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Making The Add-On Sale

By Gary Goms

Related sales are those connected to the replacement of a specific part.
Just mention the term “add-on sales” and visions of arm-twisting sales techniques will usually come to mind. But the art of selling all the parts needed to successfully complete a job isn’t that difficult. The add-on sale usually happens when a parts professional reminds his customer that, yes, two exhaust clamps and a tail pipe will be needed to complete that muffler installation or that four new shock absorbers will provide better ride control than two. In the real world, add-on sales are an essential part of providing superior service at the aftermarket parts counter. So, let’s begin by clarifying the difference between up-selling, related sales and add-on sales.

This failed timing belt idler pulley illustrates why customers should be sold a timing belt installation kit, rather than just a timing belt.
Let’s say your cataloging indicates that original equipment specifications require a 550 cold-cranking ampere (CCA) rating for your customer’s vehicle. Your “standard” battery has a standard 60-month warranty curve that begins to steeply decline in value after the first year of service. Your “better” battery might have a 650 CCA rating with a more generous two-year free replacement warranty and will cost only 15 percent more than your standard 550 CCA battery.

Moving the customer up to the extra 100 CCA and the two-year free replacement is the up-sell. As in any up-sell, you’re casting your bread upon the waters by making a suggestion that your customer might decline. But, just like baseball, maintaining a high batting average is more important than occasionally striking out. So, step up to the plate and take your best swing at up-selling the better product.


Related sales are those connected to the replacement of a specific part. Timing belt sales are excellent opportunities for selling related parts. A simple question like, “Are we good for idler pulleys, tensioner pulleys, accessory drive belts and coolant hoses?” politely reminds your professional technician that he should check those items before closing his invoice on the timing belt sale.

Returning to the battery sale, a typical retail battery sale often begins with the customer requesting that his battery be tested while it’s still in the vehicle. This battery test serves two purposes: first, it verifies that the original battery is indeed defective, and second, it provides the opportunity to test the starter and alternator in order to make the related sale. In many common cases, a bad alternator or a slipping alternator drive belt has contributed to the failure of the original battery. Last, you’ve reduced the probability of a battery warranty comeback by verifying the performance of the vehicle’s starting and charging system. A little creative thinking in the sales department goes a long way to simultaneously improve customer relations and boost sales revenues.

Add-on sales consist of selling non-related replacement parts. Returning to our original retail battery replacement, you can increase your sales batting average by informing your customer that your store is having, for example, a sale on replacement struts or shock absorbers. The sale could be on many non-related items like oil and filters, brake pads and even tires. In any case, keeping a pile of sales brochures handy and reminding the customer that he can save money on these parts if he buys now will go a long way toward increasing overall sales. Now that we’ve covered up-sells, related sales and add-on sales, let’s define some other sales opportunities.

Up-sell, add-on, and related sales opportunities appear the minute your wholesale customer orders parts for a vehicle that is already on a lift and has the wheels off. Wheels-off sales allow a technician to inspect wheel bearings, oil seals, brakes, struts, shocks, steering linkage and exhaust system condition.
To illustrate wheels-off sales, the technician must remove the front brakes to replace worn front wheel bearings. With the wheels off, the extra labor required to replace the front brake pads, rotors, calipers and hoses is very minimal. So, if the brakes are badly worn, it’s a real bargain for the customer to replace the above components now than later. Here again, asking your wholesale customer if he needs brake parts to go with the wheel bearing replacement is, in most cases, helpful to the technician and your store’s bottom line.

Similarly, if a technician has a vehicle on a lift, it requires very little time for him to visually check the condition of the rack-and-pinion steering, steering linkage, struts and shock absorbers. If the steering rack is leaking fresh oil, a replacement should be recommended.

A typical related-parts sale for the steering rack installation would be new power steering hoses and a pair of new outer tie rod ends to go with the new inner tie rod ends included with the steering rack. A typical add-on sale would be to replace struts or shock absorbers that have lost rebound control or are leaking fresh oil. Sure, these parts aren’t related to the braking system, but the tech has the wheels off and the vehicle is already on the lift, so the repair becomes very cost-effective for vehicle owner if he so chooses.

Because mileage is always a good indicator for the need of various parts and services, it’s always a good sales practice to ask what the mileage is on the vehicle. To illustrate, 36,000 miles is always a benchmark number because the original manufacturer’s warranty generally ends at or near that mileage interval.
The owner’s maintenance manual or an applicable aftermarket database will tell us what the vehicle will need just after it slips out of warranty. For example, most new-vehicle applications require a fuel, air and cabin filter replacement at or near the 36,000-mile interval. In addition, most vehicles in metro driving environments will be ready for their first brake pad replacement which, in some cases, will require new brake rotors.

After a vehicle exits the manufacturer’s warranty period, some light truck or sports utility vehicle owners might be ready to upgrade the shock absorbers, add tool boxes, or install off-roading bumpers, skid plates, and door rails. Since performance is the valued outcome, always up-sell to the premium product.
At approximately 70,000 miles, some maintenance manuals will require still another fuel, air and cabin filter replacement. Some manuals might also specify a spark plug and timing belt replacement. In the real world, the vehicle also will need another wheels-off brake inspection, which opens the door to make an add-on sale of struts and shock absorbers.

The 100,000-mile mark is a virtual gold mine for counterpersons wanting to increase sales because many vehicle owners have, at this point, decided to repair rather than replace their vehicles. Most manufacturers specify a spark plug replacement at this service interval. Remember that your premium-grade spark plug is the only choice that will meet the original equipment manufacturer’s requirements. But a highly recommended related parts sale is new spark plug wires on external waste-spark ignitions or spark plug boots on coil-on plug applications. All too often, either of these components will contain a “flashover” carbon track inside the spark plug connector and boot. A flashover will possibly cause the new spark plug to develop a misfire a few weeks after the spark plugs are replaced.

Similarly, many vehicles will require a timing belt replacement at the 100,000- to 120,000-mile interval. Most expert professional technicians highly recommend that the timing belt idler pulleys, tensioners, water pump, and accessory drive belts also be replaced because their services lives are generally used up at this mileage interval.

If up-sell, related and add-on sales are handled correctly, your overall sales revenues will definitely improve. Keep in mind that no mechanic wants a muffler delivered only to discover that two clamps and a tail pipe are required to finish the job. Similarly, no mechanic wants to buy a pair of disc brake calipers while forgetting that the brake hoses are weather-hardened and are beginning to crack.

Subtlety is the key in up-sell, related and add-on sales work. Nobody, especially your professional technician, likes to be confronted with hard-sell tactics each time he orders a part. So subtle reminders that, yes, spark plug wires are usually needed when the spark plugs are replaced at 100,000 miles and the new Euro vehicle likely needs application-specific motor oil. With that said, it takes only a little extra sales finesse to improve the bottom lines for jobber and professional technician alike.

Gary Goms is a former educator and shop owner who remains active in the aftermarket service industry.  Gary is an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician (CMAT) and has earned the L1 advanced engine performance certification. He is also a graduate of Colorado State University and belongs to the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

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