Selling the Unseen

Dec 3, 2009

How do you sell something with benefits that are completely invisible? How do you lure customers to buy something they will barely notice once it’s installed? How does what won’t happen to a customer’s car work as a selling tool?

Paint protection film presents a challenge for restylers to sell. There’s no flash of chrome to catch the eye, and it doesn’t generate the excitement of a grille guard, tinted windows or a wing.

Yet the benefits to the customer are undeniable-especially for the driver who truly cares for his or her car and considers it either an investment or a family member.

Education is key, according to PPF retailers. Many customers are unaware of what PPF is, how it is installed or how it works.

Selling the films at dealerships has proven most effective, according to PPF installers across the country. New-car owners are most likely to be interested in protecting the paint on their brand-new ride; once a car gets that first rock chip, many customers are less interested in preventing more damage, installers say.

For tips on successfully selling PPF, we contacted installers in different parts of the country. Here are some of the techniques they’ve found effective when selling the unseen.

Dale Barkalow
San Antonio, Texas

“We install 3M paint protection films, primarily on new vehicles, either at a dealership or for individual customers.

“It’s been much more of a challenge to market than I would ever have thought and I come from a sales and marketing background. Never, ever in my wildest dreams did I think it would be this difficult. [But] it’s starting to pick up now.

“For one, you can’t see it-it’s not like somebody who has a nice set of chrome wheels; everybody can see that. It’s practically invisible and a lot of people are not aware of it. There’s not a lot of advertising for it.

“I make up what I call menus. Let’s say I’m at a Lexus dealer; I bring various pictures of Lexus models with kits on them at the selling price the dealer wants to sell it for.

“I get a lot [of customers through the Web site]. I have the Google pay-per-click. I tried TV ads for one year and that was a big nothing. It just didn’t get the results at all-I think I was hitting the wrong audience. My ad budget was not that big and I couldn’t get in the time slots I really needed. I tried a little bit of radio, but not a whole lot. That seemed to be better. If you open up any car magazine, you don’t see any ads for this stuff in there.

“A lot of people want to know what it is. Some people think you spray it on. I answer the same questions over and over and over again, but I do use the 3M-developed dealer marketing information.

“I would say probably 95 percent of my customers are male and probably 80 percent or higher have an import brand. Most were purchased within the last week, or some get it even before it’s taken off the lot.

“Tomorrow, I’m doing two Ferraris and I just came from the Lexus dealer. I also do a lot of Toyotas and Scions, and the Scions are at the lower end of new car prices.

“If I was to further describe the typical customer, he is absolutely anal about his car and whether he’s driving a Porsche or a Chevy Tahoe or a Scion, he takes care of his car-he or she most likely intends to keep it for a fair amount of time, and wants it looking good.”

Barkalow says that “actually going in and talking to sales people or the finance manager at car dealers” as well as his Web site nets him the most customers.

“We generally use precut kits, but are not afraid to custom-cut a kit as needed. We did a combination of both just last week on a Ford GT. We used a precut kit on the entire hood, front bumper and rocker panels, but hand-cut the A pillars, roof and entire back end of the car.

“Both methods have their pluses and minuses. A person just starting out is probably better off using a precut kit as he could easily cut into the paint on a custom-cut kit. A good hand cutter-and there are both very good ones and those who should not be hand-cutting-an do an excellent job as well. If the precut kit is not patterned well, you can end up with a mess on your hands.

“I would say that it takes at least a year and/or 100-plus installations to become proficient. Many who get into this business with just a few days of training are quickly disillusioned and are out of it just as quickly.”

Ryan Burroughs
Auto Paintguard
Tampa, Fla.

Burroughs says the toughest part of selling paint protection film is “getting someone to spend $700 on clear plastic.”

“I tell them it’s a need for a new car. It protects the paint and it’s cheaper than re-spraying the car down the road. It also keeps the value of the car better, keeps the car new.”

Burroughs says that the best buyers of paint protection films are “usually people who save for their first new car that they’ve been dreaming of. They want to keep it in good condition as long as possible.”

