Performance motorsport enthusiasts treat their daily drivers in much the same way a hardcore professional drag team does theirs, and in doing so, they go through a whole lot of crankcase lubricants. Those products were once thought to be the domain of the stacked-to-the-ceiling discounter.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
The focus of this story is to educate the independent speed shop owner and his sales staff about the basics of engine oils and new lubricant trends available today for their customers. An informed shop and its employees will be able to move far more lubricant, and give their customers a greater value if better informed of industry trends.
There are three big questions each lubricant customer must be asked, according to Lake C. Speed, Jr., of Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville, N.C.
“What’s your oil temperature? Oil temperature effects operating viscosity,” Speed says. “What fuel are you using? Is it methanol, race gas, nitro, nitrous oxide? The fuel type affects fuel dilution. Higher fuel dilution rates typically require higher viscosity oils. And last, you have to know if they are running naturally aspirated or supercharged or turbocharged. Blown engines typically require higher viscosity oil than naturally aspirated engines.”
With that basic information in hand, your employees can start to steer a customer toward the best product for them.
“The speed shops can always know more about what they sell,” noted Cameron Evans of Red Line in Benicia, Calif. “They need to know that you get what you pay for, that ester synthetic products like Red Line (as opposed to blends) are far more stable, last much longer, and they pay you back at a rate much higher than the low cost blends that call themselves ‘synthetic.’ They need to know that synthetic gear oils offer huge benefits over their conventional counterparts, too. Understanding that API (American Petroleum Institute, www.api.org) oils with the “donut” seal on the bottle specifically lack the anti-wear chemical package for which enthusiasts look to Red Line and others on that top tier. That means the Mobil 1 that you buy at Wal-Mart are not on that tier.”
Of course, there are different opinions on this subject. Fran Cyrus of Pure Power in Huntington Beach, Calif., says, “The customer should be made aware that the API designation for the particular vehicle in question is arrived at after much testing and evaluation. A lesser quality engine oil will result in increased wear and could easily compromise fuel mileage, emissions, horsepower and engine life.”
She also points out, “API has motor oil charts that are available so that the counter person who talks one-on-one with the customers can show the requirements and qualifications of various motor oils.”
Ed Newman of Amsoil in Superior, Wis., emphasizes the details of your customers’ rides is the most important place to start.
“Speed shop owners and employees need to be knowledgeable and provide significant value to their customers,” Newman said. “This should include knowing the details of customers’ engine design, modifications, desired racing venue, desired oil drain interval, cost of critical wear components, knowledge of lubrication basics and the differences between engine crankcase lubrication products.”
Some speed shop customers come through the doors thinking synthetic oils might be the best choice, but they may still believe conventional petroleum products can do the job. Red Line’s Evans recommends shop owners hit the education hard on that point.
“Synthetic lubricants are better on all accounts, from drain interval to stability and cleanliness,” Evans says. “However, the speed shop can educate the customer that there are different levels of synthetic products that provide even more of those benefits, including anti-wear additives that most synthetics don’t provide. That’s a great time to present the best synthetic gear oils and ATF, too, as the benefits are big and often forgotten.”
Pure Power’s Cyrus comments that when looking at synthetics versus conventional petroleum products, it’s important not to forget that, “There are no full synthetic motor oils for internal combustion engines. Even PAO based synthetics are not full synthetic! More than 95% of all synthetics use Group III Base Stock, which is 100% petroleum.”
She adds, “Professional engine builders are becoming increasingly aware that synthetic motor oils are not what they are hyped to be and are resulting in unexpected wear on engine parts. API-certified, commercial-grade, mineral-based motor oils contain a more concentrated Additive Pak which provides less engine wear and more horsepower for longer periods.”
Amsoil’s Newman takes a look at what the customers want.
“Speed shop customers are looking for high performance from the products they choose and synthetic engine lubricants are part of this overall demand for this performance. Before deciding on the best oil for the application, you need to clearly define the engine specifications and performance expectations. Not all synthetic lubricants are created equal. The quality and selection of base oil, anti-wear package, anti-foam package, corrosion resistance, viscosity and shear resistance are all very important performance attributes to consider.”
Newman continues, “Generally, synthetic crankcase engine oils provide significantly better anti-wear protection, allow engines to run much cooler and perform better in cold temperatures, provide the added benefit of longer oil drain intervals, increased horsepower and reduced drag resulting in better fuel efficiency. Speed shop owners should outline these proven benefits and promote the value they provide to the customer.”
When you have a customer who believes the cost of a high-quality lubricant is too high, and they can get by with a cheaper product, Speed Jr. has a suggestion on a way to reinforce the value of quality racing lubricants.
