popular. "Without being sexist, men tend to be most concerned with the outside of the car - the paintwork, wheels and trim - while women pay more attention to the inside," he says.
Vicky Jones, marketing services manager at Tetrosyl, the company behind the top-selling Car Plan brand, says forecourts should provide for all their motorists’ needs - from a tow rope in the case of a breakdown, to shampoos and sponges, right through to road atlases. "An informed selection of products gives exceptional profit potential and high-cash margins," she says.
The company’s recommended range covers four key areas: emergency and roadside distress; chemical essentials; valeting; and impulse and travel aids. Emergency must-stocks include replacement bulbs and fuse kits, puncture repair products, jump leads, tow ropes and battery chargers.
Top of the distress list is fuel cans, and Tetrosyl claims to manufacture 90% of all those sold in the UK. Meanwhile, vital vehicle maintenance products are screenwash, de-ionised water and fuel system additives, as well as oils and lubricants. One-litre size bottles of oil are good sellers - if the oil light comes on while a driver is on the road, a forecourt will usually be the most convenient place to top up.
When it comes to valeting products, the advice is to go for quality brand names the customer will recognise and trust. Popular products in the Car Plan range include T-Cut colour restorer, Triplewax shampoos and polishes and wheel and tyre treatments from the Wonder range.
Autoglym’s David Rogers believes his brand’s premium valeting range offers forecourt retailers a ’golden profit opportunity’. The polishes and shampoos are said to be among the top three sellers in their category in independent and multiple car accessory outlets and Rogers claims the margins are among the best in the industry.
Air fresheners and novelty accessories are great for driving impulse sales. CDG’s Tissiman says that forecourts are probably the biggest market for selling air fresheners: "Nobody really goes out specifically to buy them, but a lot are sold on impulse and they’re a very good line to have near the till."
Tissiman says it’s important to offer a range of fragrances and formats, while novelty products add a bit of fun and interest. CDG is currently distributing a range linked to the new Disney/Pixar film, Cars, and St George’s flag designs proved very popular during the World Cup. There are two new fragrance formats from Car Plan. Smelly Jelly vent clip gel fresheners and Smiley Flower Belles.
Cleaning wipes are another product that has become more popular, particularly with female customers. They are also very easy to stock, either displayed on a shelf or in hanging units. Indeed, Alastair Wright at Maccess says they should be considered a must-stock. "Through their ease of use and multi-purpose capabilities, they are providing retailers with some attractive profit margins and boosting their image as an all-encompassing provider of products," he says.
Maccess supplies both interior and exterior wipes and two nationally recognised brands, Armor All and Simoniz. They can be used for a variety of cleaning applications - dashboard, glass, leather, upholstery and bugs and tar removal.
== DISPLAY ==
Retailers have only a limited time-frame in which to grab the customer’s attention. According to Andrew Daly, marketing director at Unipart Automotive, the average time spent in a forecourt shop is just 57 seconds. However, he says: "If there are strong car care displays that are both prominent and attractive, motorists won’t think twice about an impulse buy as they go to pay for their fuel."
Product distributors can help with merchandising advice and most offer a planogram service to ensure the most effective range is stocked. For example, CDG offers planograms for a one-metre standard bay, stocking just the essentials, and a two-metre version for bigger sites. "We use computer-aided design, based on sales statistics to ensure the best-selling products and brand leaders are included within that space," explains Tissiman.
"Retailers should really be trying to drive secondary sales. For example, shampoo should be merchandised next to a sponge, polish next to a polishing cloth and de-icer next to a scraper to try and increase sales," he adds.
The robust durable nature of certain products lend themselves well to outdoor merchandising. "Exterior displays, without blocking the attendant’s view of the forecourt, are very effective," says Unipart’s Andrew Daly. "They enable you to place 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."
Meanwhile, promotions are a good way of boosting incremental sales - as the supermarkets know only too well. Daly says that forecourts must make sure they keep up by offering their customers a bargain too. "Customers expect and demand promotions in other retail environments, so they should also form part of every forecourt’s retail strategy. 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," he says.
== WINTER WINNERS ==
The weather has a big impact on car care sales and most suppliers operate two planograms - one for winter and one for summer. Many also now offer dedicated seasonal display units to boost visibility and drive sales of specific products. While screenwash is a year-round product, sales peak during the winter months, particularly when there’s salt on the roads.
A good supply of headlamp bulbs is also more important as the nights draw in and people are doing more driving in the dark.
=== new to the fixture... ===
? Kent Chamois Company has created another space-saving product to complement its pop-up Jumbo sponge. The new fold-flat three-gallon bucket has a rigid base and a strong chrome handle and packs into a handy storage case. Rrp is £6.29.
? Flatcan Ltd is looking for UK stockists for its collapsible fuel can. The patented flat-pack design takes up less space than an A4-sized sheet of cardboard, but transforms into a 3.5 litre container, complete with pouring nozzle. It is already being sold across the US and has a rrp of around £4.99.
? Comma products cleaned up at this year’s Auto Express awards, claiming half of the top honours or commendations in the valeting category. Comma’s interior cleaner, Xstream screen wash, car polish, interior cleaner and tyre black were all winners, while the alloy wheel clean product was commended.
? The Car Plan range has two new winter gift packs. The winter car essentials pack consists of a 300ml de-icer, 500ml screenwash, ice scraper and demister pad and has a rrp of £3.99. The winter mornings pack includes the same products, along with a handy torch for dark mornings and a Christmas smiley air freshener, all packed in a re-usable zip case. Rrp is £7.99.
? Pureair is a new car air-conditioning system cleaner. The product comes in a one-shot disposable can and is said to be the only completely dry air-con cleaner available. It claims to kill bacteria, mould, fungi, viruses and bad odours, and then give off a new-car smell. The high-margin product has a rrp of £9.99 and is available to retailers at a cost of up to £4.50 per can.