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Supers tune up 'non-oil' sales.

Although motor oil dominates car care sales (about 65% of dollar volume), the automotive department gathers most of is profits from a wide array of "non-oil" products. Most prominent among them is the additives and chemicals category.

Antifreeze/coolant, a chemical long established in grocery stores, ranks in movement with motor oil during its season. And like the leader, it takes low margins which is an annoyance to some buyers who say "one loss leader is enough." Yet antifreeze has several things going for it.

It draws store traffic when advertised and promoted and helps the car care department by underlining the availability of automotive products. Mass displays offer excellent opportunities to tie in a wide range of profitable products. These range from winter items like ice scrapers and windshield de-icers to a host of radiator-care chemicals and accessories such as antifreeze testers. Manufacturer rebate coupons have advanced antifreeze to new promotional levels.

Its coolant properties are making antifreeze more of a year-round item, especially with the increased number of smaller cars, which run hot, and the wide use of auto air conditioning. To capitalize on this, most stores shelf-display antifreeze throughout the year, and some supers give it a second promotional shot in the spring (tune-up time) or during the summer.

With business exceeding $500 million a year and with several brands vying for the business, antifreeze has become highly competitive among manufacturers. Trade deals abound and buyers for large departments are stocking as many as three brands ona shelf and including a private label or generic brand.

Most items in the chemicals-additives section carry fairly good margins. That pleases car care merchandisers like Francis Willmes, non-foods director for Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., who says car care is a "sleeper category."

From the consumer's point of view, the products promise better automotive performance, a particularly compelling point to the growing number of owners of older cars on the road. And as an increasing number of items are packaged in plastic, resembling grocery products, they become more attractive.

The section's variety encompasses "treatments" for virtually every part of the engine and its supporting system--and theyhre all easy to apply. Several manufacturers in the field say they're stepping up their advertising to expand the mass market. And they are finding the market is interested in a number of products. For example:

* Transmission and brake fluid are outstanding sellers in some stores, especially in lower income areas where customers tend to own older cars.

* Windshield washer fluids--with antifreeze in the winter--rate among car care's leading items. However, they are bulky, so off-shelf displays are required to avoid stockouts. The items have impulse appeal, partly because they're low priced, buyers say.

* Gas-line antifreeze, which claims to give faster cold weather starts, is another car care workhorse. "Even the most car-ignorant person cna pour it into the gas tank and it's a lot cheaper to do it yourself," says a chain buyer. He adds that people driving even moderte distances can use it once a week, "so there's a high consumption factor during the winter."

* Spray de-icers--while not as consumable a product--are similar in that they can be used without automotive knowledge.

Several buyers say antifreeze "topping off" is an "uncomplicated procedure" that makes the product more attractive to womena nd provides a certain amount of impulse appeal.

While some buyers say price is "not all that important" in the treatments portion of additives and chemicals, several others declare that leading items should be competitively priced and "definitely not" carry full markups.

A sales VP for a major additive brand says, "I find that most supermarkets overprice our products compared to auto stores. The serious do-it-yourselfer knows prices and while he'll pay something extra for convenience, he doesn't want to overpay by, say, 50 cents an item. Also supermarkets should promote additives more, to make customers know they're in that business. We offer deals and allowances that often are not translated into promotional action." Waxes/Polishes: Shining Up Profits

When it comes to appearance products, practically everyone can be a do-it-yourselfer. No hood lifting or engine familiarity is necessary. Taht undobutedly accounts for the popularity of waxes and polishes which one manufacturer soruce estimatesa s a $400 million business that is backed by some $10 million in advertising plus millions more in coop and rebate offers.

It's also a high impulse category with a strong appeal to women (who may transfer the actual work to the man in the household), and profits run 40% and up.

Car care merchandisers give waxes and polishes good marks for sales and profits, but some have difficulty scaling back when the big spring/summer season is over. (This is much less of a problem in Sun Belt areas where the season is extneded.) A buyer for an eastern co-op says "years of experience" help him know when to start "trimming back" to avoid tying up space with slow movers.

Car waxes and polishes are usually stocked to fill the high, middle and low price ranges. Polymer waxes--on the high side of pricing--have slowed down in sales, buyers say. They believe the economy may be the main culprit. Some ahve cut back on their polymer assortment in favor of other items such as the new spray waxes credited with providing a shine in minutes and "booster" products for a better appearance between waxings.

The need for variety in assortment is generally agreed to although the marketer of one leading brand says this has gone too far since it reduces facings of his products, leading to stock shortages. However another brand's sales manager says, "While I donht advocate stocking dogs, I prefer being on the shelf with three top competitors. A good assortment stimulates impulse sales for all of us."

The section's range in products includes many related items. Among them are interior cleaners (from vinyl to carpet), wheel and tire cleaners, car wash solutions, brushes and chamois cloths. Accessories: Take 'Em or Leave 'Em

"Not worth the space."

"Sells like popcorn."

Such opposing statements are what you get when buyers talk about automotive accessories. The confusion is compounded by differences in category definition and by beliefs that sales of accessories vary by neighborhood and department size.

For "non-technical" items or gadgets usually merchandised on pegs, the lack of agreement between experienced merchandisers is particularly striking. Proponents say gadgets sell well if they are oriented toward women, knowledgeably selected, frequently changed, properly serviced and located in larger, promoted departments in highly trafficked or rural stores.

There is one exception to the divided opinions on peg-type accessories. Air fresheners are widely seen as outstanding movers. But buyers admit they have to be on their toes to pick the best from the wide variety available.

The gadgets available run the gamut. Among items with impulse appeal cited bu buyers: compasses, visor mirrors, change holders, tire gauges, litter baskets, booster cables (in season), key chains, plug-in accessories, oil spouts and funnels, tissue dispensers, reflectors, license plate holders, ash trays and tie-backs. Some buyers limit their selection to one or two brands with better quality goods and packaging.

In the more technical area, only a few merchandisers claim success with oil and air filters except in larger departments--those over 16 feet. Specialty tools and repair items such as fuses, bulbs and spark plugs also fare best in larger sections. Windshield wipers were given an "OK" by the few buyers who have tried them--usually high-traffic or rural supers. A limited selection of repair parts seems to succeed only in similar situations.

Other accessory items that are doing well include lubricants, adhesives, work gloves, heavy-duty soaps and tire inflators. Some stores with limited shelf space combine hardware items with automotive. Repair booklets are finding a place in larger sections.

Len Braverman of Supermarket Services, Linden, N.J., says supers with departments under 24 feet should generally not carry items "requiring the use of a screwdriver or wrench." But in the final analysis, he says, "the success of any car care category depends on how professional it is in setup and service and how much force is put behind promotion, particularly behind motor oil."
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Title Annotation:car care items
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Mar 1, 1984
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