Ask a consumer where they’d go to buy something for their car and most would probably say Halfords. The car accessory/bike chain is doing very well at the moment. However, according to Graham Tissiman, sales and marketing manager at the Convenience Distribution Group (CDG), forecourts have some major advantages over it. "First there’s the forecourts’ daily footfall, then there’s the fact that most people entering a forecourt are in a car-orientated mood and retailers need to take advantage of this," he says.

Halfords sells 11,000 different product lines - as a garage forecourt you can’t possibly be expected to stock that many, however your customers will expect to find a compact range.

Conrad Davies owns the Glandon Spar Express forecourt in Pwllheli. It’s only a 750 sq ft store but he says it’s still important to have car care in it. "We have a two-metre bay and I wouldn’t be without it as it’s all good margin stuff. We stock a premium range to drive cash profit so we have Turtle waxes, screen washes, de-icers, universal light bulbs, oils and lubricants. It’s real emergency stuff. We had someone come in the other day for two-stroke oil - he couldn’t get it anywhere else and he bought two lots. That was a £6 sale and we made 30% on it."

According to Renee Ayache, retail marketing manager for Unipart Automotive, there is a core range of car care items that every forecourt should stock. "This comprises predominantly distress lines that consumers expect to be able to purchase when the need arises - things like fuel cans, booster cables, petrol caps, tow ropes, screen wash and de-icers."

Vicky Jones, marketing services manager at Tetrosyl, agrees saying all forecourts should carry at least the basic elements of car care.

"For the outside that means a good quality shampoo, sponge/wash brush, chamois, polish and polishing cloth. And for the inside - dash cleaner, glass cleaner and upholstery cleaner. For alloy wheels a specialist cleaner is essential to get the best stain-free results.

When it comes to emergency/distress purchases, Jones says the absolute ’must-stock’ product is the fuel can - available in red, green (unleaded) and black (diesel). "Tetrosyl manufactures millions every year but there is still great demand. And bulbs, tow ropes, jump leads and wheel-nut wrenches continue to sell steadily."

She says that one new growth area is instant puncture repair kits, which are popular with women drivers.

You can understand the need to stock emergency items but is there really a need for forecourts to carry car shampoos? After all everywhere you turn nowadays there seems to be some sort of hand car-wash operation with customers keen to use them. However David Rogers, Autoglym’s sales and marketing director, says on the basis that his company sells about one million bottles of bodywork shampoo conditioner alone ever year, it is fair to say that there are a lot of people who still wash their cars themselves.

He says one trend to watch is the higher incidence of women car owners as they tend to be more ’sympathetic’ to the interior of their cars. Products such as interior shampoos are therefore good sellers.

Unipart’s Ayache reckons one metre is the average space forecourts should allocate for a core car care range, but adds that it can be beneficial to have another metre or two of impulse accessories. She says sales of accessories are increasing as drivers try to personalise their cars with things like seat and steering wheel covers.

Tetrosyl’s Jones agrees: "Novelty and contemporary accessories add a fun factor or style element to car interiors, particularly among young drivers."

Air fresheners are a case in point. You name a shape and you can get it as an air freshener it seems - from a simple impregnated card to plastic 3D models. Jones says eye-catching, bright, novelty displays make great impulse sellers at the till. CDG’s Tissiman adds: "Nobody ever goes out to buy an air freshener, but if they see one in front of them, they’re more likely to buy one."

As well as wanting their cars to be clean, it seems women drivers want them smelling clean too and as such are demanding ’serious’ performance air care products.

The latest air care product from CarPlan is the Doggy Odour Destroyer. Its advanced technology is said to destroy all bad odours (including wet dog) and leave a pleasant fresh scent.

The car care companies say a forecourt’s range should be reviewed twice a year - for summer and winter.

"People wake up and it’s freezing cold so they reach for a scraper and the de-icer," says Tissiman. There’s also all the dirt and salt on the roads so he recommends forecourts devote bunker space to ready-mixed screenwash in 5ltr bottles.

Finding the space for these lines might seem a pain but the margins they generate make it worthwhile. Obviously margins vary but most companies quote upwards of 30% - some as much as 50%.

Ayache says that on distress lines, pricing is not that important as customers have an immediate need for the product. "On impulse and promotional lines however, the perceived value of the product should be more than the actual price to grab the attention of the customer and lead them to purchase something they wouldn’t have planned."

CDG’s Tissiman recommends product adjacencies such as selling sponges right next to shampoos, cloths next to polishes and trim cleaners next to wheel cleaners.

Finally, Ayache says it’s very important to have a full fixture at all times. The company operates a Retail Express Distribution Services (REDS) operation to help retailers keep on top of the category. It’s a team of 42 merchandisers who can give advice on planogram layouts and merchandise the fixture each time they visit. However sometimes it’s the drivers or shoppers who need the advice. Ayache agrees, saying the most complex item to buy is oil.

"Modern cars do vary significantly in which oil they use so people are never sure which one they should buy. An oil vehicle application guide that can be chained to the fixture would therefore be useful.

"We produce a free handy A4 guide which folds out to a wall chart so forecourts and/or customers can quickly establish the right oil for the right vehicle."


=== What to stock ===

? Distress lines - booster cables, oil, fuel can, tow ropes, screenwash, de-icer, anti-freeze, torches, Radweld, spare bulbs, fuses, wiper blades, de-mister pad, fuel caps, WD40, ice-scraper, Tyreweld, warning triangle.

? Cleaning - Wash & Wax, chamois leather, space-saving pop-up sponge, glass cleaner, wheel cleaner, good range of wipes (dashboard, upholstery, glass).

? Extras - fuel additives and a range of accessories (air compressors etc).

? Sites near to docks, where customers are travelling abroad, can benefit from stocking emergency breakdown/travel kits as well as headlamp converters (beam benders).

? Impulse lines - a good range of air fresheners including key brands such as Magic Tree and Ambi-Pur. (Unipart reports that the Fresh Aer shoe air freshener is very popular at the moment). Could also stock aerial balls.

Source: Unipart