By Dave Halliday
EDMONTON, ALTA. – New car and truck shows are a winter staple in Canada, but the Edmonton Motorshow is working to create a distinct identity through its focus on accessories.
Accessories, whether cosmetic or functional, can represent hundreds or even thousands of dollars in spending per vehicle at new car dealerships.
With an expanded Edmonton Expo Centre providing more floor room, Motorshow manager Bob Vilas had the space to designate a specific area for accessories at last winter’s show. Vilas expects to expand the space for accessories in the 2011 show.
Ron Hodgson Chevrolet Buick GMC and Southgate Pontiac Buick GMC put together one of the larger displays at the 2010 Motorshow, working in concert with several of their top suppliers. Over the years, Southgate has built a reputation as a place to buy accessories.
Southgate’s Jamie Hodgson said the average new vehicle buyer spends $1,700 on accessories, but “trucks will be double that.”
And strong truck sales in Alberta – Alberta accounts for more than 40 per cent of Canadian heavy-duty pickup sales (Ford, Dodge and General Motors), despite having under 10 per cent of Canada’s population – means those accessory sales represent a significant piece of business.
Southgate started selling accessories and continually improving the process since 1995, but saw huge momentum as it really stocked up and focused, he said.
“A lot of it had to do with our new manager at the time, Doug Macleod, who came to us with accessory experience, having been a parts manager and operator of an accessory store. He was not afraid to break out of the parts mould of selling boring stuff and things grew from there.”
As with any successful venture, a combination of ingredients plays a role in its success.
When Hodgson lists the necessities for a hit accessory program, he includes having sufficient inventory so customers don’t have to wait, attractive product displays, competitive pricing, educated and well-trained staff, warranty coverage (three years/60,000 km when installed on a new vehicle) and engaged and interested new vehicle sales personnel.
In addition to being part of the Motorshow, Southgate also sets up at other trade shows.
“Trade shows are a huge commitment, but they pack value,” he said. “You get to talk to your customers in a relaxed, non-confrontational environment.”
He looks at these events as an opportunity to build relationships with your customers, their friends and competitors’ customers.
While Southgate staff installs most of the accessories, the dealership has maintained a relationship with Joey’s Place, a body shop that can handle any custom bodywork or paint needed to make the accessories look their best.
“The one common request is to paint aftermarket body kits, spoilers, etc. to match the factory paint,” said shop owner Joey Steckler.
But that’s not as simple as it sounds, he insists, pointing out that many aftermarket parts do not fit correctly and have to be modified. Colour matching can also be demanding with today’s special-effects pearls and tri-coat paints.
In addition to painting and installing parts, Joey’s Place has also handled a variety of two-tone paint jobs for Southgate.
In the past, some dealerships relied on strength in one or two areas such as new car sales to drive the store to financial success. But most dealerships now rely on strong results from every department and the accessories department is no different for Southgate where Hodgson notes they “have made a solid contribution at our store for years.”
In addition, accessories can also contribute to customer satisfaction scores.
“Nothing will ever happen if your customers are not satisfied,” he added.
The customers who spend the most on accessories are “car people,” he said. They’re the vehicle owners who talk about their car, where they bought it and their experience at the dealership.
“If you do your job as a dealership, they will be happy to mention your name. It’s all really basic stuff if you have built a relationship with your customer.”
Even in the midst of success, there are challenges though, especially for a dealership such as Southgate, which has been affected by the restructuring at General Motors of Canada.
The dealership has already lost its Hummer line and will soon wave goodbye to Pontiac.
But Hodgson has made changes and is looking at a future that may include vastly different vehicles.
“This year we started selling drop-in engines for new Camaros starting at 500 horsepower right up to 850 horsepower,” he said, adding that the store has installed a few of the engines in new GMC trucks as well.
He notes that some dealerships have pulled back on accessories in the last two years. “It takes commitment and you will take some bullets off and on, but if you stick with it you will succeed,” he said.
“Having one vehicle out front does not qualify you as a dealership that is into accessories – go hard or go home.”