Making a Connection

Apr 25, 2012

When the topic turns to selling automotive fittings and plumbing components, good things come in threes.

Often the icing on the cake of a new engine build or performance upgrade, plumbing and fittings are little things that can make a big impact. While customers may view them as somewhat of an afterthought in the face of large-item purchases, you and your sales staff can learn to love them as a quick way to customize your work and secure add-on sales.

So, what’s the best approach to take when selling plumbing, fittings and related components? We asked the experts at four product manufacturers, who laid out a simple three-step plan.

#1) Sell Looks and Performance

One of the great things about these products is that they offer real benefits in air and fluid flow for an engine-and look great doing it.

“By using these products, (installers) are able to upgrade and get good looks at the same time,” says Ben Martinsen, who handles marketing for Hose Candy in St. George, Utah. “You get the comfort in knowing that your fittings will not leak, and at the same time that your plumbing/fittings will be the center of attention with how good they look. (It’s about) meshing function and aesthetics together in one package.”

And don’t underestimate how important it is to many car owners that their engines look great. Unexpected benefits of upgrading plumbing/fitting components, notes Jeff Stacy, president of sales and marketing for Fragola Performance Systems, Southington Conn., include “loss of weight, good looks and safety.”

“When a guy comes in to plumb his car, he wants you to have all of the fittings in the color he wants,” he says.

Liz Miles, marketing and pr coordinator for Earl’s Performance Plumbing, Bowling Green, Ky., says her company considers appearance with each component design.

For instance, “we have extended our black hard-coat anodized aluminum Ano-Tuff -AN fitting line to cover more hose ends and adapters than ever. Black is very popular in racing, car shows and on the street,” she says. “Ano-Tuff fittings are one of our most popular lines because of their sleek looks and durable finish. These fittings won’t fade, chip or strip, because every surface is protected with the hard anodized finish.”

And it’s not only when the products are new. Professional-grade plumbing and fittings are usually made of durable materials designed to keep their appearance and last.

Duane LaFleur, motorsports manager for Jiffy-tite Co., Lancaster, N.Y., explains how his company’s quick-connect fittings provide performance by eliminating cross-threading, over-tightening, stripping and other common problems.

“You are sure to get a perfect connection each and every time using no tools,” he says, “which allows your connectors to look like new for a longer period of time.”

#2) Sell Safety

OK, so maybe your customer is one of those racers or enthusiasts who rarely pops the hood to show off. If so, there’s always the safety angle to pursue, as Stacy mentioned earlier.

One of Fragola’s hottest-selling lines is its new aluminum, reusable hose ends to be used on Teflon hose. The Teflon liner keeps the fuel smell down, Stacy notes, with hose and hose ends available from AN6 to AN10.

The new technology “allows the racer a lighter package without breaking the bank.  Our lightweight, black nylon racing hose is light, durable and can be used with our conventional compression hose ends or our Sport Crimp line of hose ends,” he says.

Also of note: “When you upgrade with Fragola Performance Systems, you are increasing the bursting strength of your plumbing,” meaning things are safer.

Safety is also an important feature of Jiffy-tite’s product line, according to LaFleur. The company is now offering new swivel 45- and 90-degree elbows in female AN-style connectors, as well as a lanyard-style socket designed to disconnect on impact so as to not break apart and allow fluid to pour from a broken connector.

“This is a great safety feature,” he says, adding, “Jiffy-tite also offers valved technology, which gives you high-flow capabilities, but once they are disconnected you will have no fluids leaking out of either connector.”

The line is also available with no valves to allow 100-percent flow-through capabilities.

High-grade materials also offer added protection against failures, Miles says, noting Earl’s employs materials including Kevlar braiding, Teflon and carbon-based hoses.

“Along with better materials, higher-quality CNC machines have allowed closer tolerances and finer finishes than ever before,” she continues. “By optimizing our inventory through better processes, we have the ability to stock the fittings customers’ need, when they need them.”

A quick and solid fit with high-quality materials allows racers the peace of mind that their fittings are durable and secure. Another safety option your shop is providing customers is the knowledge that the plumbing components used on their vehicles are designed specifically for their application.

That’s the case with Hose Candy’s new Carb Coupler Kits, Martinsen says, with available applications for Holley and Edelbrock carburetors, plus a universal kit.

“The Carb Coupler kits feature Hose Candy’s Sidewinder Quick-Disconnect fittings that provide a positive seal up to 125-psi and are removed with a twist of the wrist,” he notes. The new technology “ensures that when a new carburetor is installed, the installer has all of the right fittings in one place.”

#3) Sell In-Stock Inventory

Because these products are not always top-of-mind with customers when they come to you with a project, it’s important that once you introduce the idea of upgrading plumbing and fittings that you can immediately deliver the goods.

That’s one of the reasons Hose Candy has both the Edelbrock and Holley-specific kits, plus a universal kit for other applications.

Shops can immediately begin making more money, Martinsen explains, “by offering the kits as add-on options for every new carburetor that is installed on a vehicle or on every carburetor rebuild that they do.”

But some of the impact is lost if you have to wait on an order. In Stacy’s opinion, the biggest challenge in selling plumbing and fittings is “having the correct inventory.”

He knows it’s not always easy, explaining that Fragola has a large on-the-shelf inventory in an extensive selection of finishes that can mean a lot of part numbers. But he’s convinced shops can best make money in this market by “letting people know they have the product and stocking a good selection of plumbing components.”

Miles, too, believes a shop’s biggest task is “keeping enough stock. When you’ve got thousands of individual fittings, it’s challenging for a shop to have the correct parts for the customer’s needs. The secret is to know your customers well and carry enough inventory to plumb their typical projects. If you don’t carry the product, customers will search for someone who does.”

She recommends retailers put some thought into the inventory they carry.

“Being educated about the products and displaying complete packages for all of the customer’s needs make the products stand out. If you’re mixing and matching fittings and hose from different companies, there’s no guarantee of performance and it doesn’t look as professional. If you’re talking about fuel system plumbing, presenting fuel pump, regulator and filter options that fit and match is an opportunity to be taken advantage of.”

LaFleur echoes many of those comments, noting that speed shops must “understand what the customer needs and have that in inventory. We receive calls that a customer went to purchase components to plumb his applications and they did not have everything in stock.”

That would be a shame, because of all the value such plumbing products provide.

“Proper inventory levels and having a good understanding of what the customers’ needs are-if you have these two key components, the customers will be happy and sales will continue to grow,” he says.