Visual Perceptions

Feb 1, 2013

Selling to new and potential customers is always one of the hardest parts of any job. In the restyling field, it actually comes down to education more than sales. Customers need to know about the product and how it benefits them. In the case of selling graphics to car dealers (both new- and used-car dealers), thinking of it as education can create a different enough spin to often be easier than pure selling. Dealers need to know how graphics can make a car “pop” or stand out. Then, they need to know that you are the restyler who can give those cars the extra “zing” they need to draw in more of those buying customers.

Needs some introduction

We asked some of our sources just how to sell graphics to dealers and their answers will amaze and educate you. Because some dealers understand the graphic elements’ value in helping to make the sale, we asked what’s the best initial approach an installing restyler should take to introduce dealers to graphics?

Hudson, Fla.-based Illusions Inc.’s Vinnie Salvato knows the drill. “Trying to make a cold-call sale with graphics is hard,” he says. “But if you already have a working relationship with a dealer, providing other services to them and they trust you, it is much easier to get them to take a chance on a graphic. Showing them pictures of cars with graphics can go a long way in convincing them also. At Illusions Custom Auto Graphics, we take a lot of pictures of our installations and have built a portfolio of them that we can use to help sell with.”

In Wichita, Kan., Sharpline Converting’s Greg Duchinsky says it’s about the markup. “Demonstrate to the dealer the net profit potential for any add-on accessory products he offers and compare it to the margins available with pinstriping and graphics,” says Duchinsky. “A typical pinstripe may cost the dealer $25, but the dealer’s sell price is typically $90-$100 (up to four times the cost). A medium-size graphic may have an installed dealer cost of $75-$125, and a typical sell price should be at least three times cost ($225-$375). Other dealer add-ons typically won’t provide that kind of profit potential.”

Joan Omo, of Universal Products, Goddard, Kan., tells us, “Graphics will set their vehicles apart from the same vehicles consumers are seeing at the lot down the road. This could mean the difference between a sale or no sale. Also, it is important to show the dealer the profit percentage that can be attained by adding graphic accents to their vehicle lineup.”

And in Cincinnati, Restylers’ Choice’s Doug Jacobs says sampling may be a key: “There are several paths to take here,” he advises. “First, you need to show, in firm numbers, the profit potential from the installation. Second, you need to get some graphics installed on vehicles and show them how it works. This may require you to offer a ‘consignment’ deal where you put the graphic on and you are not paid until the item sells. You may also consider ‘comping’ a graphic, where you give the graphic and the installation away for free, in an effort to show the dealer the potential profit and earn long-term sales.”

Present yourself…and make a good impression

We wonder whether shops should send their best and most knowledgeable salesperson to visit car dealers. And, if so, what kind of presentation is best to make? Sharpline’s Duchinsky says, “That’s not a bad idea. The sales guys should have good knowledge on what customers are asking for, or what they favorably react to as they look over the vehicle inventory. The best presentation to make is one that demonstrates dealer benefits:  higher profit margins, quicker inventory turns, meeting customer needs, competitive advantages, etc.”

Omo from Universal says, “It is helpful to have a concise, simple-to-follow proposal regarding what cars on the lot you’d like to restyle. Have exact details at hand and keep your presentation short and direct. You have only limited time with the decision maker, and you need to make your sales pitch uncomplicated.”

Jacobs from Restylers’ says it comes down to the best one. “The best salesperson may be a dedicated salesperson, maybe the installer, maybe the business owner,” he notes. “Many times, these are all the same person in a small install business. The point is that, though they may wear many hats, they need to separate the roles. Show up to sell dressed like a salesperson. Put yourself in a ‘sales’ frame of mind. Keep the selling, installing and billing functions as separate as possible. This makes it much easier to maintain relationships when collecting money or asking for work.”

Salvato from Illusions says, “Yes, Illusions’ business model is a little different. We separate sales from installation. We have the salespeople stay ahead of the installers. The salespeople visit the dealership and get the managers to sign off on the purchase order and then that PO gets passed to the installer who, later that day or the next day, does the installation and hands in the invoice.

“At Illusions, if it’s the pre-owned lot, the salesperson walks the lot making a list of vehicles that could use ‘something’ and the reason for it. When it comes to graphics, it could be to cover scratches or to dress up a base model. On a new vehicle, we will sometimes make a graphic part of an appearance package, combining it with, maybe, chrome handles and wheel covers or perhaps a spoiler.”

Make connections

We asked about approaching the best person to connect with at the dealership and how to “sweeten” and close the deal at a meeting. Jacobs says, “If this were a clear-cut answer, then the job of many installers would be much easier. Every dealer is different – even dealers in the same dealer group operate differently.

“One of the hardest things to do when walking into a potential new customer [opportunity], is finding the right person. It may be the sales manager, the dealer principal, the service manager, the make-ready department, the F&I manager, parts department or an aftermarket accessories manager. In some dealerships, each of these people presents an opportunity; in others, only one of them may make these decisions.”

Salvato agrees. “It varies from dealership to dealership: Sometimes, it’s the GM (general manager); sometimes it’s the individual department managers such as the new- and/or pre-owned-vehicle manager. It could even be the service manager.

“If a salesperson is cold calling on a new dealership that they don’t currently have a relationship with, it could very well be that you have to present to all of them at some point before you get any work from that dealership. If you have a working relationship already, then start with the manager you currently work with. -¦ To get the dealership to try a graphic on a new vehicle, we will sometimes guarantee the sale. We tell them if they allow us to put a graphic on a lot car and they don’t sell it in a given amount of time, say, 90 days, then we will either change it out for a different graphic at no charge or remove it and give them credit for the cost toward some other service we offer.”

