“Rear blades account for a significant portion - around 10 percent of our overall volume - so it’s a real untapped opportunity for retailers that perhaps might have stayed away from these parts in the past.” Olivier Raby.

“Rear blades account for a significant portion - around 10 percent of our overall volume - so it’s a real untapped opportunity for retailers that perhaps might have stayed away from these parts in the past.” Olivier Raby.

Despite the wiper blade being a mature technology, manufacturers are still pushing back the technical boundaries and finding ways to grow their market share.  To learn how the European wiper blade market is taking shape, Matthew Beecham spoke to Olivier Raby, Managing Director for Trico Europe. Market leader Trico Products' wiper product range includes complete wiper systems, blades, arms, linkages, motors, electronics and vision modules.

How is your European aftermarket business shaping-up this year?

We have had an extremely positive start to the year, with strong sales through existing distribution as well as already winning some new key accounts in different markets. After the mild winter at the end to 2015, we were pleased to see a real wet and frosty patch hit in January! Our revamped Exact Fit range has been well received, winning 'Product of the Year' Award from A1 motor stores, and is growing steadily alongside our best seller Flex multiclip beam blade.

How do you engage with your customers in this digital age?

We've recently relaunched our website, with more clear distinct sections for trade or motorist visitors. We also publish regular e-newsletters. This helps us to deliver the most relevant content to motorists, helping them choose the right blades for their vehicle or to learn more about the benefits of Trico wiper blades and about who we are.

Online shopping is growing rapidly in the auto parts sector, and it's important to support consumers that might have bought online and can't access 'hands on' help from a retailer – to that end we have recently launched our own YouTube channel, giving access to video fitting instructions for all our products to help consumers easily change their blades themselves.

The European aftermarket is flooded with non-branded low quality wiper blades. How do you set about getting your message across to the garage, technician and consumer on the merits of Trico's products?

When it comes to wiper blades, there's no one with a bigger heritage than Trico. We really try to get that message across. We were the first commercial wiper blade manufacturer, and 100 years later we're still here developing newer, better and safer products. There's a reason that vehicle manufacturers choose us to supply their wiper blades as original equipment and it's important that consumers recognise that the products we supply to aftermarket go through the same design and test procedures, and come from the same production lines as original equipment product. To respond to the market need for low cost blades, particularly conventional blades on older 10 years plus models, we offer our value Fister brand which does not compromise the driver's safety.

In what ways do you expect to increase your wiper blade aftermarket share in Europe?

Our OE and OES sales are growing, with some major launches in 2016 on Mercedes S-Class, Maserati Levante and on Scania trucks.

In aftermarket our new Exact Fit range is reinforcing our position on the traditional channel offering OE technology with fewer SKUs [stock keeping unit] than our competitors. It's important for the aftermarket that we use our unrivalled expertise to work with key partners, helping them to develop and grow their wiper business.

Rear wiper blades appear to have reached "designer" status these days. In what ways does that impact your business in terms of the aftermarket?

For us, and our customers, it's actually a very positive thing. We have taken a really pro-active approach to developing our rear blade programme, with new references coming on-stream regularly. We have also developed some unique connection systems so can use a single blade to replace two different OE blades. This helps our customers keep maximum coverage without a wild number of SKUs.

Rear blades account for a significant portion (around 10 percent of our overall volume), so it's a real untapped opportunity for retailers that perhaps might have stayed away from these parts in the past. We're trying to support customers with signage and literature that really let's people know these blades are available. Unfortunately the perception remains that these are main-dealer parts only, and it's important that we change this.

Over the past decade or so, Trico Products and other wiper manufacturers have tried to make blades easier to fit.  Have you sold more blades to the DIYer as a result?

Absolutely. In fact some of our biggest successes have come in non-traditional channels where the end user will be fitting the blades themselves. Where space is really at a premium, such as fuel filling stations, our Flex multi-clip blades are perfect; designed to be as simple and intuitive to fit as possible, with just three different clips covering eight of the most popular wiper arm types. That's a key differentiator from the non-branded low quality wiper blades that include ten or more different loose clips inside their packaging.

Making the blades easier to fit doesn't just benefit consumers, but retailers and workshops too. Wiper blades are an ideal extra sell opportunity, but the last thing a workshop wants is for staff to be spending too much time trying to fit them! Making blades quick and easy to fit frees up technicians' time, and allows workshops and retailers to confidently offer free fitting as an added value service.

How do your marketing initiatives and the way you approach the market differ for commercial vehicles?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's Global light vehicle OE wipers market- forecasts to 2030