Selling and installing accessories to a burgeoning pickup/SUV market can be a profitable addition to your business, but is it right for you? Check out this information, then decide.
It's no secret that U.S. sales of new piekup trucks and sport/utility vehicles have soared over the last several years. Carrying that knowledge forward, we find that the usedvehicle market is also dominated by trucks-specifically pickups and SUVs.
What you as a repair shop owner or technician might not realize is that trucks are the most accessorized vehicles on the road today-far more so than passenger cars. Which means there is ample opportunity to add more sales from your existing customers-and add new customers to your customer base-by selling and installing pickup and SUV accessories.
I'm not suggesting you become primarily a truck accessory sales and installation shop, but if you find there are times when your bays are empty, adding truck accessories to your list of services may be just the ticket to a more profitable bottom line.
If you can't supply or install a trailer hitch, tonneau cover or step bars for an existing customer, you're forcing him to look elsewhere for this service. The work may end up being done at another shop that can also handle his automotive repair and maintenance needs. He may not come back to your shop.
On the other hand, a new customer who arrives at your shop to buy some accessories, or have ones he bought elsewhere installed, just may become a strong addition to your existing customer base.
You don't need to invest a lot of money, time or stock to establish yourself as a good place to go for truck accessories sales and service. There are different ways to go about it. But first, let's examine a few good reasons why you should at least consider it.
Facts and Figures
The vast majority of aftermarket accessory manufacturers are members of the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA). The organizations nearly 6500 members account for more than $10 billion in sales annually. Here are some facts to ponder:
* Since 1996, annual U.S. new light truck sales (pickups and SUVs) have increased by 39.2%, going from more than 6.6 million units to over 9.2 million in 2004.
* Sales of pickup trucks and SUVs continue to grow each year.
* A recent survey by SEMA shows that the average pickup truck owner spent $2250 on automotive accessories and equipment-about $248 more than the average SUV owner. More than 18% of the respondents said they spent $2500 to $5000 to accessorize their pickups.
* Consumers generally start adding accessories to their rides within the first four months of ownership. More than 37% begin adding personal touches within three weeks!
Jim Spoonhower, W of Market Research at SEMA, puts it this way: "Today, the light truck market is a critical part of the performance parts and accessories industry. For 2004 it accounted for nearly 34% of all product sales by the industry."
Despite the size and dollar value of the truck accessory market, SEMAs research reveals that less than 2% of the installation work is done by independent aftermarket repair facilities. It seems there is lots of room for improvement on that number.
Selling and installing truck accessories broadens the menu of services offered to your existing customers, and may keep them from going elsewhere for these products and services. It also literally opens your doors to potential new customers who don't have a "regular" shop that provides repair and routine maintenance services.
Adding truck accessory sales and service also affords the opportunity to sell additional products, services and maintenance procedures if the vehicle is in need of such items. For example, you may need to recommend additional work, such as heavy-duty shocks or brake work if the customer is having a trailer-towing package installed.
Lastly, if your new truck add-on customer is happy, he may recommend you to his friends, creating even more additional business.
Three Routes to Truck Accessory Sales
There are at least three instances when a truck or SUV owner may need accessories installed. In each case, a little salesmanship can help ensure that the customer will always think of you when he wants to accessorize.
1. New trucks. When a customer buys a new truck, he'll most likely want to equip it right away with a number of personalized accessories. New-car dealers capitalize on this desire by selling bedliners, hitches, tonneau covers and step bars at the time of the sale. Dealers recognize the value (and profit) of fulfilling their customers' desires immediately.
Most often, these dealer-sold accessories are more expensive than if purchased at an aftermarket shop. Dealers defend this price differential by saying that installation can be done immediately and the vehicle will be outfitted when the buyer picks it up. Also, dealers can roll the cost of the add-on accessories right into the finance package of the vehicle. They offer it as a "quick and painless" way to customize the truck to the buyers needs.
You can protect your customer base by informing your customers of your ability to satisfy their accessory needs via mailings, flyers or signs in the customer waiting area. Printing a notice at the bottom of invoices and statements can work well, too.
2. Changeovers from old trucks to new trucks. When a customer purchases a truck to replace an older model, he may want to use some of the accessories from his old truck to save money, or because they're still in good shape. So when you service a truck that's a few years old, make a note on the customers file to remind him that you can provide the changeover service whenever he decides to purchase a new truck.
3. Add-ons to presently owned trucks. Accessorizing a currently owned truck may entail adding a towing package, a new bedliner or a bra to protect a new paint job. Make the customer aware that you offer any accessories he might be considering.
If you do decide to get into truck accessory sales and service, stick with the most popular models (such as the full-size pickups and SUVs from Ford, Chevy/GMC and Dodge). You may want to buy a few of the more popular accessories for these vehicles to keep on hand for immediate sale and installation.
Popular and easy-to-obtain items are a good place to start. As you become more comfortable with installing the so-called basic accessories, you may want to branch out by adding such things as brush guards, light bars and the like. A little experience, along with listening to your customers, will guide you.
Building a Supplier Base
Consumer purchase o( truck accessories is often based on impulse. Sometimes they'll see an accessory on another truck or in a newspaper or magazine ad, or on TV, and want to have it for their truck right away.
In order to obtain the accessories your customers want in a timely fashion, you'll need to build a supplier base, so you can place orders and trust that they'll be delivered to you promptly. Most suppliers can ship in one day, and many of the largest ones carry a broad range of accessories, effectively providing "one-stop shopping" for your truck accessory needs.
Make sure you have current catalogs, delivery information and prices at your fingertips. When you quote availability and price to a prospective buyer, you must be accurate. Having to call a customer back with a delayed delivery date or higher price will not build the kind of relationship that's valuable for your business.
You must be able to immediately quote prices and availability. "I'll check it out and get back to you" isn't good enough. If you need to check a source, do it while the customer is still there. If that's not possible, do it as soon as possible and call the customer immediately before he loses interest or finds the product elsewhere.
Keep product brochures and flyers readily accessible, such as in the customer waiting room or at the checkout area. Keep the brochure racks filled, neat and orderly.
Tackling the sale and installation of spray-on bedliners warrants careful consideration. Unlike most other facets of the truck accessory business, for bedliners, an investment in equipment and supplies is necessary and can run into big bucks.
There are several good sources where you can purchase such equipment and supplies. Many companies offer franchise arrangements. While that part of your business may be profitable after it's built up somewhat, the initial outlay can be considerable. Do your homework before taking such a step. Find out if there's any local competition; if there is, learn who and where they are, and what they charge for their senices.
Keep 'em Happy
Recently, I visited with Dennis Fegan at Atlas Truck World in Clawson, Michigan. Fegan has owned the shop, which was established in 1989, since he left the aftermarket parts distribution business in 2001.