Carrying On With Overland Racks
Today’s systems can handle the load.
This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine.
There are a few staples of any self-respecting overland rig. Oversized wheels and tires. A recovery winch. And a versatile, dependable rack system for hauling and storage.
Today’s overland rack market is overflowing with innovative, versatile products to take just about anything just about anywhere, and look good while doing it. Whether fitted on a truck, Jeep or SUV, the systems make long hauls and short adventures more convenient and less stressful.
With so many choices, it pays to study up on the market. Manufacturers and suppliers are happy to share market trends, hot new products and tips for increased sales.
Today’s versatile overland rack systems feature high-tech designs to match late-model vehicles.
“Laser and robotic production assembly allows us to build a precision product and keep pace with demand,” says Dave Williams, director of sales for Go Rhino.
Improved manufacturing processes result in better racks, agrees Bernhard Leitner, CEO of Leitner Designs.
“We have seen explosive growth in the overland market from when we first launched our ACS Classic back in 2014,” he says. “When we started, our manufacturing process consisted of bending tubing, laser-cutting brackets and welding—the same process you might see at most fabrication shops. Since that time, we have leveraged some of the most high-tech manufacturing processes available—we have even gone to the extent of custom-designing and manufacturing our own fasteners.”
T-Rex Truck Products/ZROADZ Off Road Products uses 3D CAD modeling and FEA analysis to design and test products virtually before prototypes are manufactured, notes Victor Casillas, sales manager.
“This gives our team of engineers and designers the ability to ensure the product will work within certain fitment parameters and understand how it will perform over its lifecycle,” he says.
Quality racks are a must for today’s consumers, says Mark Hanson, CEO of Road Armor.
“New technology is seriously advancing where we are going. Ultimately, it always comes down to design and craftmanship.”
Modern vehicles can also bring modern challenges, however, says Autumn Hauck, director of sales for Fab Fours Inc.
“Our industry has adjusted quickly to added sensors and compatibility requirements with cameras on front and rear protection. Now, I feel like the same will be met with bed technology,” she explains. “We’ll do our best to make it work, but there will be some options the consumer may or may not be able to keep. I think many of us just assume someone adding accessories accepts the repercussions of adding aftermarket parts, but many consumers believe if it is available to purchase it should work with all the vehicle’s (existing) technology.”
Hauck suggests discussing any potential changes to factory systems prior to purchase.
Meanwhile, some manufacturers are looking even farther down the road to a time when electric off-roaders are more common.
“With EV introduction into this market, weight reduction while maintaining strength will be important future selling features,” says Patrick Bennett, senior product designer for Quadratec. “The challenge will be maintaining an acceptable price point while applying new weight-saving materials and tech in rack construction. For now we have focused our engineering into clever designs and packaging to reduce weight and shipping costs for our steel rack without sacrificing load capacity or functionality.”
VERSATILE & FUNCTIONAL
The racks themselves are also more capable and versatile than ever.
“T-slots and a variety of mounting options in the truck bed continue to offer more flexibility in the style of overlanding racks and the accessories that are out there, from mild to extreme,” says Lee Riser, VP of marketing for Bushwacker/RealTruck Group.
Gone are the days of heavy, cumbersome units.
“Stronger, lighter weight materials make racks easier to install and more efficient to use,” says Jane Donnelly, marketing director for TrailFX.
It’s an exciting time to be a part of the outdoor adventure and exploration community, says Ryan Hoffins, VP of marketing for Rhino-Rack.
“With new technology, there is an abundance of opportunities for innovation and craftsmanship,” he says. “We’re seeing top-tier manufacturing and creative solutions that are designed to test the durability of equipment and gear, making the market’s competition more aggressive and the products available that much greater.”
TIME TO RACK & ROLL
Consumers want a reliable rack system that can handle the rigors of adventure travel.
“The perceived strength or durability of racks is often questioned,” Williams notes. “With the rapid proliferation of choices in a rapidly emerging market and category, jobbers have had to ask around and conduct online research to learn which brands are receiving the positive reviews and providing consumers with positive experiences.”
The racks are impressive—but do have their limits.
“It is a common misconception that all racks are made the same, but you really need to pay attention to what the max weight capacity of your rack is,” Hanson cautions. “No one wants their stuff falling off down the road because their bed rack system fell apart.”
Another strong selling point, Leitner notes, is that the racks keep working after the trail ride is done.
“Overlanding is a large market segment, but most customers are not out exploring the ends of the earth months on end,” he says. “Customers need to know that the rack they purchase can improve the usefulness of their truck, from picking up long items like lumber to carrying their kayak to the lake. And having locking storage that keeps your gear from eating up backseat storage room is something everyone can use, even if you’re just running to the store for groceries.”
Bennett notes common misconceptions surrounding overland racks include that they severely reduce bed space and that they can’t be used with tonneau covers.
“Our unique cantilevered mounting system provides one of the largest internal dimensions currently offered—very little bed function is lost,” he says, “and both our half-cab and full-cab designs work with tonneaus.”
