Article > Operations

Selling Specialty Chemicals

By Brian Cruickshank


In a garage located amid the noise and chaos of mid-town Manhattan, a group of journalists gathered to see firsthand how some specialty chemicals work, and the importance store personnel play in their purchase and use.

The event was the first such event for Turtle Wax, a company that has been active in the specialty chemicals category since its very first product - a premium car wax - debuted in 1940.

Since then, Turtle Wax has added many products such as tire care, bug wash, car wash, tar remover and other car-care products.

Specialty chemicals such as these are among the fastest growing product categories in the aftermarket. Today, most chemical suppliers are expanding their lines and creating more and more new products - many of which are increasingly targeted at narrower and narrower market segments.

Take fuel system cleaner, for example. There are general purpose fuel system cleaners, but there are also products for cleaning fuel injectors, carburetors, injectors and intake valves, throttle bodies and intake systems, and even one product that is "specially formulated" for keeping the injectors in Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) clean.

There are so many different specialty chemicals, it's hard to categorize them all. Many products also fit into more than one category. But here's what we're talking about:


  • Cleaners - Brake cleaners, engine degreasers, carburetor/fuel system aerosol cleaners, wheel/tire brush-on and aerosol cleaners, glass cleaners, upholstery cleaners, carpet cleaners, bug/tar removers and car wash detergents.


  • Waxes, Polishes and Protectants - For clear coat finishes, for regular finishes, with or without silicones, for chrome/aluminum, for alloy wheels, for plastics, rubber, leather and fabric.

    A subcategory would be polishing/buffing compounds.


  • Tire Care Products - Tire/ wheel cleaners and sealer/inflator products for fixing flats.


  • Fuel System Products - Octane boosters, lead substitutes for older engines, various types of fuel system cleaners, fuel de-icers, diesel fuel mileage extenders and diesel fuel anti-gel additives.


  • Lubricants and Penetrants - Penetrating oils for lubricating parts and/or loosening fasteners, and specialty greases/lubricants (for brakes, CV joints, wheel bearings, chassis components, door hinges, door locks, etc.)


  • Engine Oil/Crankcase Additives - Friction reducers/modifiers, products to reduce oil burning, engine flush to remove carbon and varnish deposits, top cleaners to remove carbon from combustion chambers, and moly- and teflon-based crankcase additives to extend engine life.


  • Cooling System Additives - Sealers to stop leaks, additives to extend the life of antifreeze, rust inhibitors/water pump lubricants, and cooling system flushes to remove rust and scale.


  • Brake Chemicals - Aerosol brake rotor/squeal treatments, brake lubricants/greases and brake cleaner.


  • Specialty Fluids - Power steering fluids, transmission additives (leak sealers and friction modifiers), transmission flushes to remove varnish deposits, brake fluids, hydraulic clutch fluid and windshield washer premix.


With so many new chemical products crowded onto limited shelf space, some customers may have trouble finding the type of products they want. Others may have a difficult time deciding which product among many best suits their needs. Having so many choices can be confusing, which is why you need to be familiar with all of the specialty chemical products in your store. It's no easy task with so many different products, but it's just as important as helping a customer find the right replacement filter, spark plugs or other parts for his or her vehicle.

One way to keep yourself up-to-date is to read the promotional literature and advertisements from the suppliers. The marketing information will tell you what the products are, what applications the products are designed for and how the brand of products stacks up against its competitors.

Read the product labels, too. You can learn a lot just by reading the recommendations on the product label, the usage directions and the claimed benefits. This kind of information can help you answer questions like, "How often should I use this product?" or, "Is it safe to use in this situation or under certain conditions?"

Studying the various chemical products will not only help you understand some of the nuances between similar products but also which products are recommended for specific kinds of applications.

It's also helpful to try some of these products. Nothing beats firsthand experience. Once you've used a particular product, you'll know how it works and what to recommend.Related sales possibilities will depend on the chemical product. If somebody is buying a fuel system cleaner, she may also need a new fuel filter. If a customer is buying an aerosol tire/wheel cleaner, she may also need a tire gauge. If she's buying some car wash, she may also need a mitt or brush to wash her vehicle. Think what else you might need if you were buying a specialty chemical product - then inform your customer about them.


With these tips and some proper care, you can take years off your customer's car and have them riding in style. Armed with the right information, you will be able to inform your customers about products they don't know about, allowing them to get that like-new shine back into their vehicles.

Here is the sequence customers should follow when cleaning their cars:

1. Whip Wheels into Shape
Today's wheels are getting bigger and many of the high-end rims found on luxury cars and sports models are very difficult to keep clean. Spray the formula generously over the surface and let it penetrate for about a minute, then rinse thoroughly, using a hose. For the off-roading type who likes to get dirty, you'll probably need to use a brush or soft cloth after you've sprayed on the cleaner.

2. Tackle the Tires
While wheel and tire cleaning can be a dirty job, many of today's specialty products make it simpler. Properly conditioned tires can help improve the tires' flexibility - which helps a tire run cooler and last longer and reduces aging. Just spray on an aerosol tire foam product onto the tires to quickly clean and shine rubber in one easy step.

3. Working at the Car Wash
The first step in creating a car that shines is washing. Start out by hosing it down thoroughly from top to bottom. This removes the loose surface dirt that can scratch the paint while waxing. Next, spray water under the fenders and underside areas to flush out accumulated road dirt and road salt. The car should then be washed with a specially formulated car wash one section at a time - starting at the bottom of the car and working upward, making sure to rinse off each section after washing. The entire car should then be rinsed with clean water by hosing from the roof downwards, making sure that areas which may entrap suds - roof gutters, for example - are thoroughly rinsed. Finally, wipe dry with a clean chamois or cotton terry towels.

4. Swipe off the Swirls
Unsightly marks are a thing of the past. With a scratch remover, minor scratches and swirl marks caused by tree branches, improper care or environmental etching, will disappear. Scratch remover also gets rid of a layer of oxidized film along with microscopic layers of paint, revealing a fresh underlying coat of the car's original paint. Simply apply a small amount onto the mark with a soft cloth and buff off with a dry rag. For cars more than 10 years old that do not have a clear coat, use a rubbing compound.

5. Bug Off
Prior to any waxing job, it's important to remove any bug, tar or unwanted stains. Spray directly on the stain and wipe off with a dry cloth. For more difficult stains, allow the product to set for a few minutes and then remove.

6. Wax On
Now that the pre-treatment is done, your customer can get right to the heart of car care - waxing. Start out by thoroughly moistening the applicator that comes with most wax products, or use a small, soft cloth, and wring out excess water. Apply the wax evenly, using a circular motion. Let dry to a haze, then wipe with a clean, soft cloth, turning the cloth frequently. Buff lightly with another clean cloth for a glowing luster. It's a good idea to change cloths two or three times as clean cloths work better than those saturated with wax residue.

7. Make it Shine from the Inside and Out
Using a protectant is important in maintaining the value of a car and keeping its color intact. All conventional protectants contain shining ingredients such as silicone. Automotive interior designs are making use of more leather and leather-like components. Most of these materials display a low luster, matte finish. It is important to regularly clean and moisturize automotive leather to help prevent wear and cracking.

Stains are going to happen, but knowing how to take care of them can save you from permanent damage. Start by dividing the interior into sections. Concentrate on cleaning one section at a time. Apply an upholstery cleaner directly to the cloth for cleaning small areas, and spray directly onto larger soiled areas. Clean large areas first and use the small detail brush for difficult to clean nooks and crannies. Wipe with a damp cloth and always test cleaners first before using.

- Courtesy of Turtle Wax



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