Burroughs says demo cars are also effective, to show potential customers how the film works.

“Usually car shows are the best because those people are car fanatics-they want to take good care of their cars and keep them as new as possible for as long as possible. Next week they have the Motor Trend show in Tampa and we’ll have an Aston Martin on display. We’ll cover the front end and put stickers on it. Usually people start asking questions right away.”

Burroughs says Florida is a tough market for paint protection films. “Our roads are cleaner than they are up North or out West. There are fewer gravel roads, and people generally don’t want to spend as much money down here as they would up north.

“I use precut PPF kits 80 percent of the time, usually to save time-it’s a lot easier to apply something that’s already precut than it is to custom-cut something. There’s also more likely a chance to cut through the film into paint [when custom cutting].

“Usually a good installer can overcome that-it’s just that when you’re working on a $100,000 Porsche, the customer gets nervous when you have a razor near his car. On rocker panels or the rear bumper, I do custom-cut the film, though.”

Albert Helcberger
Block A Chip LLC

“Many people are still unaware of this product, while others think it’s a gimmick. Also, the installation cost does turn people off. It’s a relatively expensive product.

“The Internet forums and blogs are probably our industry’s biggest friends-many of our customers call us because the film was recommended by a fellow forum member.

“Educating people is the key. Often, this product is referred to as a clear bra; people usually wonder, is it really clear? What does it look like? I try to either show an actual finished installation or offer to install a small film sample. Occasionally customers want to get an idea what the film will look like on their vehicle.

“I also have the film installed on my own vehicle. After a couple years of use you can see that the product actually works. There isn’t a single stone chip and the film still looks great. That’s probably the best proof that the product does its job.

“Gather your customer’s feedback. Our feedback is about 99 percent positive-people love the product and recommend it highly. Offer this feedback to your potential customers. Also, your satisfied customers will refer their friends and family members.

“In our case, it’s mostly professional males that want to protect their sports car or luxury vehicle. We also get people with new family cars that want to protect their investment.

“Local dealerships present good opportunities. Many dealerships nowadays have an accessory specialist that offers aftermarket products to customers. If you sell the product right and the dealership knows that they can make a nice profit on each sale, you may have some work coming your way.

“Car shows are also good. We will usually drive our vehicle to a car show with the PPF installed. Hang a banner and offer brochures, business cards and information. Another way is offering your professional advice on the Web-many car forums discuss the PPF product. Discuss the benefits of the product and your service without making it sound like spam.

“Sell your PPF service as the best product and the best service in the world and have a way of backing your claims. Again, offer your customers’ feedback, take photos of your previous installs, etc.

“To save time we use mostly pre-cut kits. A well-designed, computer-cut kit does a good job and is satisfactory. Occasionally we have customers with unique vehicles, in which case we will design our own kit.”

Todd Bergman
John’s Sunroofs
Englewood, Colo.

“Colorado happens to be the largest market in the nation and, to my knowledge, in the world for paint protection film. Since it was introduced in 1992, it’s really taken off. I’ve heard that 2,000 vehicles per week in Denver receive paint protection kits.

“Colorado mainly started out as very good marketing. The material was introduced for such a long period of time. PPF guards against damage from the amount of gravel put on the roads during wintertime, and gives protection against mag chloride, which can be nasty stuff if you don’t get a chance to wash your car often. The largest thing is damage from gravel and road debris.”

Bergman said the biggest challenge in selling paint protection film “probably would just be a lack of customer knowledge about the product. Even though Colorado is such a huge market, there are a lot of people who still aren’t informed about the product and what its benefits are. In a lot of states, people have never heard of it. A lot of it happens to be customer awareness. For 95 percent of owners whose vehicles we have done in the past, when they purchased their new vehicle it was one of their first investments.

“A lot of [good sales technique] happens to be information-informing customers when they come in. If you do window tinting, that’s the perfect time to introduce paint protection film and be able to up-sell or inform them about the product, especially with newer vehicles. We cater a lot toward the retail market – lot of vehicles that come through our shop are only a few months old. We also do car shows and events to get the word out there.