Duchinsky says, “The key decision-maker is usually the senior sales manager or general manager. It’s always good to offer a value-added proposition, such as a discount for volume applications, etc. Don’t give margin away. Do your research and find out what graphic jobs in your market cost so your product is price competitive; but your service is superior.”

Help the dealer sell the customer

Getting into more detail, just how does the graphics installer/salesperson communicate the upsides of the dealer offering graphics to the prospective customer or the one who’s ready to buy a vehicle? Omo says, “Graphics offer personalization. Consumers want to show off their individuality with products that are unique, not mainstream.”

Jacobs notes, “There are few ‘upsides’ to putting on graphics. They don’t offer protection, they don’t really increase the value, they don’t extend the warranty -” they just make it look different. The reality is it is all about personalization. You have to sell the buyer on the idea that this makes their car different than the other 500,000 Camrys sold last year. This is what drives the sale. Only by showing them the options for personalization can people start to identify with the idea. And this all about their personal identity.”

Salvato says, “For the end, user it’s often about personalization. Some want to make their car one-of-a-kind, and graphics are an easy and affordable way of doing that. For others, it’s about enhancement. They may not be able to afford the higher-end model with all the bells and whistles so they will buy a base model and dress it up with a graphic. For the dealer, it’s all about options and having more tools to work with. Are they going to sell a graphic with every car? No. But if the dealer knows a particular customer’s wants and circumstances, graphics can be one more tool they have in meeting the customer’s desires and, thus, closing the deal.”

Duchinsky says make it visual. “Use vendor product literature, photos of graphic installations and even digital renderings of dealership models with graphics applied to them to promote your graphic selection,” he advises. “But the key will be to have a graphics package applied to at least one unit of every model available. There is no comparison between photos and seeing a graphic package installed on an actual vehicle.”

Show them the money

What can a graphics salesperson do to demonstrate profitability to the car dealer? Salvato points out, “Competition is many times a great motivator. We will show what we are doing for other dealerships and the markup that they are getting. We try to help them to see that selling more cars is not the only way to increase revenue. Often, it is easier to increase profit margin per car with add-ons. The nice thing about graphics is they are something the customer can see and, therefore, easier to justify spending the money, than it is for something unseen like undercoating. For instance, we can install a set of racing stripes to a muscle car for $400 to $500 and the dealer will charge $800 to $1,200 for them.”

Omo gives another idea, “Ask the dealer to allow a restyled vehicle to be on display (in the showroom or front of the lot) to demonstrate that the vehicle will sell quicker with a graphics package and other add-on aftermarket accessories.”

Jacobs brings up another angle: “Pretty straight forward, Sales 101 stuff. This is what it costs you, this is what you sell it for, this is what you make. By showing them true numbers, it should be readily obvious to the dealer what the opportunity is.

“However, there is a second side to this, and that is the intangible cost. The dealer is going to be concerned about customer satisfaction, warranty issues and quality. The last thing they want to do, regardless of how much additional profit, is risk a satisfied customer with one of your offerings. You must show them that you are professional, you have insurance and you will be there to support your sale after the fact.”

POPs that pop

Next, we asked about point-of-purchase props. How does the graphics installer get the dealer to place the POP where customer will notice it and sales staff will use it? Duchinsky says, “Product literature shown in acrylic display stands are one option; but these days, the best option may be to go digital. Have personalized promotional materials, photos, etc. available for dealers to use on their websites, Facebook pages, on computer display monitors in the showroom and in the sales and finance offices.”

Salvato says, “The graphics themselves are our POP props. The dealership is not going to put graphics on every car, but we convince them that they should always have a couple of cars on the lot with graphics. Using the guarantee-sale program, we get the dealership to allow us to put graphics on a couple of cars on the lot. We pick both graphic designs and car models that we know have a proven track record and a wide appeal range. Illusions’ OEM style and new Platinum series graphics are great for this. Every time one of those cars gets sold it needs to be replaced with another car with a graphic.”

Jacobs says, “The absolutely best thing available to use is our Restylers’ Choice Graphics & Accessories catalog. This was designed as a sales tool and features a tear-off cover that allows the installer to confidently place the catalog in the dealership and worry little about the dealer ‘buying’ around them. Beyond that, there are few good websites that show some great designs, like our GraphicsCatalog.com site that features a plethora of vehicle-specific designs.”

Know the trends

Because consumer tastes in graphics changes, our last question was about how the restyling retailer adjusts and adapts. In other words, who’s keeping the restyler informed? Omo explains, “The manufacturing companies research current consumer trends and attend automotive shows (such as SEMA and the Detroit Auto Show) to stay on the cutting edge of design trends. The restyler can depend on the manufacturers to give them desirable products that will sell.”

Salvato adds, “While I might be partial, it does not change the fact that Illusions is not only a manufacturer of vinyl graphics but also has an active installation side to their business. Illusions services about 40 auto dealerships, both new and pre-owned, in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area. … Because of this, they have a real-time read on trends. This is conveyed to their manufacturing side so that every year Illusions comes out with new designs that are not only current but often they are the ones setting the trends in the industry.”

Duchinsky tells us, “Graphics vendors typically communicate with restylers on a regular basis. Industry trade publications are a good source of information regarding graphics, as are Web search engines. Google on “Challenger graphics” and see just how many cool graphic packages are available to restylers for sale and installation to new- and used-car dealers.”

And Jacobs says, “The restyler needs to be paying attention. They need to look at what is coming from the OEM side. They need to pay attention to car shows. They need to read this magazine, and read their e-mail. There are tons of sources to inform them of the changes. If they focus on this as one of the most important aspects of their job, they will stay in-tune. If [however] they choose to stay ‘reactionary’ they will end up behind the ball and not in front of it. Staying educated on trends and industry news is very important to building a thriving business?

As Jacobs says, are you behind the ball or in front of it?