By: Yiano Ioannou, Accessory Wholesaler and an expert in dealing with the Far East
Who remembers anti-static straps and rear window louvres? Definitely not me, I am far too young but have read about them in history books! Top-selling automotive accessories look very different today than 40+ years ago – thankfully. There has been evolution as with any sector and any sustainable business must embrace and adapt.
The move from bricks and mortar to clicks was rapid. Most knew it was coming but the speed of transition took us by surprise. To begin with, I felt that there was some resentment in our industry. I would go as far as to say that the first online sellers, particularly on the marketplaces that are now part of everyday life, were looked down on. They were chancers. Fly-by-night traders who were not really in our sector and would not last. How wrong we were. Of course there were some that came and went however when we look back, were they in fact pioneers? Early adopters, opening the eyes of others? Today the vast majority of automotive accessory retailers will have their own eCommerce site or online presence as third-party sellers. It is a great revenue stream that when approached and managed correctly, with a full understanding of the associated costs, can generate healthy profits however not forgetting the purpose of physical shops.
I believe that a retail store’s greatest USP is the store itself. An eCommerce site and online seller will never have its shop window. It has become very easy to de-stock and, seemingly, de-risk with daily and next day stock deliveries. However, in doing so the shop has nothing to sell to the consumer who wants to buy there and then. Yes the visitor may be on a reconnaissance mission. Getting physical with the item they have seen cheaper online, however more will be there because they want to walk out with a purchase. USP two. They have made the effort to visit, there is a high probability that if what they want is there and at a fair price, they will be walking out with it. After paying of course. We should be helping them do that. If they wanted to order it and come back to collect tomorrow it would have been a lot quicker doing so online without two trips. No matter how quick an online delivery service is, it cannot match instantly.
Let’s go back to basics. Why are automotive accessories purchased? Two obvious answers are residual protection and upgrades. Most products that belong in a modern store will fall into one of these two categories. With the widely publicised squeeze on consumer spending, reduction in disposable income and double-digit inflation, it is easy to take the view that motor accessories are near the bottom of people’s priorities list. I take a different view in that the correct basket of product is on its way up.
I put top of the list valet, aka cleaning, products. Most drivers across the country will have something to give their car a freshen up. I wash my own cars and always have done. I tell people it is because I enjoy the process but really it is because I like to keep the tenner in my pocket! There is a sense of satisfaction also, watching the muck wash away. As the population searches for savings, an obvious choice is washing our own cars. Great impulse purchases also, waking up on a weekend and having the urge to get the hose out. We need to walk in and out of the shop, equipment in hand. This is also an opportunity to offer that little bit more than a supermarket may. Greater depth of range. In addition to the entry-level products such as shampoo, sponges and a chamois, here is an opportunity for upsell. Higher quality products. I am not talking about hundred pound waxes but polishes, microfibre towels and the like to achieve a superior result.
Cars, and vans of course, are expensive. After our homes, likely to be our greatest expense. No matter how they are ‘owned’, whether outright, lease or another form of finance and both brand new or secondhand, we will by and large want to maintain their condition and in turn their value. Floor and ‘trunk’ mats are an obvious choice. Whether carpet or rubber, they are an accessory store staple. This can be paired with seat protectors. Particularly relevant for vans and seats or boots where pets are travelling.
As we keep vehicles longer and the average vehicle parc age increases, as a result of supply chain issues as well as financial pressures, we may choose to keep our cars ‘current’. In this age of technology, integration of our mobile phones with the infotainment system has become a prerequisite. There are excellent aftermarket solutions for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Some retrofit items that are quite elementary in their functionality can be installed by novices, however the feature-packed items require greater expertise, which offers an additional revenue stream of on-site installation. Something the worldwide web cannot offer.
The pandemic opened a lot of eyes to great holiday destinations within our shores. Coupled with higher international travel costs and recent air travel disruption the ‘staycation’ and motoring holidays could see a permanent resurgence. There are legislated items for travel in mainland Europe. These are addressed very well by dedicated European motoring kits. In addition to these must-haves, everyday travel and safety essentials include tyre inflators, first aid kits and fire extinguishers. All have their place in the home too. As traffic increases on these product lines, great additions are more specialist items for leisure and camping that also come with a higher ticket price – which is always welcome.
Let us not forget the everyday consumables. The staples. No motorist should be without screenwash and, when the weather calls for it, de-icer. Inelastic products that are often reactive purchases with the motorist needing them there and then. Low revenue but high volume and offer the opportunity for upselling and impulse purchases whilst in-store.
There is an assumption that a physical store cannot compete with internet prices. Whilst there is of course truth in this, the gap is narrowing. Platform fees are high and increasing. The expertise needed for effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is costly and paid advertising expensive. Added to this are delivery charges that have only been going one way of late and show no sign of abating. What this most certainly has done is price online sellers out of the lower priced products as once parcel costs are added, they are unappealing. I forecast market consolidation here and less choice, increasing the appeal of a traditional retail experience.