Coast 2 Coast Hard Tonneau Covers

Dec 3, 2009

Hard tonneau covers- both ABS and fiberglass – are one of the mainstays in today’s truck market, giving owners the flexibility of secure, waterproof storage while maintaining the truck “look.”

Truck accessory shops across the nation say that sales of hard tonneau covers are holding steady or even growing. SUV sales have dropped the popularity of camper shells, and today’s quad-cab pickups make trucks the go-to vehicle choice for many individuals and families who work and play hard.

A recent study by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) found that tonneau covers can boost mileage by improving the aerodynamics, and many manufacturers have posted claims of 5% or even 10% better mileage (all other driving habits being the same) with a tonneau cover installed.

Full-sized pickups from the Big Three still dominate tonneau cover demand, but the new Toyota Tundra is rapidly closing the gap. Tonneaus for both domestic and imported compact and mid-size trucks don’t command nearly as much of the market share.

Hard tonneau cover buyers want accessibility and they want options: Most manufacturers offer remote locks, lift assist, many ways to open or remove the tonneau when full bed access is needed, lights, models made to fit with toolboxes and other tempting options.

Restylers say that pickup owners shopping for tonneaus want to see how they work, and they inspect the fit and finish; so whether you have full-sized models or point-of-purchase displays, be sure to show customers every feature of the tonneau on a model they can see and touch.

Here’s what those in the know have to say about what’s going on in the hard tonneau market today.

Thomas Loewen, manager
Premier Truck Accessories
Florissant, Mo.

“Our customers are really quite varied. We see people driving anywhere from old trucks to the early ’90s to brand-new trucks. Domestic pickups are in the majority, but imports are growing. The Toyota Tundra is one of fastest-growing trucks in the industry, but we still do a great job with the Silverado, F150 and Ram. Those still make up the bulk of the business.

“Our customers are broad-based, from mid 20s up to the 70s. Truck buyers are in all demographics. To narrow down the typical buyer: Some customers want their truck beds in the open; the ones who want to cover them are the ones who want tonneau covers.

“People who buy tonneaus want to provide security for the contents in their truck bed, and a certain look. It gives the truck more of a finished look with a cover on it.

“We’ve done cable TV and radio advertising, and the Yellow Pages. Our owner has other businesses, and those avenues were successful for him; he owns a used-car lot, and that advertising works to help sell vehicles, and it works the same for truck accessories.

“The Top Dawg product is very versatile, because it’s the only one that folds in the middle. That’s been a nice segment of business because some people don’t like fiberglass lids, because they limit access to the truck bed. The Top Dawg is very versatile, and it gives you access at the tailgate and access at the cab area, and traditional lids do not have that access. It’s been very, very good for our business.

“When it comes to package deals, the BedRug or a bed liner does well. We sell a cover with a BedRug to line the truck bed. Also, jumping back to the Top Dawg, that product allows you to have a toolbox and a hard cover, where with a traditional fiberglass cover you can’t have a toolbox. If somebody wants a toolbox, they can get a Top Dawg made to fit that goes up against the toolbox.

Jason Danler, manager
Arrow Toppers
Pinellas Park, Fla.

“We have a tough market because there are too many people around here. It’s a very, very heavily populated area, and everybody and their brother thinks they can do aftermarket business. We have a lot of competition. We have three main competitors around us; two within 4 miles, and another is about 5.5 miles.

“Most tonneau buyers are probably an average of 35 years old and up. We had one customer come in who was 97. They’re mostly middle class. The Dodge Ram is the most popular truck; we are heavily into Dodges.

“We deal with a couple of guys who do a lot of exporting. Hard tonneaus are a big thing overseas; we also install for them wheels, tires, lowering kits, lighting – and the performance market starting to pick up. It’s all for Dodge Rams. We never see Dakotas in here, but we do get newer Chevys and Fords. Not a lot of imports, but there are some Tundras sprinkled in. It’s rare to see a Nissan.

“The shop has been here since 1969; so a lot of our business comes from word of mouth. Years and years ago, in the 1980s and early ’90s, we tried TV and radio ads, but they never seemed to get as much for us out there. The phone book was a waste of money; our website, though, is still important. A lot of people are now starting to call after we redid our website a month ago.

“Also, I and one other guy have our logo plastered on the back of our trucks. Our trucks are all lowered and done up nicely. But mostly, we’ve just been here so long that everybody knows us.

“A lot of people are still into chrome handles, mirror covers, and fender trim, and we have a showcase that people see before they leave, so they see it and say “‘While I’m here I’ll take one of those, too.’ We also push people into the carpeted BedRug; those are real nice.

“It’s a very big market; 13 years ago, when the weekly truck from Century came in, on an average we were getting 20-25 units, and two-thirds were toppers, and the other third was fiberglass lids. They were just starting to get popular then. Now 90% of that shipment is fiberglass lids, and nobody really wants toppers anymore. I heard one customer say, ‘If I wanted a topper I would have bought an SUV.’

“We’re real simple, just a small mom-and-pop store, and [tonneaus] sell themselves. Customers come in and see what we have on display and say, ‘I want one of those,’ and point to the display. Some people want to know the difference between models, but everybody pretty much has it in their head what they want, and that is what they are getting.”

