By Nathan Shipley
Retail is being challenged in ways never seen before and the automotive aftermarket, while deemed an essential industry, has faced a significant reduction in demand as cars sit idle. But April is National Car Care Month! Many consumers are spending most of their time at home and looking for something (ANYTHING) to do as their next project. As an industry, we have a huge opportunity to encourage do-it-yourself (DIY) vehicle projects—from maintenance and repairs to car washing and detailing—and for parents to teach their kids about car care.
Thus far, the aftermarket has felt the pandemic’s effects in a few ways. Entering the crisis, items like hand sanitizer, respirator masks, shop towels, and even gasoline cans started flying off the shelves of auto parts stores and saw sales jump significantly. Although the circumstances and categories being sought were different, this hoarding type of consumer behavior is not unknown to auto parts stores as consumers turn to these outlets to stock up on select items leading up to hurricanes. After a week or two of preparation, reality set in and sales performance turned negative for almost all of the aftermarket categories NPD tracks. Overall industry sales declined by nearly 20% in the week ending March 28, but the decline appears to have stabilized and the industry is showing some signs of improvement off of that low.
A handful of project-related categories like paint and body repair have recently showed significant growth. Some of my peers who work in this part of our industry explained that the “why” behind this trend is twofold: While part of it is due to demand softness last year because of poor weather, the other part is related to consumers having time at home to tackle DIY projects. From hard-core enthusiasts resuming work on the old project car in the garage, to lite-DIY consumers just looking for something to do, the paint and body repair categories are benefitting right now.
The aftermarket industry has long been worried that enthusiasm for DIY car repair and projects is dying. With many people now at home full-time, we see a huge chance for our industry to engage the consumer base differently. We have an opportunity to push at incentives on car detailing and lite-DIY maintenance projects: identify the present day barriers to purchasing, such as consumers not wanting to venture out and walk into a retail store, and solve for them; speak directly to parents at home and encourage them to get outside with their kids and detail the car! We truly have an opportunity here, and while it will not replace lost sales from an overall reduction in demand, it might just influence a new wave of DIY behavior for years to come.
Nathan Shipley is executive director, industry analyst, automotive, for The NPD Group.