“New car owners are [most interested]. A lot of people start to get a few chips and we always try to inform them. Especially on older vehicles, the challenge there is that the paint is already fairly chipped up and they’d rather not spend additional money to protect what paint they have left. They figure they will only have the vehicle another year or two longer. I would probably say we get a mixture of trucks and cars, but the majority is probably cars. They are more susceptible to paint chips because they are lower to the ground.

“We do all custom installs based off bulk materials. The [pre-cut] kits are very nice, but they’re designed mainly for front ends: hoods, fender tips, mirrors, lower bumpers. When you do bulk, generally it’s going to cost less because you aren’t paying for a pattern, and there’s generally a quicker install time.

“When working with bulk film, you have extra material on the ends you can pull and stretch and fit curvatures more easily. The coverage you can get with bulk material is generally better, in my opinion. Sooner or later, you’re going to get custom stuff or customer requests for other areas of the vehicle such as the rocker panels or rear tailgate. Even the best kit installers have to do some custom cutting or they’re losing business out the door.

“When attracting new customers, a lot of it is advertising like mailers, but the best are referrals. We get a lot of referrals from happy customers and people showing off their vehicles. Besides that, we do flyers, the Yellow Pages and go to car shows.

“The best [sales] technique is showing them my own personal vehicle. I have a 2005 F-150 that is completely covered, head to toe, in material. When they look at the odometer, then look at the exterior, and see there’s not a chip to be found, that’s probably the best seller.

“It can be a tough sell. One thing I learn every year when I got to SEMA or other large car shows is finding out other demographics. It seems like a lot of tint shops will get into it and start doing OK with it. A lot of tinters have the basic skills and what it’s going to take to install, instead of trying to go get trained or learning how to do it.”

Steve Rodriguez
Steve’s Professional Glass Tinting
Upland, Calif.

“[Selling paint protection film] is about 5 percent of our total business. It’s difficult [to sell] because it’s an invisible product-people don’t really see it. If you walk next to a car that has paint protection film installed on it, you’re not going to notice it. It’s not mainstream.

“Some people hear about it through a friend, or someone they know who had it done, and that stirs their interest; but people don’t see it and say, ‘ooh, I want that.’

“We’ve advertised it, we’ve sent direct mail, but it doesn’t help a lot. Some people think it’s a wax, so when they call, we explain what it is.

“The first target market for the paint protection film is basically all the high-end vehicles that people want to drive and not have the front end chipped up and damaged. Secondly [are] the people who are going to keep their cars a long time and do a lot of driving.

“The best technique that I have is to show them our products and then the competitors’ products, and then show them the amount of coverage available for their car-people are always interested in that. A lot of people want their whole hood covered, but we don’t do that. We use a 30-inch roll, so it only goes up between 15 and 29 inches on the hood.

“Sometimes people are deterred by the line that goes across the hood, but that varies with the color of the car. Silver is more noticeable than black, yellow or red. The dark charcoal hides it just fine, but with silver, the way the light reflects on it makes the line show a little more.

“The way we persuade people to buy the product is to show them the product, show them the way it goes on the car and then show them a vehicle that’s been done with it.

“We have a plotter and we cut every kit specifically to the vehicle. Different widths are available for the hood-16, 18, 22 and 24 [inches]. I think it would be more based on customers wanting to get a better price, but the more coverage you have, the better protection you’re going to get.”

Rodriguez cuts his own film rather than using pre-cut kits because, “some people have different needs. Also, some templates I modify to fit better. For example, sometimes there’s a lot of little, smaller cutouts in the template for sensors, fog lights and so on. I prefer to remove those from the templates so when I install it, it gives more coverage. Then I freehand cut the holes. When the hole is already there and you stretch the film, the hole becomes oblong.

“It’s not like we’re on rough roads here, but there’s still debris on the highways. I think the main barrier [to selling paint protection film] is getting people to know about it, getting the recognition.”