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Growing Markets Drive Activity In Automotive POP

New customers, a variety of store formats and the nation’s continuing love affair with cars spur brisk POP business.

By Gail Walker

Producers/suppliers of automotive POP are busy these days. Where just a decade ago the market for automotive products was comprised almost entirely of blue-collar males, an influx of new customers, including white-collar consumers and women shoppers, has created a different world for aftermarket retailers and the brands that supply them with goods and services – not to mention for auto makers and their retail dealers.

As the country’s fascination with cars continues, the increasing diversity of markets and a huge range of products – along with the growth in do-it-yourself, do-it-for-me, tire and auto accessory retail – has created the need for more effective in-store displays. While the bulk of aftermarket POP is still temporary and tied mainly to brand promotions, permanent informational POP is showing up more often on these retailers’ floors and in other venues as goods manufacturers vie for consumer attention.

Auto Makers Add Multimedia POP

At the beginning of the vehicle marketing chain, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) themselves have added POP to their marketing mix.

Since the success of Chrysler’s groundbreaking 1995 program, which took its message directly to car buyers via interactive cart displays rotated to regional malls throughout the country, other manufacturers have followed suit.

In partnership with Exhibitgroup/Giltspur, New York City-based Planet Theory, which specializes in interactive and multimedia, has developed seven different exhibits for General Motors/Pontiac’s booths in the North American International Auto Circuit, including this year’s Detroit Auto Show. In a program called Build Your Own Pontiac, kiosks allow consumers to select the model, color and features of their dream car. Onscreen, a huge robotic machine assembles the vehicle. The dealer locator identifies the closest showroom by zip code. The custom car, its price and dealer information is printed out for the potential buyer to take home.

"GM had never invested in three-dimensional on-screen graphics before," says Judith Keenan, a Planet Theory principal. "But when we showed them the prototype they realized what a powerful entertainment experience it is. You have sound. You have visuals. You have a touchscreen with 3-D imaging. So you have much more entertainment value by the very definition of multimedia than you have in a static display.

"Auto makers are interested in interactive displays for the same reason a lot of retailers and consumer product manufacturers are interested: they are looking to have consumers participate in their brand," Keenan continues. "Multimedia is a very involving medium by which to convey your marketing message; you are getting the consumer to actively participate in the brand. When you are building your own car, you are quite literally involved in the brand."

Another kiosk called The Accesorizer features a catalog of Pontiac-branded merchandise with an on-screen order form. After browsing products, such as coffee cups, watches, caps and jackets, users can print out their order and send it to Pontiac. According to Keenan, GM opted not to make the kiosk transactional because of security concerns involving the use of consumers’ credit cards on the show floor.

"The hard-core marketing back-end of [interactive displays is that they allow] information gathering," notes Keenan. "If we make these installations provocative enough, then customers give their names and addresses voluntarily." A Lichtenstein-inspired comic book is the theme for Pontiac’s Customer Service Experience, which encourages users to complete a customer survey, add themselves to a mailing list and e-mail Pontiac with suggestions. "Using a comic book theme for the customer service pod was a clever and cute way to entertain people and invite them to give this information," Keenan believes.

Dealerships Upgrade Showrooms

"As with many retailers, automotive companies are not necessarily using more POP, they are just using it differently and more effectively than in the past," notes Paul Bloom, director of marketing for DCI Marketing. The Milwaukee-based firm has recently completed dealer showroom projects for Acura and Subaru, and last year won gold OMAs for development of permanent floor displays for Buick and Chevrolet see (Point Of Purchase Magazine, May, 1998).

"There is a lot of branding going on in the dealerships," Bloom continues, "and we are seeing more complete retail environment design as opposed to the stand-alone pieces of POP here and there that you used to see." He explains that auto dealers want their showrooms to be customer-friendly, while taking advantage of the customer-contact opportunity to build image and define or reinforce brand. As a result, says Bloom, "Instead of using a mix of various types and designs of POP, automotive manufacturers and their dealers are creating entire retail environments consistent with the image they want to convey for their given brand.

