Auto technicians are becoming a more integral part of the auto service market, not only for their skills in diagnosis and repair, but for the influence they wield on consumers' decisions regarding auto parts brands, according to a study by Frost & Sullivan Inc.
What used to be a domain of the front desk service writer has now moved to the back garage.
Consumers will listen to a technician and more auto shops are encouraging their technicians to talk directly to the consumer, said Mary-Beth Kellenberger, global aftermarket program manager for Frost & Sullivan.
The technicians can recommend a brand based on their own experiences.
A lot more communication and advertising is directed at front line people and installers, more so than in the past 10 years, Ms. Kellenberger observed.
In addition to surveying technicians, Frost & Sullivan surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. vehicle owners and found that 24 to 28 percent of consumers accept the recommendation of the technician on a component or part. The rest of the consumers aren't asking for recommendations, either because they already know what brands the shop carries or they don't have a preference.
Consumers often make brand preferences by the location they choose. They visit a Ford dealership, for example, because they want Ford Genuine Parts for their vehicle, Ms. Kellenberger said.
Conversely, the location consumers choose for time, convenience and quality ultimately plays a part in the auto parts choice, she said.
If a shop offers three brands of batteries, the evaluation for the customer is value vs. cost. Most do not go out of their way to look for a brand that is not there. So the shop weeds out the decision for the customer, she said.
Aside from batteries, oil and lubes and tires, most consumers are not aware of the brands going into their vehicles, she said.
Installers prefer major name brand replacement products because the manufacturers of those products are better positioned to provide technical support, according the study, based on a survey of about 350 technicians across the spectrum of repair facilities, including independent repair shops, franchise chains and car dealerships, out of a population of about 800,000 technicians in the U.S.
Most installers surveyed preferred Interstate batteries for their quality, reliability and warranty. The most popular oil/lube brands were Valvoline and Castrol.
For tires, Michelin was the overall preferred brand among installers due to shop support, order accuracy, safety and performance in general, according to the study.
Another part of the study rated technician preferences for distribution channels based on coverage, accessibility of products and support.
NAPA Auto Parts, CarQuest Auto Parts and Auto Value/Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts and Service were most preferred among technicians for their parts availability, quality and efficiency, the study reported. Service to technicians, providing accurate information and getting parts in a timely manner were other factors influencing technicians' choices.
However, more technicians are turning to retail channels for parts as an increasing number of retailers are developing their wholesale operations, the study reported.
Among retailers, techs preferred Advance Auto Parts, O'Reilly Auto Parts and AutoZone stores for their level of pricing, ability to speak knowledgably with technicians and their availability.
Many consumers choose a repair facility by some notion of reputation, Ms. Kellenberger said. Either they have gone there before or the location carries the parts brand they want.
However, due to the recession, We noticed that in 2009 and going through 2010, due to consumers cutting back, they are more willing to try a new location as they look to reduce costs. They are willing to do trial and error more than in the past, Ms. Kellenberger said.
Some consumers have been forced to try new repair shops if they used a car dealership that was shut under the General Motors Co, and Chrysler Group L.L.C. restructuring, she noted.
Consumers looking at value and convenience tend to chose mass merchandisers and quick lube shops for the convenience or they find value in full-service shops, such as Midas Inc., Goodyear or Firestone Complete Auto Care stores, according to Ms. Kellenberger.
However, if their vehicle warranty is still valid, they are far more likely to be loyal to a (car) dealership. Add to that, the car dealership has a reputation of quality repairs, comfort and knowledge of the vehicle brand.
The study found that imported vehicle owners are more loyal to their car dealerships than domestic vehicle owners, and higher-priced imported vehicle owners are more loyal than lower-priced imported vehicle owners.
They stay (with the dealership) after the warranty because they want ongoing good quality service and they are able to pay for it, Ms. Kellenberger said.
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