Car parts shop sector trends

Employee showing a customer a disk brake in a car parts shop

(last updated July 2019)

Perhaps the most significant trend to affect the car accessory trade in recent years is the continuing decline of DIY servicing as cars become more reliable but are more complex to fix when they do go wrong. Improved part life and longer servicing intervals have also played their part. This decline has had two main effects on the industry:

  • sales of servicing and repair parts have shifted away from retail customers in favour of the motor trade
  • many retailers have changed their emphasis, away from servicing parts and towards motoring accessories such as in-car entertainment and security systems, cleaning and car care products, de-icing equipment and snow chains, roof-racks and so on

Eventually, it is likely that DIY servicing will all but die out. However, demand for items to customise or individualise cars remains strong. Accessories such as body kits, alloy wheels, exhaust back boxes, driving lights, clear indicator lenses and so on are popular, especially with younger drivers. It may be a good idea to tap into this sector of the market by stocking a range of these types of goods. Some retailers who have failed to adapt to the changing needs of the market have gone out of business.

The whole of the motor industry was hit hard by the economic downturn of the late 2000s/early 2010s, with new car sales falling dramatically and many motorists opting to miss scheduled services or not fixing minor damage to their vehicles. New car sales had recovered by 2016, with new car registrations reaching a new record of 2.7 million. Sales of vehicle parts and accessories also picked up. After falling at the end of the 2000s and being sluggish in the early 2010s, government figures showed that total turnover of businesses selling vehicle parts and accessories picked up in the mid 2010s as the economy started to recover.

The economic recovery slowed somewhat as a result of the uncertainty following the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU. New car sales dipped by 5% - 6% in 2017 and economic growth for the year was subdued. Growth in 2018 and 2019 is expected to remain low. With inflation increasing and the cost of imported goods rising due to the fall in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote, consumer spending may be more restrained in the short term. This is not necessarily bad news for car parts shops because when money is tight people tend to hang onto their cars for longer and try to keep them looking smart by keeping them clean, using touch-up products, replacing mats and so on. Also, as cars go out of warranty people take them to independent garages rather than franchised dealers for servicing and repairs and these generally buy the parts they need from motor factors. Government figures show that the turnover of businesses selling vehicle parts and accessories continued to increase, year on year, despite the economic uncertainty.

Changes in the law have affected the demand for some items in recent years. For example, new rules on the use of child seats led to increased sales during 2006. Similarly, banning the use of mobile phones when driving resulted in a surge in demand for hands free kits. The widespread use of speed cameras has given rise to a market for camera detection devices and although standalone sat nav systems have become less popular because many people either have them included as standard equipment in their cars or use a navigation app on a smartphone, there is still a market for them. The transition from analogue to digital radio may provide opportunities for the aftermarket in forthcoming years, as existing FM radios will need to be replaced. While it was initially believed that the switchover to digital may occur as early as 2015, it seems likely that it won't go ahead until 2020 or later. Currently less than 10% of the total motor parc in the UK has digital radio fitted, although this percentage is likely to edge upwards in the next few years as over 40% of all new cars already have digital radio fitted as standard. The ongoing rollout of 4G internet connected in-car devices is likely to provide similar opportunities.

In 2009 Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA - a programme operated by the Institute of the Motor Industry) launched the ATA Parts Advisor accreditation route. Accredited Parts Advisors must follow a Code of Practice. You can find out more about ATA Parts Advisor on the IMI website.

Adaptability has been and continues to be the key to success for car accessory businesses. Where once it was acceptable to have a scruffy outlet piled with boxes of products in disarray, today's customers will expect your shop to be smart, tidy and attractive. As in other types of shops, the use of exciting displays, informative point of sale material and other modern retailing techniques will help to attract more customers and encourage them to spend more in your outlet. This applies to motor factors' outlets too. The trade journal Car and Accessory Trader (CAT) regularly visits shops throughout the UK, praising their good points, criticising their shortcomings and suggesting ideas for a makeover.

Journals like CAT are an excellent means of keeping up to date with industry trends and developments as they occur. Membership of a trade association, such as the Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation (IAAF), the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) or the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF) will also help you to stay in touch with the industry.

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