Ron Towry
Truck Gear Super Center

“Houston is a pretty big truck market, so for camper shells and tonneau covers we do quite a few – probably a higher percentage here than we would somewhere else in the country. In dollar volume, tonneaus are 40% of our business; camper shells are 20%, and the balance is parts, accessories and labor. In dollar volume, tonneaus are lower-priced than camper shells, so that’s considerable –  they might be 70% of our actual volume. We’re the largest Leer dealer, so we do a really good job with Leer out of their market with tonneau covers. We also do a lot of the Pace Edwards retractable. They are both extremely good products.

“Who is buying? Everybody. Today’s truck buyer is different –  it used be the typical redneck with a truck. Today with advent of crew cabs, that’s moved into the mainstream. We get a lot of middle-aged men and women; buyers are in their late 20s up to 50. It’s not just kids, not just older people.

“We sell tonneaus for the full-size Dodge, Chevy and Ford; a lot of them are crew cabs. Our No. 1 sellers are lids for the 5 1/2-ft. bed over the 6 1/2-ft. bed. Most people buying trucks with 8-ft. beds are not putting tonneau covers on them with the exception of the Ford Super Duty. With those we put as many on 8-footers as we do 6-footers. We see very few compacts or imports; there are a lot of Toyota Tundras, though.

“My primary advertising source is my website. I have a site that goes into thorough detail on camper shells and tonneau covers as well as the other accessories we sell.

“I have a good-sized ad in the Yellow Pages, but the Yellow Pages is dying; the Internet is the place people go look. Direct mail was very poor. There was a trucking section in the Houston Chronicle, and we had a nice ad that didn’t do anything. TV is way too expensive. The bulk of my business is from the Internet, drive-by, or they know I’m here and stop in, or from referrals. If somebody has bought a tonneau from us, and their neighbor sees it, they’ll tell them to go to our store.

“We package a promo with a tonneau and a BedRug. Leer’s tonneau comes standard with a carpeted headliner, and BedRug makes a bed liner that looks like carpet but is made from plastic and matches extremely well. It really finishes out the truck bed.

When people come in looking for a fiberglass cover to match their truck, there are three major brands in the market and most people are familiar with some of those. So when somebody comes in looking for a retractable, vinyl, fold-up or fiberglass cover, we have three or four options we can show them. All of the major brands have a higher-profile cover that has style lines in it, and they also have a flatter low-profile lid. Those are the two markets.

“We have POP displays and full-size models; we have every product we carry displayed. There’s a sample of each hard tonneau they can look at, and we also have smaller operating displays of the retractable covers. Undercover is very popular –  that’s a very, very good cover.

“A tonneau gives you the most security of any cover you can put on a truck. They come with a number of options now, like remote options to tie into the vehicle’s locks, so drivers can lock and unlock the tonneau at the same time they lock their truck. That’s a very nice feature. Most are coming with scissor-lift assist that opens it for you and a four-bar hinge in front that lifts off the truck smoothly, similar to a hood. Leer’s newest model, the 800, is a high-end unit, and when you press the clicker, it will actually open the cover. Leer and Century both offer that- those are great features. All lids are made now to cover the plastic caps on trucks, so you get a paint-to-paint finish. Leer has a trimless finished edge, which gives it a clean look between the transition of tonneau cover to pickup truck.

“Oil prices are really hurting us, but the gas savings a tonneau cover has are a good selling point. Leer has nice graphic that shows about a 5% improvement in fuel mileage, which was proved in a study by SEMA.

“I’m not seeing a different buyer; customers want a tonneau on the bed of their truck to protect their goods, keep them dry, keep anyone from stealing them and for additional storage.”

Mario Herrera, manager
Pick-em Up Truck Store
Fresno, Calif.

“The customer for tonneaus really varies. We have customers from 25-75 years old. I will say that 75% of our customers are mature, 42 and up. It varies from city to city, but most of the trucks that we see here are full-size vehicles from Chevy, Ford and Dodge. I would say our sale for Tundra accessories is probably 3% of the market.

“Within the last five years, tonneau covers have increased 80%. Ten years ago it was the opposite, and camper shells were more popular; but now, because of gas prices and security, tonneau covers are fantastic sellers.

“We have tried TV and radio advertising; what works best for our company is word of mouth, those repeat customers. To keep them coming back, we bend over backwards; we do anything possible to keep our customers happy and satisfied, like offering a good product and treating them more like a friend than a customer.

“Bedliners and bed protection overall- such as liners, bed rugs, rail caps and tailgate caps –  are very popular with tonneau buyers, especially for those with Chevys and GMCs. We sell bed mats if customers don’t have a bedliner or bed rug; a bed mat is the next best thing to provide protection to the truck’s bed.

“Paying attention [to customers] helps sell tonneaus. Everybody wants to have attention, not just being blown off. We offer undivided attention and we ask questions: What are they using the truck for? for example We also ask about the amount of money they have to work with so we can offer different prices, different styles and demonstrate some of the products.

“We do have in the showroom small samples demonstrating the quality of the paint, whether it has a double or single mechanism, and the different styles and options on the fiberglass lids.

“A lot of customers like tonneaus because they don’t have any blind spots. A camper shell has a lot of blind spots. Tonneaus are easy to remove –  you can have a tonneau off in two minutes, and get full access to the bed. We’re in a small agricultural town, so a lot of people need to have access to their truck beds for work. With the price of gas, tonneau covers can help you gain two or three miles per gallon, and still give accessibility to throw gear in the back of vehicle, and lock it where it’s safe.”