A Shop’s Perspective: Dealing with Store & WD Sales Reps

A Shop’s Perspective: Dealing with Store & WD Sales Reps

Attention sales reps: To maintain a healthy business relationship with customers, it’s best to know your clients, fulfill their needs and, most importantly, value their time.

Yup, it’s Monday morning, the phone’s ringing and the parking lot is filled with vehicles suffering from the weekend’s misadventures. I pick up the phone and it’s the guy in California wanting to sell air hoses in 500 ft. lots. Next call is the lady offering a too-good-to-be-true deal on credit card processing. And it continues, ring-ring-ring.

“No, I don’t really need a case of citrus-scented garage floor cleaner,” I say for the 10th time.
You get the picture. All of these callers think they are selling the better mousetrap and I should buy one, two or maybe even three. By Monday afternoon, I’m ready to go into the mousetrap business myself — and then the local store rep comes in with a product rep in tow. Oh, wow, here’s another half-hour or so of a day that’s already been wasted by people wanting money — my money, that is.

Obviously, few shop operators have the time to stay current with product technology and the sales market. For example, ten years ago, there were only two or three aftermarket computer scanner tools to buy. Now there’s dozens from which to choose, from PC-based units to universal units to OE stand-alone units ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to more than $12,000.

Everybody is coming up with a new gimmick, some of it original, some of it copy-cat. Don’t, for example, believe that a new swivel-head ratchet wrench is going to get my attention because I already own at least two or three dozen ratchet wrenches.

What I need to know from any product rep is something about a product or service that is truly going to make my work easier or my business more profitable. For example, a WD recently began offering a quicker turn-around on reflashed or reman PCMs. Although aftermarket J-2534 reprogramming equipment is now coming on line, a quick-turn-around exchange service is very useful if a shop doesn’t want to invest in current J-2534 technology.

Not that everything has to be leading-edge, but something as simple as an oil-absorbent paper mat could have caught my eye a few years ago. Because I don’t do heavy repair work, I needed something to absorb inevitable oil drips that accumulate on otherwise clean shop floors. The “kitty litter” absorbents worked fine, but tend to scatter across the floor, collecting under work benches, sticking on shoes and gumming up the wheels on the roll-around tool boxes.

And, of course, there’s my 30-year old transmission jack that just gave up the ghost a few weeks ago. I’m not ready to buy now, but I sure could use some information on replacement transmission jacks. Maybe I want to go bigger and better, maybe not, but I need the information first and no, I don’t need any more ratchet wrenches! Every shop has legitimate or as yet undiscovered needs and the job of the outside sales or product rep is to uncover those needs by bringing new products and services to our attention.

At the beginning of our story, I mentioned all of the issues that clutter up a Monday morning. My main focus is scheduling a weekend’s worth of broken cars into an already packed five-day schedule. I don’t need to be distracted by a rep trying to discuss the latest gift coupon promo or the advantages of stocking the five fastest-moving sets of shock absorber. In fact, I don’t want to discuss anything except customer and shop issues. Sales are not on my mind, especially on Monday morning.

But, on Tuesday afternoon, the week’s schedule has been completed and, yeah, I might be willing to look at that gift coupon or shock promo. But don’t call first thing in the morning when customers are dropping off their cars or at lunch time when we’re busy covering lunch break or at closing time when the customers are picking up their freshly-serviced vehicles. I’m simply too busy making money to talk about spending money.

And, of course, Friday afternoons are famous, or should I say “infamous” for the jobs that always seem to go wrong at the last minute or for the “Oh, by the way, would you have time to…” tasks that seem to bump closing time long into the nighttime hours. No, Friday afternoons aren’t a good time to be discussing swivel-head ratchet wrenches or shock absorber inventories.

I know there’s tons of product information being published each day that would benefit my business. Of all of those technical-tip leaflets being printed each month, a number of them have saved me money by either describing a shortcut or providing a solution to a difficult diagnostic problem.

And then there’s product information, such as which brake lining is best for specific applications. We’ve gone well past the point of good, better and best. Now, we’re into ceramics and application-specific linings. So, where is the information about brake linings? Packed in a cardboard box in the sales rep’s office or being pushed across the service counter to the service advisor or lead technician?

Not to digress, but one of the reasons many products develop such poor sales histories is that very little information is provided to the person who is charged with installing it. Without specific information, service advisors and mechanics play it safe with the old product rules of thumb. To illustrate, when molybdenum-filled piston rings were introduced in the 1960s, I installed a set in my drag race car. The rings didn’t last two weekends before I developed excessive blow-by from the new piston rings.

Disappointed, I went back to the style I had been using only to discover several years later that, in contrast to the roughly honed surface for chromium-plated rings, the moly piston ring required a very smooth finish on the cylinder walls. Installing these rings on a rough-honed cylinder wall wore off soft molybdenum coating in a few thousand miles.

Similar issues exist with friction materials and even spark plugs. Yet, service information is sorely lacking where it counts, at the service counter and on the shop floor. So, the next time you make a sales service call, tell me something I don’t know!

I hate it when a sales rep assumes that I wouldn’t be interested in a specific product or service. Sure, one month ago I felt that the product or service wasn’t needed. But markets change and so do the needs of the individual shops. A good example would be a shop evolving from general repair to undercar services. Suddenly, the cost of steering, suspension and friction products must become competitive with other shops. Consequently, the store or product rep might miss an opportunity to sell the large volume of parts, tooling and equipment needed to change the shop’s core service from general to undercar, maybe even something as big as a whole new alignment machine and lift rack to mount it on.

Another issue that’s particularly irritating to me as a shop owner is store and product representatives who don’t keep up with the technology of the market. Keep in mind that although shop owners and sales reps may not change, the technologies that they’re selling do change.

Multiplexed electronics systems, for example, are changing how we diagnose mundane items like power windows, windshield wiper motors and air conditioning systems. Similarly, due to metallurgical advances, steel timing chains are replacing timing belts in new vehicles. The same might be said of much more durable OE belts and hoses.

As we might suspect, markets change and so should the people that serve them.

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