Lund Cadillac in Phoenix uses coatings to promote customer loyalty.
The dealership applies the Solar Shield paint sealant and fabric protection to all new vehicles for just under $300, promoting the coatings as a "Preferred Owner" program. Customers value the coverage because of Arizona's extreme weather; summer temperatures can hit 120 degrees, says Matt Kinder, Lund's general manager.
"We get people back in to the dealership," Kinder says. "They come back every six months to reapply the coating. It makes a 4- or 5-year-old car look brand-new."
Sales manager Larry Appleby says at least 80 percent of new-vehicle buyers return for the semiannual treatments. There's no charge for the follow-up treatments, which are available for as long as the customer owns the car. "We also wash and vacuum the car," Appleby says. "It's like a mini detail" service.
For Allgeier of the Suburban Collection, the greatest resistance to the product came from the sales force. He resolved that by making the coatings a perk. He had the coatings applied to demonstrator vehicles for the best salespeople and for managers.
The service department's technicians also are better trained to apply the products, so there's less chance of snafus.
Allgeier says the best-selling products in the finance office -- typically extended service contracts and GAP -- are never used. When they are used, it's a negative experience -- the car broke down, it was stolen or totaled.
But the interior and exterior coatings are always protecting the car. It doesn't take an accident or a breakdown to justify the expense, Allgeier says.
Most of the Suburban Collection's stores have high lease penetration. Lease customers see little value in a service plan, but the appearance products go over well with them. They like driving a vehicle with a showroom finish and want to maintain the appearance to avoid charges for excess wear and tear when the lease expires.
Customer experiences have been so positive -- especially because of the way vehicles are protected against Michigan's harsh winters -- that Allgeier intends to record testimonials on video and put them on Suburban's Web site. Sales prospects will get a pitch even before they reach the dealership.
Vendors often supply their dealer customers with claims information to help sell the benefits of appearance products. If the coatings fail to prevent damage, the guarantee kicks in and the customer is eligible for repair or replacement of the damaged part or fabric.
Laura Procida McCudden, vice president of Sundial Ltd., a Tampa, Fla., distributor of vehicle finishes, says she has provided dealers with invoices showing $2,000 to $4,000 worth of repairs for exterior bug damage. In one instance, the product guarantee covered a $1,200 seat replacement when a bloodstain would not come off a tan seat.