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TPMS Shops: Be prepared to deal with it—or lose customers

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CLEVELAND—Preparing your shop to handle tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) issues can be a key to financial success, an expert on the subject said during ITEC 2012 in Cleveland.

“The TPMS category will be your single largest percentage growth category for the next 10 years,” said Trevor Potter, vice president of North American aftermarket sales for Schrader Electronics Ltd. “I'm not talking about total dollars; I am talking about percentage growth.

“So this is probably, in my mind, the only opportunity I can think of where a federally mandated government program is actually going to help business, so we sure as heck better take advantage of it.

“Being a manufacturer, we're responsible for 200 million of the 300 million sensors that are out across the world today,” he said. “So we have a lot of good data.”

Mr. Potter explained that, for service providers who have invested in the manufacturing tools and sensors expecting for the investment to be paid off already, the sensors are lasting a little longer than expected, but they will begin to fail more rapidly soon.

“The reality is five to seven years or 60,000 miles,...80,000 miles is roughly the sweet spot for batteries to start to fail. But what's happened is, we had a very mild winter.... People are driving less now than they have in decades. So what's that done is that's extended the predicted life of the sensor,” Mr. Potter said.

These factors are giving the batteries extended life that manufacturers were not expecting. However, the time is coming where more and more of the batteries will begin to die and need replacing. Mr. Potter noted that 15 percent of sensor replacements are due to battery failure.

“That doesn't sound like much, but that was 5 percent last year,” he said. “So instead of the majority of...the sensor replacements being due to breakage or corrosion, we're starting to see that impacted battery.

“...What it means for your shops is (at a) point close in the future, you are going to have a customer coming in that may have one, two, three or four sensors that are going to fail either together or in a very short amount of time. That's a significant positive profit opportunity and an educational opportunity, or it can be a disaster is you are not prepared. And once that wave starts, it's going to continue.”

There are multiple reasons why a shop should be prepared for this technology. First off, it is government-mandated so it is something that is happening regardless of whether you are ready or not, Mr. Potter said. A shop would not want to miss the opportunity to create revenue. The best way to prepare is to be educated and trickle that down to both employees and customers. Also, shop personnel need to have the knowledge of what scenarios could be faced—as far as liability—if the TPMS is inoperative after a car leaves the shop.

“I love the independent shop. I support the independent shop, but it's tough out there, it's tough to make a living,” Mr. Potter said, “so sometimes in a traditional shop, there's limited training. There's also limited standard operation procedures.

“I have owners tell me all the time that, 'I just wish those guys would run the shop like I do when I'm there.' Well they don't because they don't own the shop. So if you don't have well-established practices there that everybody understands and buys into and does the same way every time, you're going to be challenged,” Mr. Potter said.

“Educate your customers now; don't let your competitors do it.”

Creating a procedure that everyone can follow will help establish a “best practices” formula for the business. Mr. Potter suggested a three-pronged approach: shop, technician and customer. Getting a shop prepared and equipped with the maintenance tools and supplies and educating technicians on how to perform services will help that business successfully deal with what's to come.

Customer education is very important as well, he said, as they are looking for someone to explain and clarify what TPMS does and how it operates. The best scenario, he added, is to be able to speak with customers before their vehicle has a non-functioning sensor, so they are prepared for when they need the service and will remember the service shop as the expert.

“We have to remember where they're coming from. It's an unplanned repair. It's an unplanned expense. It's a negative thing,” Mr. Potter said. “They have no knowledge of TPMS. I am continually how little knowledge and how many people don't even know there is anything attached to the valve. Well guess what? Pretty soon, it's going to get even more complicated.

“We have to continue to educate our customers on what they have today and what to expect in the future.... They don't understand that it's a government-mandated safety system, just like airbags. But they are looking for a partner. This is a really, really big opportunity for you to partner with your customer.

“When they trust you with their keys and they don't know they have TPMS and they come back and it's $500—that can really hurt the trust if you're not educating them up front.”

One area that needs explanation is why TPMS sensors need to be replaced in the first place. For instance, if a vehicle was equipped with a clamp-in sensor, it is susceptible to corrosion and breakage. Mr. Potter explained there are almost 100 million vehicles out there, many with clamp-in aluminum stems that are going to corrode if they're exposed to an environment that includes temperature swings, salt, etc. Snap-in sensors are preferred over clamp-ins because they are less susceptible to corrosion and breakage, he said.

“When a customer comes in, they replace the clamp-in with a snap-in. Now if it's an OE one-piece sensor, then you are still going to have to do a traditional service pack until that reaches the end of life.... I don't have an easy solution for you, but I can tell you that more and more OEs are going to the rubber because it's faster for them to install and it's a lot easier to service in the aftermarket. So you are going to see less and less of the aluminum clamp-ins as time goes forward. But you've got to replace the wearable components on it or you are leaving yourself open,” Mr. Potter said.

“Snap-ins you always love—they are easier to put in, they are easier to service, they are more resistant to corrosion; there's a lot of great reasons. The challenge is most shops are not replacing them.... They are not servicing the valve every time the tire is removed from the wheel, despite the recommendations from TIA, RMA and most of the manufacturers. So, that's a liability obviously, but it's also an opportunity.”

Ultimately, Mr. Potter explained that TPMS is here to stay and preparing a shop both with knowledge and equipment will put it in the game when it's time to service the system. He explained a possible scenario, where a technician accidentally broke a sensor and the shop did not have sensors on hand, thus making the system inoperative.

“You now have an unhappy customer whose car you can't fix,” Mr. Potter continued. “And most of what happened there could have been prevented with proper shop practices, with proper consumer education and partnering with a company that can help you do what you need to do in the TPMS world.

“And that's not an advertisement for Schrader; there are other companies out there. My point being, you need somebody that understands your business, that understands what you need in your shop to be an efficient provider of service. Servicing TPMS means you can't do it the way you did it before.

“You don't want to be walking back and forth from the tire machine, to the inventory shelf over to where the tools are and back to the car... So you need to start to think about how as a shop you can change the way you do things operationally to be more efficient.”
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