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The Lost Art of Associated Selling


In August, we discussed the issues that surround merchandising, visual merchandising, planograms, proactive merchandising and the general use of our imagination. The value of these topics can only be established by assessing how much they strengthen the bottom line. The efforts taken to transform a store won’t happen overnight.

by Gerard Wheelus

So as the transformation begins to take place and we realize how our imagination has reshaped the store, we can now begin to focus on Phase 2. What’s Phase 2? It’s training those around us to understand that those new, visually pleasing displays are there for a reason. They are designed to sell more products and to help us with associated sales. We need more sales at more profit margin and the up sales and/or associated sales are one of the ways to help our businesses grow.

We can help ourselves by up-selling products and selling associated items along with our core products and parts. While the concept of associated selling has been taught in some form or another for years, some counter professionals still haven’t bought into the idea. Is it turnover in employees or is it laziness on our parts?

Regardless of the reason, we must continue to emphasize just how important associated sales are to an operation’s bottom line. Associated sales are a must because as we have cut pricing in so many ways to get the “hard part” sale, associated sales are the only thing we’re really making money on. Every big box store stresses the importance of associated sales and up-selling to better products, which is why they offer “cheap” and “premium” lines. Offering a less expensive product and then up-selling to a better quality, more expensive product should add to the sales dollars but more importantly, add to profit dollars.

So how does merchandising relate to associated and or up-selling products? The answer is simple, really: We have taken the products and grouped them together so that it makes everyone’s life easier. Associated products, at this point, should not be scattered all over the store but in groups for everyone to easily see so we can offer them to the customer. And since your store’s products and parts are now effectively visually merchandised, the customer is more receptive to buying the associated product. Is merchandising going to fix our associated sales failures or help us to up-sell our product? The answer is — no.

The answer is more about training everyone around you. Associated sales are sometimes forgotten because we operate on autopilot and think it’s enough to just know where to find the parts. And since we think we know our customers, we suppose they won’t buy an associated item anyway. We often forget that we are all salespeople and our job is to sell, sell, sell. Selling is what we do and while it’s great that we know how to find the proverbial needle in a haystack, we must go further by selling them another product or parts they probably need anyway. What goes with needle bearings — grease, hand cleaner, towels, cotter pins, a dust cap? The list can go on and on. However, we have just saved this customer a drive across town, or 30 miles away, if you live in East Texas. We saved the customer time, gas and wear and tear on the vehicle. So, why not capitalize on the sale for all it’s worth?

Many counter professionals cite worry about offending or irritating the customer as reasons not to offer associated products or parts. But most customers appreciate being told about additional products or services that might also meet their needs or about new items that weren’t offered in the past. It’s a way of demonstrating that you are aware of their needs and care about their satisfaction. We all still need reminders of what the associated sales and or the up-sell will and can do for our businesses. But we become complacent to this portion of our business in the same way we have ignored merchandising in the past.

The best training for successful associated selling is “show and tell.” The best leaders lead by example and it’s up to us to show the way. After we become reacquainted, we must train the newbies of the business to help them gain the same knowledge we have learned. We must lead by example and not by “do as I say not as I do.” This attitude will not work. Our attitude toward associated sales and up-selling must be consistent with our expectations.

Try walking around your store with sticky notes. Plaster the water pumps, fuel pumps, alternators and starters with notes that list like items that you want to offer your customers. Take those notes and realign the products on your shelves to take into account associated products. For a makeshift display, get some fishing line and hang a hose clamp from the ceiling near the radiator hoses. Hang some hoses by the water pumps. While it’s a simple method of displaying products, it’s also a strong visual reminder to customers of the other kinds of products and parts we’d like them to buy.

In addition, encourage your colleagues to read industry publications. By doing so, it will help spur ideas that they can put into action.

Gerald Wheelus is general manager of Edgewood Auto Parts, Edgewood, Texas. 

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