Tomorrow’s Sales

Dec 3, 2009

Beth and I sat on our couch watching TV and laughing out loud.

To be honest, most of the time we weren’t laughing with the actors, we were laughing at them. Beth had bought a DVD of the old 1950s Ozzie & Harriet TV sitcom.

As we watched it, we laughed aloud. Some of the corny jokes are still funny today. But, for the most part, we were laughing because their Eisenhower-era culture looks very foreign compared to life today in America.

In 50 years, chances are our kids will be watching episodes of The Apprentice on some handheld player and laughing at the styles and culture of 2007. But what took 50 years of change since the Nelson family could take only five years at the pace of change today.

American culture is transforming at breakneck speed. And if you want to see a steady growth in your restyling shop’s sales, you need to keep up with those changes or risk being left in the dust.

At the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium in Chicago this spring, I heard many speakers with many different predictions. The most convincing and substantial trends seem to indicate that the most imminent shifts that will impact the automotive aftermarket and the restyling industry will be the rising influence of two of the fastest-growing market segments: Generation Y and Latino customers.

Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Best Sales

When you rank your best customers, teens probably are barely on the radar screen. You probably think, as I did, that few have a car. And the ones with a car you’d expect to be do-it-yourselfers who aren’t likely restyling prospects.

However, more and more teens are getting their first car as soon as they get their license, according to youth market expert Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic Mindshare. These same teens are also moving toward do-it-for-me automotive services.

“All of them are [not] going to walk away from DIY,” Cohen says. “But, we’re seeing anecdotally that there is a decrease in DIY with this group, and they’re going for the do-it-for-me. They will trade money for freedom-freedom to go do something else, to have some fun, to go out, to listen to music, to go to a party.”

Obviously, it’s also important for you to be watching this group because in a few short years they will become more desirable as customers when they reach their 20s, enter the job market, have a higher disposable income and have more time to invest in their vehicles. They will also likely marry later in life than their parents’ generation.

Cohen calls today’s group of Generation Y teenagers multis. The name multi, she says, reflects their remarkable adeptness at multi-tasking [texting and talking, for instance] and because they are more multi-ethnic than previous generations.

Speaking of ethnicity, the other fastest growing market segment, Latinos, might have more potential to be prime prospects for your shop than you might expect.

The Latino Market

In general, Latinos treasure their vehicles, says Hispanic marketing expert Kelly McDonald, president of McDonald Marketing. In many cases, an immigrant’s first major purchase will be a truck.

“That vehicle is so much more than just transportation to them,” McDonald said at GAAS. “It is everything. And then the way that they trick-out that vehicle with aftermarket accessories is very important to them. It’s their point of distinction.”

McDonald says the reason Latinos represent a strategic market niche to the aftermarket is because they represent what she calls the three L’s: Large, Lucrative and Loyal.

There are 43.5 million Latinos in the U.S. today. That makes the United States the second largest Hispanic country in the world. By comparison, there are more Latinos living in the U.S. today than Canadians living in Canada.

In 2003, the Hispanic population eclipsed the African-American population as the largest ethnic minority in the United States. And because of Hispanic birthrates and ongoing immigration, Latinos will likely continue to grow in dominance-and buying power according to McDonald.

How does that Spanish-speaking market translate into the restyling business? Hispanics spend 22 percent more per capita on parts and accessories than non-Hispanics, according to a U.S. government Racial & Ethnic Diversity study. That means they mean business.

And, although many Latino immigrants tend to be do-it-yourselfers, in my experience second-generation Latinos favor do-it-for-me restyling for their truck or car.

Speaking the Language of Youth

I ran out for a quick lunch a couple of weeks back and felt as if I’d gone to a foreign country. As I stood in line, I overheard two people talking behind me. I was able to grab a word here and there that I understood, but I couldn’t make out enough of their foreign phrases to understand them.

They weren’t speaking Spanish or any other officially recognized language. They were speaking teenage slang.

Gen Y communicates differently when they speak, and also by texting. They text more than the average 20 year old. That’s because texting is fast, cheap and private. And smart, youth-savvy marketers are using texting to send promotions to this target group.

Everyone, regardless of age, is online these days. But teens and 20-somethings use the Internet differently.

I just bought a used minivan. To research my purchase, I used traditional media sources: Consumer Reports, Edmunds and various magazine reviews. Teens research differently. They use blogs and social networking sites. They are more interested in what peer reviews say than ads or professional reviews in mainstream media.

E-mail and texting is a great way to connect with Generation X and Y customers. I recommend you start building an e-mail database of all your customers so you can e-mail them newsletters and promo offers.

You might also want to get permission from younger customers to text promos to their phones. You can send messages to most text-enabled cell phones by e-mail and a lot of teens know how to e-mail their cell phone. [Mine is my phone] Be sure to keep this list separate, since the phone e-mails must be shorter [usually 125 characters or less] and can’t contain graphics.

Se Habla Español

The number of adult Latinos in the U.S. today that are immigrants is currently 74 percent. That means their first language-and in many cases their only language-is Spanish. Even those that speak English prefer doing business in Spanish, says McDonald.

So, you may think that to sell to Latinos, your ads and flyers need to be in Spanish. They don’t. My company creates bilingual materials for clients to avoid doubling the costs of their marketing.

But, in some cases, just a few words of Spanish and the phrase Se Habla Español [we speak Spanish] can be enough for a restyling shop. Of course, you’ll actually need someone on your staff who speaks Spanish-and not just someone who studied it in high school, but a fluent speaker.

Remember, selling to Hispanics is not just about translating, but about connecting to this audience. To sell to them, you may need to communicate in Spanish. But, maybe more importantly, you also need to understand their culture and their way of thinking. In some ways, that’s best done by hiring someone who understands the culture.

Change is a constant in business. And if you’re preparing to reach your next generation of customers, the speakers at GAAS suggest the burgeoning Generation Y and Latino market segments might be a good place to start.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Beth and I are going to plop down on our orange shag carpet, snack on grape Nehi and Jiffy Pop and watch an episode of the Brady Bunch. Groovy!