Three-quarters of U.S. dealership executives aren't greatly impressed with automakers' accessories sales programs, a new survey concludes. What's more, these attitudes haven't improved in the past year, the study suggests, amid complaints about the price and unavailability of popular factory accessories and inadequate sales training by automakers of dealership employees.
Between mid-July and mid-August, the consultancy Carlisle & Co. of Concord, Mass., surveyed about 3,000 executives at dealerships that sell 14 auto brands. Most respondents were sales managers, although the sample also included dealer principals, general managers and sales consultants. The study does not identify individual automakers or brands.
On average, fewer than one-fourth of the respondents gave the highest grade for overall satisfaction with automakers' accessory programs they work with. Just one-third said that their satisfaction has improved over the past year.
Those rates are "quite low," says Harry Hollenberg, a Carlisle partner who oversaw the study. "Of course, we're in the midst of a three-year run of 17 million-plus [annual] light-vehicle sales, so it's quite possible that salespeople are so busy selling vehicles, they simply don't feel it's a good investment of their time to sell accessories."
Survey participants expressed the greatest satisfaction with the quality and warranty support of factory accessories. They were most dissatisfied with automakers' accessories pricing and sales training.
Among other major findings of the Carlisle survey:
Of the executives surveyed, 79 percent said their dealerships typically offer accessories during new-vehicle sales; that rate ranged from 64 to 98 percent by automaker. About half said they offer accessories when they sell used or certified vehicles. These respondents agreed that customers like personalizing their vehicles, and that selling accessories raises their compensation.
Of the 21 percent of respondents whose dealerships don't offer accessories on new vehicles, the main reason cited was that they don't get paid enough for accessories sales to make them worthwhile. Other big reasons were that respondents want to keep the overall vehicle purchase price as low as possible and weren't trained to sell accessories.
Most dealerships whose executives were surveyed lack a formal process that would enable sales, service and parts employees to work together to sell accessories and to share revenue and compensation from those sales.
Asked which accessories sales tools they use most often and find most effective, respondents said accessories that are preinstalled by the dealership are best. They think showroom displays of accessories are also heavily used and effective. Automakers' accessories websites are seen as less effective.
Respondents said electronic sales tools, such as digital displays and configurators on iPads, also are less effective.
Salespeople may not be comfortable with such technology, or the accessories tools may not integrate well with other sales software, Hollenberg suggested.
One-fifth of respondents said they get no additional compensation for selling accessories; for one unidentified automaker, that rate was one-third.
Just 3 percent of respondents said they prefer to sell aftermarket accessories; the rest said they either prefer factory accessories or don't care. Yet revenue from aftermarket sales is "significantly higher" than the preference figure would suggest. Some possible reasons for that discrepancy, Hollenberg said, are that factory accessories tend to cost more and may have greater problems with availability.
Among the factory accessories whose sales process respondents said need the greatest improvement, the top three were remote starters, trailer hitches (cited for availability problems) and floor mats, of which respondents said customers often are unaware.
The survey suggests accessories sales training is "a big weakness" for the industry, Hollenberg said. Asked what kind of training — automaker, aftermarket or dealer — they had received in the past year, about half of respondents said they had none. Among those respondents, roughly two-thirds said they didn't know that automaker accessory training was available.
Asked where they would prefer to get training to sell accessories, respondents' top choice was at their dealership, the most expensive option. Next was Web-based training, which is cheaper but considered less effective. The least popular option was leaving the dealership for training.
The Carlisle survey suggests that accessories remain an untapped opportunity for many dealerships. U.S. accessories sales reached $43 billion last year and continue to rise, the Specialty Equipment Market Association reports. Profit margins on accessories sales often approach 50 percent.
The accessories market accounts for as much annual revenue as the U.S. collision repair industry. Yet Reynolds and Reynolds estimates that only about 5 percent of customers buy add-on accessories from the dealership where they purchased their car or truck.