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Brand Influencers: Research

At Babcox Research, one of the topics we focus on is how parts get to the shop for installation. We know there are parts demanders (the service technicians) and part suppliers (the jobbers, warehouses and retail parts stores). But how is it determined which brand of brake pad, alternator or fuel pump is ordered and installed? Is it strictly up to the tech? Is the decision made by the counter professional? Or is it somewhere in-between?


From the Tech’s Point of View

In our 2019 profile of Brake & Front EndImportCar and Underhood Service readers, we asked, “How often do you specify a particular brand of replacement part for a vehicle?” Just over a quarter of the respondents said they “always” specified a brand, and slightly more than half said they “frequently” did so. We conduct this survey every other year, and in 2017 the results were very similar. The techs have an opinion on what brands they want to install. We also asked if their customers request particular brands, and they don’t: Sixty-one percent said customers “rarely” specify a brand, and 24% said they “sometimes” request a brand. 


What brands do they pick? Every year, Counterman conducts the Professional Automotive Repair Technician Survey (P.A.R.T.S.), and every year we ask the techs to pick the one statement that best explains why they pick the brands they do. The leading answer, averaged across more than 30 parts categories, is, “I want the brand I trust,” chosen by 69% of the respondents. Only 10% said they trust their source to make the brand recommendation; 8% said they will take whatever brand is available; and only 7% said they want the best price, regardless of brand. This is an annual survey, and the results are very consistent from year to year; picking the brand they trust is always the leading answer from the technicians.


These average percentages smooth over some variability from category to category. This year, the parts categories that ranked highest for trust were gaskets and wheel bearings (in both categories, 85% want the trusted brand). Conversely, the categories that scored lowest for “I want the brand I trust” were mounts (44%) and radiators/condensers (49%). Radiators were the category that scored highest for “I want the best price, regardless of brand,” with 17% saying they pick on price.

From the Other Side of the Counter

In 2019, we extended the P.A.R.T.S. survey to counter professionals for the first time. One of the questions we asked was what percentage of the time their professional technician customers asked for a specific brand of parts. According to the counter pros, it was 62% of the time on average. That’s reasonably consistent with what the techs said above about their own brand-specifying habits. We also asked them how often their DIY customers ask for a specific brand. For them, it was only 38%.


Next, we wanted to see how much influence the counter professionals felt they had over their customers’ choices. We asked them, “What percentage of customers will switch brands based on counterperson recommendations?” According to the counterpersons, slightly more than half of the professionals and two-thirds of the DIYers will switch brands due to the counterperson’s recommendation.

We also wanted to see on what reasons the counter professionals based their recommendations. Averaged over 30 parts categories, the answers are shown in the chart above. We found that “A brand that I trust” and “It is our store brand” were the two leading reasons given for brand recommendations, with slightly less than a third of respondents each picking those two reasons. These were followed by “Brand that gives best service” and “Popular with customers.” Lagging significantly behind were “Best price” and “Most profitable.” AMN


About the Author

Bruce Kratofil is Audience Insights Manager for Babcox Media.