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Analysis: Supermarkets nibble at accessory shops’ share

High street and out-of-town super-markets are becoming an increasingly dominant force against car accessory shops when it comes to selling polishes, waxes and general car care products.

Accessory shops cannot afford to be complacent, even though, as one retailer tells AM: “There is no price benefit for customers buying from Tesco.”

Tesco has recently been expanding its own-branded car care product ranges, while Asda introduced Autoglym to its car care portfolio during the spring. Autoglym is offered in 46 smaller supermarkets and 71 of the larger stores. The Co-Op also has a selection of products, but the most comprehensive range, and that which is most keenly priced, is offered by the high street ‘value’ chain Wilkinsons.

The company has been gradually building up its range and now includes oil alongside polishes, waxes and cleaners. “There is no reason for us not to continue bringing in new products, as long as they meet our quality standards. How much we can offer, though, is dictated by the size of the store,” a company spokesman says.

And selling car care products gives supermarkets the opportunity to enter a sector which, in the past, they have only dabbled in. This time they appear to be looking at car care far more seriously, rather than displaying a half-hearted range to prise a few extra pounds out of the customer’s wallet – and they are expecting to be successful. From their point of view, selling car care products benefits the motorist, as they no longer have to make a detour to an accessory shop.

“It’s nice for customers to get all their shopping done under one roof. It’s a convenience thing really, and the feedback we’ve had to the car care products has been good. So far it is selling well. We’ve chosen not to expand the range yet, but if the demand is there it is a possibility,” an Asda spokeswoman says.

Most big supermarkets are now viewing car care as a realistic and viable profit stream. “In the past even DIY chains like Focus and B&Q have tried it,” says CAAR’s members’ business executive, David Owen.

“The supermarkets have tried it in the past and then backed away, but today they are dedicating more shelf space to products offering a lesser return.

“The supermarkets think that what Halfords is doing is very well, and think they’ll be able to pick up some of that business along the way. However, supermarkets will concentrate on three areas: basic accessories, such as air fresheners; oil; and valeting products.

“They won’t stock bulbs because it’s too technical and there are too many parts numbers. But while independent accessory shops can’t afford to be complacent, supermarkets won’t do for them what B&Q did to high street ironmongers by offering a vast array of products. Ultimately the biggest threat to an independent accessory shop comes from Halfords and Motor World.”

Owen’s views are echoed by Derrick Lawton, the chief executive of A1 Motor Stores (A1MS). “As usual the supermarkets are creaming off sales, but they aren’t able to sell products that require advice to sell. On oils, for example, if you go into an A1MS store you’ll be given advice on the correct oil for your car, but you won’t get that in Tesco,” Lawton claims.

“As usual, the supermarkets will take a big chunk of de-icer and anti-freeze sales, and as retailers we have to accept that they will always be there. What the trade needs to do is tell consumers that we are the experts.”

However, independents will always struggle to compete on price terms. In many instances independents are paying more for product than a supermarket is selling them at, and that gives the independent accessory shop a bad reputation: “Customers see product much cheaper in a supermarket, and when they then go into an independent accessory shop, they feel they are being ripped off,” Owen says.

Where the independent accessory shop can still score is on service and expert advice. It might be possible to buy five litres of oil at Tesco or Wilkinsons if you want to do an oil change, but you still have to buy a filter from an accessory shop.

The likes of Tesco and Asda won’t go anywhere near hard parts, so that sector of the market remains independent. But as Lawton says, the trade needs to promote itself more as the place from which to buy all products.

Stay on guard, warns analyst

Castrol Trend Tracker author Brian Taylor thinks independent accessory shops have more to worry about than simply focusing on supermarkets. “They’ve been selling car care products since the year dot, and they will never stock enough products to be seen as an automotive centre,” he says.

“Motorists should use accessory shops for advice, particularly now cars are more complicated, and for the chat. Supermarkets will never have the appeal of an accessory shop, and their prices aren’t particularly low. Instead, they’ll nibble away at the corners of the market.”

Taylor says accessory shops need to look at their own businesses if they want to survive, rather than fretting over what Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda are up to.

“They shouldn’t rest on their laurels – they need to be concerned with other aspects of the market and address their own thing in a better way,” he says.

Big names draw the line at hard car parts

Keith Masling, proprietor, Road Runner, Pontypridd, Wales Keith Masling’s Road Runner store in Church Village, near Pontypridd, mixes car care products and hard parts with fast road lines, so his store has all types of customers.

“It’s annoying to see the same lines we carry in Asda – in the big branch near us they’re selling Carplan and RaceX,” he says.

“Supermarkets have always sold GTX but at this time of year they’re practically giving away de-icer, which is part of a market we wait all year for.”

Masling doesn’t see supermarkets going into hard parts, however. “You’d need a parts’ person for that,” he says.

He also thinks there might be a reduction in stock, especially if the likes of Asda and Tesco start moving into lines such as gear knobs and other ‘performance tuning’ accessories.

“Hopefully they’ll catch a cold because they’ll get too many returns,” says Masling.

The Road Runner proprietor thinks that without experienced staff, accessory shops could go the same way as many independent butchers – forced out by supermarkets.

“I sometimes get customers who say ‘it’s a pity that brake pads aren’t all the same’,” Masling says. “I’m glad they’re not, as the supermarkets might start stocking brake pads then.”

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