5 Min With … Joel Ayres

Jul 1, 2010

There’s more! Only here at Restylingmag.com: How has the truck accessory industry changed? See Joel Ayres’ last response to Tracy Teuscher’s question.

It’s hard to believe that Joel Ayres, national marketing director for Truck Accessories Group, has been involved in the automotive aftermarket for 38 years. He started in the truck cap business when he was 21 working for the family business. 

“When I first got started, my father, two brothers and I were working in the business together, and I was the sales manager,” says Ayres.

Ayres later accepted a position with truck cap maker Leer. Now, the company is part of the Truck Accessories Group, or TAG, and includes five different brands including Leer, Century, Pace Edwards, Raider and Statewide Aluminum, and six different manufacturing locations. The company is well known for truck caps and tonneau covers, but offers a variety of products using fiberglass, plastic and aluminum technologies.

Ayres’ father was one of the original inductees into the Hall of Fame for TCAA (Truck Cap & Accessory Association). Joel Ayres received the President’s Award from TCAA in 1998. After TCAA merged with SEMA, it became the Light Truck Accessory Alliance, or LTAA, and Ayres himself was inducted into the LTAA Hall of Fame in 2005. Most recently, Ayres was voted SEMA Person of the Year in 2006. He’s also done more charitable work than many can imagine.

RE: Joel, we know that you have a history of supporting charitable organizations over the years. Tell us about what led you to establish a Big Brothers chapter in your region of Indiana and why you feel it’s important to be involved in the community in this way. Also, tell us why you typically select charitable organizations that benefit children.

Ayres: I decided to become a Big Brother when I was 21. I lived about an hour away from the closest Big Brother chapter, and I saw a need for a chapter in the northeast portion of the state. I became the co-founder and first chairman of the board for the northeast Chapter of Big Brothers at age 22.

I’ve always felt that children are the most vulnerable people in our society and they cannot help themselves. I have always wanted to help children in need because they need to be able to count on responsible adults.

I [also] serve on the Heart Gallery board of Sacramento; we work with professional photographers and the Sacramento State University photography students to take professional photos of children who are awaiting adoption, to try to help recruit adoptive homes for children in need of adoptive homes. These are children who are considered difficult to adopt because they are older, in a sibling group, or have special physical or emotional needs. I’m happy to say that 57% of the children we have featured in Heart Gallery have found permanent homes since we started.

Regarding SEMA Cares: Originally it was Richard Petty who invited a few of us down to visit the Victory Junction Gang Camp. We volunteered for a weekend; it was a great experience. When we got back, we went to the SEMA board and asked to have a committee formed to support Victory Junction Gang Camp, established by Kyle and Patty Petty. And we formed the SEMA Cares Committee.

Child Help Village later became part of SEMA Cares. Child Help benefits abused children. For the children that are placed here, this is their home for a period of time. They also go to school here and receive specialized services. It’s been so cool to see so many people in the industry step up and become involved. This is the fourth year for SEMA Cares.

RE: What other roles have you filled in the LTAA and SEMA? Why have you chosen to be involved in leadership?

Ayres: I’m currently serving my eighth (non-consecutive) year on the SEMA board of directors. I chair the SEMA Cares Committee as well as the SEMA Scholarship Committee, serve on the SEMA Show Committee, and previously chaired the committee to develop the SEMA Hall of Fame Exhibit in California. And, there’s a lot more. I’ve become involved in leadership because I feel that I need to be a part of the industry and make a contribution. But involvement has also given me access to a huge pool of knowledge through other SEMA members as well as access to industry research. It has also been a great avenue to build my professional network.

RE: If you could give people in the industry advice regarding involvement through the support of a charitable organization, what would you tell them? Many might be worried about the amount of time and energy needed to make a contribution. What would you tell people about that?

Ayres: I would tell people that I really feel like I get back 10 times more than I put in. I think just about every person can do something. There is so much need that I’m sure everyone can find someplace to make a contribution, even if it’s just to help out at an event or make a contribution of talent. You know, it doesn’t have to be monetary – but do something. Believe me, you’ll get back far more than you give.


RE: About the industry itself:How have you seen it change over the years? What have been the biggest changes over the past several years?

Ayres: Back in the ’70s, trucks were still most often being used by people using them for work like farmers, ranchers, etc. At that time, we used to show at the RVIA show in Louisville, Ky., because a lot of our dealers were RV dealers who sold truck caps and a few other things on the side. Early on, most truck accessory sales were part of a side business, and the primary business was either in RV, marine, or automotive repair.

Then, in the ’80s, really started to change. People started buying the truck and the truck caps for appearance as well as function. By then, the trucks were also coming out with many more accessories than they had in the past. We started to see more truck-accessory focused shops pop up because of the trends in personalization.

The late ’90s, early 2000s saw the shift in the industry and at the SEMA show with the development of the truck and SUV section of the show. In addition to a wide variety of truck accessories for restyling, we also saw the advent of the trend toward performance enhancements for light truck, including diesel.

Over the last several years, the increase in fuel costs has really impacted the industry.

I also think that the popularity of certain items was exhausted over time. Now, we’re getting back to that core buyer we saw back in the ’70s; the highest percentage of the trucks being sold are really being purchased for the functionality they offer: work truck folks, contractors, ranchers, farmers, surveyors and the like, as well as folks who are using the truck for towing. In addition, there will always be a group of folks who really like a truck and will not be the typical car buyer because they like the day-to-day functionality and the visibility that the truck offers.