“High quality, shear stable oils last much longer than cheaper oils,” Speed Jr. said. “By changing the filter regularly and replacing the oil lost changing the filter, you can go longer between drain intervals. In the end, the total cost of the oil used is less than changing the cheaper oil more frequently.”
Red Line’s Evans suggests talking additives with the budget-minded customer.
“Our new Engine Oil Break In Additive is a huge help, as those that need to break in a flat tappet engine or want the best ring seat possible can add it to a conventional oil, break in as necessary, then switch to a better product like Red Line that already has a similar anti-wear package included,” Evans said. “Racers that just won’t switch to synthetic can use this product in their conventional oil-it gives them the anti-wear they are missing.”
Speed shop owners should listen to these customers and focus on the specifics of the application and lay out the pluses and minuses of good synthetic lubricants vs. lower performing lubricants, Newman says. Generally, lower performing lubricants provide significantly less anti-wear protection, less protection against overheating in racing applications, less horsepower, more drag and less fuel efficiency. If customers are willing to accept lesser performance in these key categories, they may not be serious about high performance and may not warrant the extra investment in time, Newman adds.
Increasing product knowledge and using that knowledge to better aid customers is something all shops should do for all of their products. But, that doesn’t answer the question of how a smaller, independent speed shop owner can compete with the Pep Boys and Checker Auto Parts in his town when it comes to engine lubricants? The manufacturers interviewed for this story all agreed on this point: don’t.
“Stock specialty racing fluids that the chain stores don’t carry,” Speed Jr. said. “These products provide better performance for the customer and better margins for the speed shop.”
This will make that product knowledge and customer service expertise all the more valuable. Evans of Red Line expands upon the point.
“Keeping the specialized lubricants in stock helps them manage their money, profit and selection,” Evans said. “The better products don’t really have a place on the shelf in big box stores as the national ‘average’ customer doesn’t have the money or the drive to pay for the premium motor oil like Red Line-there isn’t enough turnover for big box stores when you consider the wide viscosity selection and the number of bottles necessary for a motor oil change. Gear oil is a little different, but generally the opportunity is ripe for the speed shops to sell. We send them the customers if they stock the product!”
It all boils down to what sets your speed shop apart from the discounters who hire high school kids as sales employees.
“Sell value, sell value, sell value, sell value,” Newman says. “Pep Boys, Checker Auto Parts and other big chains regularly destroy the value of products through highly developed purchasing practices and a corporate push to create revenue. Small speed shop owners can’t compete with this corporate approach so they should focus on niche products which don’t attract the big box companies. Provide expert analysis and service not available at big chains; carry and sell the value of high performing products which big box companies find difficult to sell, and focus on the immediate noticeable benefits of high performing lubricants.”
When it comes to lubricants, the future looks bright for the independent speed shop owner, according to Lake Speed, Jr.
“As crate engines and spec engines become more popular, racing-only oils (engine, transmission and rear gear) can provide the incremental power gains these racers are looking for,” Speed says. “Since they are not spending as much on custom-built engines, they are more apt to spend money on fluids.”
This is yet another case where technology marches on.
“The technologies for the high end products change all of the time,” says Red Line’s Evans. “We find that you can get away with a bit more detergent than in the past based on the great ring seal compared to older engine building packages. The worry of detergent detonating is a thing of the past, for the most part. The best oils last much longer, so they can go to multiple races on one change as long as it’s well filtered and doesn’t have a lot of fuel dilution.”
Communicating that technology to your customers is yet one more chance to make your shop stand above the discounters, Newman says.
“Research the details of changing racing venues, engine specifications, and opportunities to create a winning edge. Changes in oil specifications at API and ILSAC are driving oil companies to make formulation changes resulting in dramatically lower ZDDP anti-wear levels. Make sure speed shop owners and employees understand the changes and communicate this to customers so they get the product with the correct level of ZDDP required for the racing application.”
Cyrus adds, “Almost all oil companies have drastically reduced the amount of zinc in motor oils. Synthetic PCMO (Passenger Car Motor Oils) have always had a lesser amount of zinc and other vital working components than conventional motor oils.” She adds that the reduction of ZDDP/Zinc results in accelerated engine wear (i.e. camshafts, wrist pins, piston skirts, etc.).
Educate, Communicate And Complete The Sale
When it comes to selling lubricants to motorsports and hot rod enthusiasts, education is the key. Learn from your customers what their needs are. After learning about the technology and benefits behind the specialized oils for these applications, stock them in the appropriate amounts. Pass on that knowledge to the customer and watch sales grow and cash flow.