Let the Lights Shine

Dec 3, 2009

Most people are rightfully skeptical at the prospect of easy money, but industry professionals say that’s exactly what headlight repair service can be for a reconditioning technician.

Headlight repair provides an easy add-on to any reconditioner’s current service offerings-one with low overhead and only basic training required.

“For any aftermarket auto service, it’s a good add-on because it’s so low-cost, and a very efficient service to offer,” says Rory Most, manager of Glass Technology, Durango, Colo. “For anybody who does any reconditioning service, it’s a perfect add-on because it doesn’t take a lot of time to repair a set of lenses. Headlight repair fits really nicely into what they’re already doing.”

Whether it’s to improve a vehicle’s appearance or boost driving safety, reconditioned headlights offer drivers tangible benefits.

“It’s great for detailing shops and window tint shops, even body shops,” says Mike Patrick of Appearance Plus, Satellite Beach, Fla. “Detail shops package it all together: the grand package includes wax, buff and polish.” He notes that headlight restoration could be easily added.

And customers are easy to find. Most car manufacturers began using plastic headlights in the mid- to late-1980s in an effort to reduce vehicle weight and improve aerodynamics.

“When making an aerodynamic design, they couldn’t use the old-style lights,” says Patrick. “As the years go by, they make cars lighter, and they are also making plastics softer and lighter. The softer and lighter the plastic gets, the more it is subject to impact from road debris and abrasion from sand and salt. Because it is so light, it also gets oxidation from UV [rays], and the lenses get yellow quickly.”

Easy To Do

The initial investment and training costs are minimal for most of the headlight restoration systems currently on the market, manufacturers say.

“The initial investment will be the biggest investment they’ll make in getting into this service,” says Most. “The ongoing material costs are fairly minimal in relation to the average service charge.”

Most manufacturers of headlight repair materials provide training support and technical assistance. The materials and tools needed are often sold as a complete kit, including everything a technician would need to get started. The process itself is simple, manufacturers say.

“It’s very easy to pick up; very simple,” says Stacy Kropp of Bright Solutions, Sunrise, Fla. “We provide instructions as well as phone technical support. It’s such an easy thing to do.”

“Training takes 15 minutes-it’s a three-step process,” adds Patrick. “It’s idiot-proof. You could train the lot boy to do this in five minutes. It’s that simple. It’s very user-friendly.”

Headlight restoration is a service that reconditioners can perform while waiting for other products to dry, cure or set. It’s also a service that can stand alone.

“You can become a distributor for the headlight reconditioning system or simply provide the service itself,” says Jessica Gondera, marketing and sales coordinator of GO KEM, Zellwood, Fla.

Easy To Sell

There are two main avenues for selling headlight restoration, manufacturers say. There’s the vehicle’s appearance, which is going to appeal to a younger crowd, and safety, which will draw a wide range of drivers.

“There are two different types of people buying this service,” says Arnold Garcita of Wynn’s, Azusa, Calif. “One is a younger consumer, and he’s buying it for the look of the vehicle. He has a nice car but the headlights are yellow. He’s buying headlight restoration so the car looks good cosmetically. Then you have a more mature consumer buying for safety reasons. He notices his headlights aren’t beaming as far as they used to, and the headlights have become yellow, preventing a clear beam.”

Clouded, yellowed headlights aren’t attractive, and can lower a vehicle’s value as well.

“The younger consumer wants to do it because yellow lights look bad,” says Patrick.

That aspect makes dealerships open to purchasing the service for used cars that come in as trades.

“At car dealerships it’s usually the used-car manager who’s interested, the same as any other reconditioning work you would do at a car lot,” says Kropp, noting that many dealers appreciate avoiding the cost of replacing headlights for a cheaper alternative.

Appearance Plus’ Patrick agrees that the used-car department of any dealership will be the most receptive to headlight restoration services.

“Used-car managers are packaging headlight restoration as part of reconditioning the vehicle for sale,” he adds. “The value of a vehicle is higher if the lights are not yellow and faded out. Part of their prep is to clean up headlights. Typically what they did in the past was exchange them: You’re talking about a $300-400 light, maybe even $800 or more for a Mercedes. The cost of replacing, prepping and certifying is higher. With restoration they don’t have that expense, and it’s quicker and less expensive to prepare a used car to sell.”

A Benefit for Dealers

In addition, offering headlight reconditioning allows dealers to regain sales they may otherwise have lost.

“Dealers can increase their profits and regain the lost sales of a customer who normally will not service the headlights unless they’re in an accident,” says Garcita. “If headlights are yellow, the customer is not going to pay $400 or $500 to change them unless they are in an accident. Dealers have always lost this business because no matter how that headlight looks, a customer is not going to spend money on it. Now with headlight restore, they have an inexpensive method to improve the appearance and safety, and to save lost sales and increase profits.”

