Article > Opinion

It's Just Different

By Brian Cruickshank

Challenging categories, such as exhaust, require new approaches to distribution and sales strategies.

Exhaust is dead.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from readers. You’ve probably thought it more than a few times yourself.

I’ll certainly grant you that the exhaust business is not what it once was. One of my friends who owns a local store tells great stories about what he calls ‘the Exhaust Wars’ of the 1980s. In those days, manufacturers were virtually buying business for crazy amounts of money. Exhaust manufacturers were giving out sizable interest-free loans — even cash incentives — all in an effort to gain (or buy) business in what was a very profitable category.

Ah, but how things change. With the introduction of stainless steel systems and an explosion in SKUs, sales of exhaust sagged. They sagged so much so that many distributors wrote off the category entirely.

But is exhaust dead? Hardly. The truth is that the exhaust category is not dead, it’s just different. Different can be a bad thing, or it can be a good thing, depending on how you approach it. There are opportunities, but like most things, they aren’t going to walk up to your business and introduce themselves. You need to go out and find them. Your WD or manufacturer might have some ideas as well.

You can apply that philosophy to just about any product line you sell. Certainly, the product lines you sell today are not the same products you sold a decade ago, nor is your approach to sales or inventory the same. The technology is different, the nameplates and marques in some cases are different. The customers are different. Even your competition is different — since 1995, for example, muffler shops have lost 17 percent market share, while the traditional side has increased.

Considering all this change, your selling style and approach should be different too. Be warned, though: Product lines change over time, but no two lines ever change in exactly the same way. If you’re treating exhaust like you’re treating other lines, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Believe it or not, for some categories — exhaust being one of them — success or failure is more a state of mind. For those who believe the exhaust business is dead, it probably is. Those who believe exhaust is a viable category likely believe that because their own businesses reflect strong exhaust sales. The great different between these two viewpoints is how these businesses address the category.

No category sells itself. It takes product knowledge, customer knowledge, marketing, manufacturer support and, of course, sales acumen. Some categories, like exhaust, don’t require more effort, they just require different effort.

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