"Additionally, auto retailers are doing much more to create a showroom atmosphere aligned with their customers’ interests and shopping behaviors," says Bloom. Acura’s new showroom, for example, includes a logo wall and reception area, a technology wall and a customer center, which together allow car shoppers to browse and gather information independently, while at the same time, provide salesmen with a strong selling tool. "For today’s busy consumer, the shopping experience is as important as the purchase itself," states Bloom.

Interactive Displays Gain Ground

Interactive POP is assuming a larger role in this product category more rapidly than in some others because it is particularly suited to a variety of automotive applications. Shelf-mounted and countertop electronic catalogs, for instance, can contain the entire range of offerings from a variety of vendors complete with parts numbers and pricing information. Easily updated and easily accessed by employees (and in self-service formats by customers), these units are replacing bulky printed catalogs that employees used to haul up from below the service counter.

The availability of automotive software programs also may increase the role of interactive POP in this retail segment. One product on view at last November’s Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) in Las Vegas was popular with attendees because it enables customers to test accessories on a vehicle electronically, before physically bolting them on. Dubbed Customize-It, the computerized, interactive sales tool from JBR Marketing allows consumers to preview virtually any combination of automotive accessories on a specific vehicle. The customer chooses a specific vehicle make, model and color, along with the accessories they would like to see on the car or truck. The screen displays the results and offers the option of a color printout or CD-ROM to take home.

Promotional POP Proliferates

The popularity of motorsports in general, coupled with its explosive growth in recent years, has fueled a proliferation of temporary POP linked to automotive brand promotions.

Motorsports is currently the No. 1 choice for sponsorship dollars across all industries, estimated by the IEG Sponsorship Report at $1.1 billion in 1998. Established names like NASCAR, along with leagues like CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) and IRL (Indy Racing League), have millions of fans – and hundreds of product licensees. And that’s just one reason for the increase in contest and giveaway POP, such as standees, floorstands and ballot boxes.

Another reason is that the demographics of motorsports watchers are the same as for many vehicle aftermarket accessory/service shoppers, so store-level advertising shares an equal focus with other elements in many automotive product producers’ programs. And still another is that brands find aftermarket retailers are eager to use this POP because their customers like promotions involving the sponsors of their favorite race drivers – and they buy those products. "Racing fans are the most loyal when compared to all other sports," according to Bill Furtkevic, corporate communications director for Pep Boys. "And with 81 percent of the spectators male with an average age of 40, and 63 percent of viewers who are male with an average age of 38, they match Pep Boys’ target demographic perfectly."

In addition to a multi-million-dollar title sponsorship of the IRL series, last year the Philadelphia-based chain committed $1 million to the IRL championship team and became the official auto parts store of the IRL and of the Indianapolis 500. One of the chain’s related promotions, called the MCI/Pep Boys Million Dollar Driver Sweepstakes, included floorstands and ballot boxes in all 635 store locations where customers could pick the IRL driver they thought would win three races out of the series.

According to Furtkevic, Pep Boys believes its IRL links will not only drive additional traffic through its doors but also will provide promotional and brand-building opportunities that are not feasible via electronic and print advertising. He says Pep Boys is experimenting with several POP elements, including floor graphics and window banners in concert with promotional events like car and driver appearances, to see what mix has the best effect in its stores.

New Store Concepts Incorporate POP

Consumer trends driving other types of retailing are also affecting automotive store concepts, design and display.

Last July, a "cool stuff" automotive store called AutoFun opened its doors in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The superstore is exclusively dedicated to aftermarket accessories, electronic and communications systems that add vehicle entertainment, comfort, safety and convenience. Shoppers are entertained with multiple interactive features including a wall of sound for "test-driving"car stereo systems and an interactive security system. Other displays feature classic and show cars, an AutoFunMobile (a 1998 VW Beetle) accessorized with products sold at the store, and an area for shoppers waiting for installation of the products they’ve purchased.

AutoFun President Jeff Abrams says response to the store has been "phenomenal," and notes owners of trucks, vans and SUVs spend an average of $1,000 to $2,000 on aftermarket products. Plans are underway to open three additional stores by this summer.

Suzette Hill,Steven HallandAndrew Stoycontributed to this report.

Newsbit furnished by:

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