But it’s safety that makes the most effective selling tool, manufacturers agree. Cloudy, yellowed headlights don’t project as brightly or as far.

“It all comes down to the safety issue,” says Patrick. “Are you seeing correctly at night? Are you seeing well? Do you see far enough in front of you to drive safely? Can you see far enough ahead to react quickly to stop or turn? If you look at a lot of the materials, it’s all about safety. Poor conditions cause an even bigger difference. If your headlights are dim and yellow, and it’s dusty or foggy out,” the headlights’ poor performance will be even more noticeable.

Safety can be a compelling sales tool for many demographics, including older drivers and female car owners.

“In my experience, headlight restoration draws the female audience because of the safety factor,” says Most. “To them, enhancing their headlights and allowing more visibility while driving is a definite plus.”

Finally, savings to the end customer make headlight reconditioning a great buy. Replacing the OEM headlight lenses can cost from $200 to $800 or more apiece, manufacturers estimate.

“Headlight reconditioning markets for $49.99 and goes over $100 depending on the type of car and your market,” says Gondera. “I know that guys don’t like to go below $50 and there’s no need to, with headlights priced at $200 for replacement. If the consumer is paying $60 to get his or her headlights reconditioned, they’re saving substantial money.”

Show What You Know

When it comes to showing the effectiveness of the service, nothing beats a demonstration, manufacturers say. They recommend showing your customer-”whether it’s the car owner or a dealership’s used-car manager-the real-life improvements headlight restoration offers.

“The easiest way to market to them is to do a demonstration,” says Kropp. “It works on any headlight no matter what type of plastic it is. The best marketing is to do a show-and-tell, and it takes less than five minutes per car.”

There are different ways to do that, depending on the market a reconditioner is trying to reach. Demonstrations work well on dealer lots and at events or car shows where there is a possibility for high-volume sales, but for a retail customer, there are other ways to show them results without performing free work.

“One way we market the service is to get headlights from a junkyard, put tape down the middle, and show one half of the lens repaired,” says Patrick. “It’s a great way to market it. People see it and say, ‘I have a coworker with that problem.’ It’s a great way to get attention.”

Demonstrations and examples work well, say manufacturers, but those methods work best when combined with traditional advertising, such as print newspaper ads and also by advertising in other automotive-related businesses-”and even mall kiosks and flea-market booths.

“There are a lot of independents who offer this service who are working in conjunction with service-related businesses like a car wash or oil lube place,” says Most. “Advertising in high volume areas like those has been real successful.”

For those in the detailing business, headlight restoration is a solid addition to packaged services-and in the eyes of the consumer can boost detailing from appearance-only to functional improvement.

“The detailers are selling packages that consist of a full detail, and included in that package is automatically adding headlight restore,” says Garcita. “That helps because most customers look at a detail service as a feel-good service: Their car is dirty, and they are going to get the dirt off and get it back nice and shiny. Detailers are excited about adding a headlight kit because it gives them validation. They will not only get the dirt off the paint, but also make an improvement to the vehicle. It makes selling the package easier.”

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Wrong Side of the Law

In some places, too-dim headlights can earn drivers a ticket.

Headlight restoration may help keep your customers on the right side of the law.

Beyond the obvious safety and appearance concerns, cloudy and yellowed headlights are also illegal in many states. CBS News stations in Miami and Boston recently took a look at the problem.

Cloudy headlights can emit half as much light as a clear lens, CBS reported, and it claims most motorists aren’t aware when their headlights have become clouded.

The CBS affiliates cited laws in Florida, which state “headlights have to clearly illuminate the roadway for at least 150 feet,” and Massachusetts, which requires headlights shine at least 115 feet. State patrol troopers told reporters that tickets for faulty equipment can be written to motorists with dimming headlights.

CBS4 Boston in August 2006 asked why inspectors weren’t checking headlights’ brightness, and found that the state Registry of Motor Vehicles claims it’s too difficult to measure the brightness and would make vehicle inspections difficult.

Still, reconditioners can remind their customers of the dangers-and potential tickets-that can arise from driving with weathered, yellowed headlights.

“Some [headlights] start fading as early as two years after the car is new, and the headlights don’t pass safety measures,” notes Mike Patrick of Appearance Plus, Satellite Beach, Fla., which offers a headlight restoration system.” People are getting pulled over for their headlights not being bright enough. Many states have a standard of how far down the road the beam should be visible.”

Reconditioners can check with their local department of motor vehicles regarding headlight brightness rules and regulations in their area.

-Sharla Sikes