Top Dealers Share Strategies for Avoiding Customer Sticker Shock

By Drew Vass

With prices reaching into the thousands (even for small coupes), unless you’re dealing exclusively in high-income, luxury markets,  ticker shock is a frequent hang-up among new PPF customers. For this reason, dealers say that some customers start downgrading the moment they see an estimate. But five of the highest-volume dealers in the nation say they know how to turn those moments around, partly by getting out ahead of the issue.

And for this reason, Puthoff and other top dealers suggest that, when possible, you can help to avoid sticker shock by doing whatever it takes to get them into your shop amid the first days—or hours—of ownership. Some PPF dealers even team up with dealerships to have their services offered as add-ons.

“They have endorphins going from the whole new car experience at dealerships,” Puthoff says. “They’re buying add-ons and warranties and those sorts of things.” In other words, money is less of an object when they’re focused on protecting their “new babies.”

For instance, Owen says he asks his customers to allow 30 extra minutes at drop-off so he can take them on a tour of his facility, including a high-end coffee bar (“Starbucks quality,” he says) and luxuriously-appointed waiting rooms. Customers also get a tour of the shop areas, where they see his employees in action applying various products. Following that show-and-tell, instead of sticker shock, “Almost every time, they end up getting more than they were scheduled for,” he says.

In addition to Shefler, several other top dealers say that before you start downgrading, or consider offering discounts, you should try throwing in a few free add-ons—some of which can be saved from the trash can as drop-offs from other projects. Those items, they say, don’t add a lot of time or cost to a project, but they can help alleviate sticker shock for some customers. In the process, everyone agrees that it’s best to show those freebies at their full value on estimates, zeroed out by credits.

No matter how affluent they may be, when it comes to spending their hard-earned money, Coddington says no one wants to feel like they’re being manipulated. For this reason, he is one of several top dealers who say they always begin by pricing exactly what customers ask for upfront—no more, no less. That doesn’t mean you can’t upsell. But everyone agrees that the best strategies include clear pricing and visuals that allow you to point out other damage-prone areas to consider.

“They think, ‘Well, I’m protecting the whole front, but he’s telling me that the rocker panels typically end up chipped and the back bumper ends up scuffed,’” Coddington says. “So, in most cases, they end up saying, ‘Let me just go ahead and protect that stuff.’”

Swapping out headlights for full hood protection? With the size of today’s headlights, DiMinico suggests it’s just one way to incrementally subtract from a customer’s bill while still protecting the front of a vehicle. Meanwhile, numerous top dealers suggest that playing a game of “take away” is an effective means for getting customers to sign on the dotted line. By showing how reductions leave certain areas unprotected, often, “Eventually they decide that they don’t want to give those things up,” Owen says.

Has PPF Met its Match?

Of course, for those customers who aren’t affected by sticker shock, most PPF dealers have at least one or two add-on products in their arsenal to attract additional income. And four out of the five dealers we spoke to say they’re now offering ceramic coatings. With prices that are significantly lower than PPF, but with similar selling propositions, “I think that you’re going to find that—if it was PPF and vinyl in the past—it’s going to be PPF and ceramic coatings going forward,” Puthoff says.

Ceramic coatings are semi-permanent (warrantied for anywhere from one year to “lifetime”), liquid-applied, polymer-based materials containing nano-sized particles that, once chemically-bonded to a vehicle’s clear coat and cured, provide an additional layer of protection. Ceramics are by no means as protective as PPF, but they have been endorsed by dealers for their effectiveness against things like oxidation, corrosion and environmental fallouts, and they do provide some degree of protection against scratches. PPF dealers say they also provide a “mirror-like” finish and self-cleaning effects that cause dirt and dust to rinse away, but because they don’t provide protection against significant scratches and rock chips, they’re a perfect add-on.

“We call it a sacrificial lamb,” DiMinico says. “You’re beautifying the clear-coat, bringing it as close to perfection as possible, then adding a sacrificial layer on top of that, that you can later compound away and reapply,” all without touching a car’s original finish, he says. For this reason, dealers say they’re promoting ceramics as a less expensive option and “some protection” for areas where PPF isn’t selected, but they’re also promoting them as a final layer over the full vehicle to provide a consistent finish—including over PPF.

We’re told that ceramic coatings are fairly simple to install, using microfiber applicators, and involve skills familiar to any PPF technician. But before you set  out to offer them, you should also know that, “The most important step isn’t the coatings themselves; it’s paint correction,” DiMinico says. “Without that, it’s like putting perfume on a pig.”

Drew Vass is a contributing writer for WINDOW FILM magazine.

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