Making the automotive aftermarket a forethought

Oct. 24, 2014
Dealers who want a competitive edge and really want to excel in growing their business should stop thinking of aftermarket products as an afterthought. 

Thank goodness that most dealers still don’t get it. They are focused on just moving metal. Get the vehicles off the lot as soon as possible is the only goal with few exceptions.

Dealers who want a competitive edge and really want to excel in growing their business should stop thinking of aftermarket products as an afterthought. Those who partake in aftermarket sales think they have it figured out. They work with customers to get the deal done on the vehicle and then before they take them to finance and insurance, they hustle them on a detour over to the “aftermarket guy.”

Yeah, now that the deal is done, they are going to ask the customer for more. The smarter dealers leave the contract fluid so that aftermarket items are included in the deal and can be financed along with the car; however, some seal the deal and then ask for out-of-pocket cash on top of the deal. Either way, the aftermarket is regarded as an add-on, an afterthought, if you will.

The aftermarket is the afterthought for one simple reason: the dealers are afraid of squirreling the deal of selling the car. They think if they bring up anything other than the vehicle price that’s being negotiated, they might lose the customer. This negative thinking by dealers keeps them in check. The dealer sales formula is safe and routine, and works against aftermarket sales.

This should not come as a surprise since dealers don’t think beyond the warranty period. Their hope of servicing the vehicles they sell beyond the warranty period is a false one because most people will seek out less expensive independent repair when the warranty runs out. But dealers set up this scenario from the start by not selling the customer on the dealership and the service department.

In the 40 years I have been buying cars only one dealer sold me on the dealership and service department before he tried to sell me a car. He gave me a tour of the entire dealership and the service department and introduced me to the technician who would be assigned to my car. I had my car serviced at that dealership beyond the warranty period and went back and bought another car from him a few years later. And if the owner wouldn’t have retired and sold the business, there’s no doubt I would still be buying cars there.

So what should dealers do? Rather than thinking of themselves as sellers of vehicles, dealers should think of themselves as entities that fulfill dreams. Granted, a vehicle itself can be the dream to be fulfilled but that doesn’t take the dream far enough. To fulfill the dream, the vehicle salespeople, not the “aftermarket guy” (who, incidentally, never responds the first time when he is paged), need to be trained in the aftermarket offerings for the vehicles the dealership sells. With the right kind of sophisticated software, a car salesperson — new or used (but especially used) — can build the car virtually to the prospect’s specs and sell the car and the add-ons at the same time. Building a dream is a far cry from just selling a car.

But as poor as dealers are in taking full advantage of the sales situation, the aftermarket certainly matches them in its ineptitude. A number of questions come to mind. Why don’t aftermarket specialists set up shop near the car dealers? Why don’t they actively work with dealers to change their approach to aftermarket sales? Why don’t they have their people train the car salespeople to sell aftermarket products? Or, at the very least, why don’t aftermarket specialists develop a financial partnership with dealers encouraging dealers to send vehicle buyers to their aftermarket facilities? 

Right now the dealers call the shots. They hire aftermarket specialists to come to their dealerships to install parts and the specialists get a cut. That’s better than not having a cut at all, but why not turn it around so that the specialists are giving the dealers a cut?

Even though the vehicle process starts with the original equipment manufacturers, they shouldn’t dominate aftermarket sales at any level, including at their own franchised dealerships. They don’t know the aftermarket and don’t care to know it all that well. If they insist on just moving metal and offering “Aftermarket Light” services, it is time we started thinking about stepping to the forefront to get the dealers to think of us as the “Foremarket,” which they can support and promote as an integral part of their sales process. That would be good for both parties.

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