Hauck, too, suggests fully explaining how racks will affect bed and bed cover usage, even while cautioning overlanders to not try to take it all with them.
“Just because you have a rack does not mean you can put anything and everything on it. It is important to remind customers that safety comes first,” she says. “They may want a rig with all the bells and whistles, but adding that weight requires maintenance. Whether they are an avid off-roader or someone who just wants to look cool in their vehicle, run through the importance of checking the bolts and making sure the products are secured before and after trips.”
A SMART INSTALL
Of course, rack systems need to make sense for shops as well. Intelligent designs allow for quick, secure attachments.
“Shops may think it takes a lot of time to install, but once familiar with the products that are designed for current-gen trucks and SUVs they will see the installation time and complexity are worth it for the numerous upsell options that exist within this product category,” Riser says.
There are a variety of options, so be prepared to do your homework beforehand.
“Some racks are application-specific and some are modular,” Donnelly explains. “It’s important to understand if you’ll need the customer’s vehicle fitment data before ordering. It’s also important to fully understand whether the rack requires drilling to mount it on the vehicle—most don’t, but some do and it’s something you’ll need to discuss with your customer if they choose one that does.”
Not all racks are created equal, meaning price should not be the only factor used when choosing a system, Casillas believes.
“Racks are not only designed to manage storage, but also carry a load. A well-designed rack manufactured from quality materials will provide your customer with years of confident performance and off-road use.”
The goal is to match the capabilities of different racks to each customer’s specific needs.
“There are weekend warriors, families simply looking to carry extra items for road trips, off-road experts and some consumers that will use it for all the above,” Hoffins says. “It’s important to narrow down the customer’s exact purpose in purchasing a rack, rather than selling what is biggest and best.”
REACH THE SALES SUMMIT
To reach your sales potential in the overland racks market, it pays to be seen.
“In the shop, merchandise a rack and showcase accessories such as bikes on the rack so people can touch, feel and become inspired by what can be done to their vehicle to enjoy it even more,” says Go Rhino’s Williams. “This will enable sales of more than just the rack. Meanwhile, outside of the shop, build a decked-out overland vehicle that has your logo on it and make sure it’s seen—on the streets as well as in front of the shop. It’s guaranteed to draw attention and interest.”
When it comes to sales area displays, Hauck from Fab Fours recommends making them fun and exciting.
“If space allows, create an overlanding theme in an area of the showroom,” she says. “Build excitement around the product to get those wheels turning in the consumer’s mind.”
Leitner of Leitner Designs also believes that seeing is believing when it comes to these modern products.
“Outfit one of your shop trucks,” he suggests. “For a customer to truly see the benefits, viewing one in person is a sure bet to selling a unit. For so many years, a bed rack has been a necessary evil relegated to contractor trucks. With the introduction of our all-aluminum forged rack we have brought function and styling that actually enhances the look of modern pickups.”
Once you’ve gained the customer’s attention, it’s up to your sales team to get them into the right system.
“Have informed sales associates. Understand what is available and eliminate the misconceptions,” suggests Doug Speece, Northeast regional sales manager for Quadratec Wholesale Division. “Be the expert. The consumer is looking to you for guidance. Understanding what the customer is looking to achieve (off-roader, weekend camper, true overlander, etc.) and knowing the available products and price points is key.”
It often means asking a lot of questions, says Casillas of T-Rex/ZROADZ.
“Listening to the customer and understanding their intended use and expectations while asking the right questions is key,” he says. “Doing this will help narrow the offering of products and will always create a better customer experience.”
The more you know, the more you can help your clients.
“Understanding all the details and features of the product will help you explain the benefits to potential customers,” says Hoffins of Rhino-Rack. “It’s also important to have an understanding of competitor brands and their features so that you can compare and contrast them. Additionally, it is important to be aware of potential customer concerns and be prepared to address them in a helpful and reassuring way.”
After all, the systems are a vital part of adventure travel.
“Shops can discuss the benefits of having an overland rack. It’s a multiuse tool in a lot of ways,” says Road Armor’s Hanson. “You can carry anything you need to live comfortably on a good overland rack. It’s one of those things you should really have if you are living an overland lifestyle.”
While chatting, don’t forget to discuss the options for customized carrying, adds Bushwacker’s Riser.
“Showcase the product and rack on shop vehicles and carry all the key accessories that go with it, like all the recovery gear, from trail cans to traction boards,” she says. “Show the endless options that help you overland in style.”
Need a place to start? Try working with the most famous off-road brand out there.
“Pitch a rack system to every Jeep customer that walks through the door,” says Donnelly of TrailFX with a laugh. “Jeeps have very little storage space, so Jeep owners are prime targets for rack sales. Ask how the customer uses their Jeep recreationally and explain all the available options, from direct-fit roof baskets to bolt-on safari racks to hitch-mounted cargo carriers. Converse long enough and you will certainly uncover a need that can turn into a sale.”