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The Evolution of Eco Products


The term “eco friendly” means something different to everyone who hears it. In general, the products that bear that label are more environmentally friendly than counterparts in the same category; this can mean they carry a lower volatile organic compound (VOC) rating, are water soluble, are even fully biodegradable – or anything in between. What can’t be argued is that eco-friendly products have become a much larger part of the F&I space in recent years, and that trend is not looking like it is losing momentum.

Consumer demand is one of the biggest drivers of the eco trend. “For years consumers have recognized their growing responsibility to our planet through the choices they make in purchases,” said Daniel Jones, director of sales, Xzilon. His company launched a Green line at NADA this past year in response to that demand.

John Nisson, COO, PermaPlate, agreed, noting that customer demand was the top reason his company offers an eco friendly line. “We continue to strive to produce offerings that best protect the customer’s investment in a responsible manner.”

Customer demand isn’t the only factor, however. Federal laws, such as the Clean Air Act, set standards for every product sold in the United States – including chemicals and coatings sold through the F&I office. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the standards for every product category, and while vehicle emissions are the largest part of the automobile industry’s contribution to those standards, F&I products have a part to play as well. “Staying on top of the ever-changing regulations is very important to us,” said Nisson. “We want to make sure we are going above and beyond any regulations to make sure all products we offer are environmentally friendly to all parties involved, from our own team of manufacturing specialists all the way to the end consumer users.”

“Anyone who follows the EPA and compliance knows this topic is not only relevant, but becoming the standard for all products in every industry,” said Tim Whittaker, president, EckBond Performance Coatings. “From ink to light bulbs and electric cars, the footprint for manufacturing is Earth friendly.”

Jerry Biller, president, EcoProProducts, has the same philosophy – that going green isn’t just a trend, but is a mandate for all companies who sell products in the United States today. “We won’t offer products that are not environmentally responsible. Being eco-friendly isn’t a trend, it’s our contribution to a consumers’ choice for products that perform at the highest level without a negative environmental impact.”

Walking the Walk
Performance, however, is both a key selling point, and a hurdle many F&I managers will have to get past to sell to the consumer. Products cannot simply be environmentally friendly – they also have to perform to the standards set by all other products available to the consumer.

“We have spent much time to ensure that, like traditional appearance protection products, our eco-products continue to offer the same benefits; however giving additional peace of mind that they are safe for the consumer, their loved ones and the environment,” noted Nisson. “The difference comes down to R&D, and making sure that our formulas have been designed to minimize or eliminate aspects that might be considered to have adverse effects to the environment and/or users of the products.”

Jones pointed out that, in the past, most consumers saw the performance versus environmentally friendly choice as either/or. “We’ve all been conditioned that choosing Earth-friendly products probably translates to sacrificing performance.” He went on to note that educating those consumers that they do not have to choose between the two is the biggest opportunity – and hurdle – facing the F&I market today. “The greatest growth potential is clearly converting the conditioned nonbelievers of Earth-friendly appearance protection into steadfast customers.”

Whittaker agreed, noting that while there are plenty of products out today that hit both the performance and eco-friendly benchmarks, there are still plenty out there that do not. “Unfortunately several agents and consumers still refer to these products as mop and glow or snake oil. I challenge our industry to comply and sell products that actually perform and do what they say.” He advocates that providers should bring in independent, third party testing companies to verify both the performance and environmental claims of products, to give F&I managers another strong selling point to combat those old beliefs.

“A huge segment of people (even in our industry) don’t believe appearance protection products really work, and many believe these long standing products are ‘snake oil,’” agreed Biller. “Overcoming the cultural belief that eco-friendly products don’t perform as well as ‘traditional’ products is a tremendous growth opportunity.”

Selling the Eco Benefits
Each of the providers we talked to all stressed the same thing – that F&I managers need to be trained to sell eco products based on performance. “The F&I professionals need to present our products as value added and performance driven first – the fact it is eco friendly is just another benefit,” noted Whittaker.

Biller agreed, noting that, “F&I managers do not have to decipher these tendencies if the eco-friendly products they are promoting are ultra high performance.” All customers, he went on to point out, can benefit from the performance of products such as windshield coatings to prevent cracks and chips, or appearance protection products that are anti-bacterial and eco-friendly at the same time. He believes F&I managers should stress those benefits first, and the fact that the products are also environmentally safe becomes a bonus, rather than trying to make it the key feature.

“A significantly growing number of customers have the desire to purchase Earth-friendly products, especially if performance isn’t sacrificed,” said Jones. “The F&I manager can create the connection with the purchase of the vehicle itself. Customers love buying new vehicles, and they have a natural desire to protect them. Today’s vehicles are more Earth-friendly then ever before, but they also have great performance; the products that protect these vehicles should have the same traits.”

Agents play a large role in getting that message out – because most, if not all, of these products are sold through the agent channel, there is a perfect opportunity for offering additional training, on everything from what makes eco products different from the traditional chemicals, to how to sell them effectively to consumers. Too many F&I managers share the old-fashioned beliefs, and agents can play a key role in changing attitudes from the top down. Environmentally friendly products will only become more important as regulations and consumer demand continue to swell.

“Earth-friendly products are a rapidly growing ingredient of the evolving relationship that appearance protection providers have with their customers,” said Jones. “[They] translate into a greater revenue for dealers because of the relevant connection it makes with their customers’ desire to protect their vehicles and the Earth.”

“Being eco-friendly isn’t a trend, it’s our contribution to a consumers’ choice for products that perform at the highest level without a negative environmental impact,” said Biller.

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