Auto Detailing - July 2003

Tools: Why Wouldn't You
Want to Use the Best?

By John Lamade

Do you need good tools? Over the years I have used a wide variety of tools and I have come to conclude that quality tools make a difference. My wife might say that the only differences among tools are cost and the fools who buy them - but there is more.

The inspiration for this month's article came from two catalogs, The GarreetWade Tool Catalog and Griot's Garage. Both of these catalogs seem to be marketing to rich tool freaks (the 10-hp compressor crowd with eight pneumatic nail guns and nothing to build - ever! But they love the feel or kick of the nail gun as they shoot nails across the garage). The key phrase here is "love the feel." This is important because I believe that tool selection is - or should be - based on the right perceptions. Buying cheap doesn't pay. Getting the tool that helps you do your best work and reinforces your feelings of being a craftsperson is the better decision.

Once again, the price demon appears. Last month, I tried to explode the myth that value resides in cost alone. There is a point where your ability to save money affects others adversely. While I did mention the effects cheapness can have on you and your employees, I believe that we should explore the effects of value and your own performance. Too many shops try to save money by purchasing items of questionable origin. We all want to save money, but think about this:

Do your customers come to you because you offer the best work and service or because you are the cheapest?

I hope that your goal is to be the best you can and to provide the best value.

EXPENSIVE CHEAP TOOLS

How do cheapness and tools relate?

As I was reading through the two tool catalogs, I realized that they were selling very good products at decent margins. They were offering good value. You can question the wisdom of all the glamour photography, but you can see the quality of the product. Both companies imply that while there are many inexpensive products to be had, why wouldn't you want to use the best? The answer is quite simple. Using the best tool helps you do your best work because the tool forces you to push your performance envelope. In a nutshell:

You do better work with good tools. That is a powerful concept. Further, good tools seem to last longer than cheap tools - especially the tools that can be maintained rather than be tossed when they fail. Value now seems to relate to better work and lower cost through preventative maintenance.

Why, then, do so many distributors and manufacturers continually look for the least expensive level of adequate performance, rather than looking for products that help users get the desired results with more forgiveness, better appearance, and greater ease of use? The most common reply from these distributors and manufacturers is that "this is what you buy!"

Think about that one. They sell what you buy. That means that the reason products are declining in quality is because that is what you demand. Whew! I'm glad we've resolved that issue.

The detailer might say, "this junk is what you offer us! Besides, everybody sells the same stuff without any real differentiation between one product and the next - they're all copies of the category leader!"
The tool catalogs might offer an antidote. Griot's offers the usual chemicals in attractive packages, but what sets them apart is the variety of tools available to help detailing. You won't find LED exhaust pipe afterburner extensions here. These are the products that help make a car look its best. As you look through the catalog, you'll find products that you don't see very often.

Where have these products been? Some are new and some have been around for years. My point is that you are often denied, or fail to find, products because people have been blinded by cheapness. As everybody pares down costs, options are eliminated. You are deprived of choice and must settle.
Do you have to settle for less? No.

CHOOSE THE BEST

I am not advocating buying gold-plated tools and products. I am advocating that the industry reconsider its headlong drive toward cheapness. You want to profit from your performance - why not let others profit from their own best performances?

There should be more respect for the professionalism of all practitioners and vendors within the trade. You may discover that the difference in quality and performance over the lifetime of the product will more than compensate for the higher price of the product.

Pick up a copy of Griot's and other catalogs like Sporty's and look at the products. Talk to your suppliers. Ask them to help you find superior performance. Write to and talk with manufacturers about how their products can help you.

HATS OFF TO GRIOT'S

While I do think that some of the products in Griot's catalog are expensive from a shop point of view, I believe that you can find products from other distribution sources that work to serve the needs of businesses rather than consumers. However, I also believe that Griot's can be a good source of innovative ideas because their efforts are focused on results.

This focus on results is reflected on page 5 of their current catalog. They offer what they call a "Young Entrepreneur's Car Care Kit" for $159. Here's how they describe the offering:

"For years I've thought about creating a car care kit for young entrepreneurs. Something a young person who has a passion for cars could take and turn into a means to start their own business and make some money. My father taught me the value of having a tactile skill that I could always fall back on and the freedom and pride in owning my own business. Great advice for any child. With summer coming, this is the ideal time for any young, eager person to get started. I've combined some basic items to get them started. As an extra bonus, I'm including our exclusive Detailer's Handbook so your child can read and learn everything they need to know about proper car care."

DEATH OF A PRODUCT CATEGORY

The urge to compete on price, or the drive to be the cheapest in the market, can have unintended and disastrous consequences. Suppose there is a major durable consumer product offered throughout the country at an average price of around $180. There are four major manufacturers competing for about a billion dollars in sales. The fourth-largest manufacturer realizes that it is not going to displace the top three, so it decides to innovate and change the market. It eliminates a high-profit-margin consumable item that must be used with the product. Some might argue that the earnings on this item kept the product makers in business. It is a desperate ploy, but it works for the fourth-largest manufacturer. Sales take off. Soon, the other three manufacturers offer similar units.

The fourth-largest manufacturer does well until it launches a new line of products in mid year. The distribution chain is filled with the obsolete models. The result is that there soon are three manufacturers in this product category. The first moral is do not screw distribution!

The top two remaining manufacturers thrive, leaving the third farther behind. The third manufacturer decides to move some manufacturing operations overseas and cuts its gross profit per unit from around $60 to $20. This profit reduction permits retailers to lower the cost of the company's products. Suddenly, this is the least expensive product line and sales increase. The other manufacturers respond - they also cut profit margins and send manufacturing overseas where they, too, can employ labor under sweatshop conditions. Profits slide for everybody and thousands of workers lose their jobs. Rather than competing on quality or performance, they chose price. Now all the manufacturers are in trouble:

1. Profits are down on initial sales
2. Consumable products sales are down
3. Moving jobs offshore creates poor PR
4. Sales decline due to the economy

The number two manufacturer's fate now seems uncertain. Why can presumably intelligent people act so stupidly? How can educated people be so blind to the consequences of their actions? Just how dumb can you be?

Think about it. Might you have done anything like this yourself? Have you bid ridiculously low for wholesale business that cost you money and forced you to forego profitable retail trade? Have you competed with a business across town without knowing whether or not you share customers?

WHAT YOU LOSE

When you chase the lowest cost, you lose the "extras." You miss the creativity and the ability to innovate. You should - and ultimately must - avoid the cutthroat blood sport of price cutting and focus on the products and services that help you perform better to satisfy your customer. After all, having customers willing to pay for the services you offer is what it's all about.

John Lamade has extensive experience in the marketing of detailing products and is a contributing editor to Auto Laundry News. Contact John via e-mail at jlamade@msn.com.

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