Coast 2 Coast: No Soft Market Here

Dec 3, 2009

Truck bed covers are a staple in the restyling business, especially for shops that cater to truck owners. Security, cargo protection and-of course-looks make tonneau covers and caps an easy sell to many drivers.

Soft tonneau covers have their own niche, and they are gaining in popularity, according to the restylers we talked to across the United States. With a friendly price point and ease of use and installation, the soft tonneau appeals to all types of truck owners.

Improvements in the design and materials of soft tonneau covers have made them more popular in recent years, restylers say, and the possible fuel mileage boost helps to sell tonneau covers when fuel prices rise.

Customers respond well to POP displays as well as full-size models, according to restylers-and product knowledge is key, too. A sales person with a thorough knowledge of the product who might even have one on his or her personal vehicle can help make a convincing case for the tonneaus, provide demonstrations of its functions and let the customer see and feel the real thing.

Ernie Slaughter
Texas Truck Tops
San Antonio, Texas

Soft tonneaus aren’t a big product for this restyler, but owner Ernie Slaughter says his company has carried them for a decade.

“We have carried them for about 10 years. I think they’re more popular than they used to be, since the Access and Truxedos came out. They’re better quality than the old ones used to be.

“I think the guy [who buys a soft tonneau] is just using it a couple of times per year. That customer is looking for a quick fit, and they need something they can take off when they’re done with it. The soft tonneaus are about 1/3 the price of a hard cover.”

There’s not always a lot of selling he has to do, he says; “Typically they come in knowing what they want.”

Jeremy Edelstein
R&R Truck and Auto Accessories
Tallahassee, Fla.

In northwestern Florida, this restyling shop says that soft tonneau covers are a steady, though not booming,part of their bed cover offerings.

“I wouldn’t say we sell a lot of them,” says Jeremy Edelstein, co-manager. “But we do have spurts. Sometimes we sell several per month, but then we just sold three in the last two days. In some markets they are larger. It’s a good option for someone who wants a bed cover but doesn’t want to spend money on a hard bed cover.”

“We mostly sell them to weather proof the truck bed against rain, or for theft protection. Some people think they’re not the best theft prevention, but nobody’s going to break into something if they don’t know what’s there. If they can’t see what they’re getting they’re not going to waste their time.

“We sell them mostly for full-size trucks; especially a lot of the quad-cab trucks. They don’t have a very big bed, and people want to use it as a trunk.

“The customers vary dramatically; I’ve had ladies buy them for husbands, for an anniversary or other gift. Some people come in and just want one for the look. Some people want it because they’re making a trip. It varies.

“We have several displays, so we show everybody what we can offer, and let them know what the options and differences are. I don’t use any specific sales technique except being nice and telling the truth. It does help to have experience with putting them on and the way they work.

“We do radio and television advertising with good results, or we’ll run a sale now and then for $20 to 40 or a percentage off. That brings people in.

“We’ve had them since 1983, pretty much since we opened. Lot of people are liking the roll up ones. Some roll up really easily, and lock down inside bed. There is the tri fold style, and the Rugged Cover is easy on, easy off. People like that.”

Chuck Peart
Pacesetter Truck Caps and Accessories
Bourbonnais, Ill.

This Midwest restylers says that soft tonneau covers peak in the fall but still appeal to quite a few customers year-round.

“We’ve had them for 10 years at least. I think they’ve become more popular, because they are more versatile. The manufacturers have gotten away from the snap-on style. Tonneau companies are offering more and more options. But we’re also finding that cheaper products are just not selling that well so they don’t last. The ones that cost a little more have engineering that’s tried and true, and you get what you pay for. Snap-ons used to be real popular; the only time we sell one of those anymore is if someone brings in an old-school truck they want to keep era-specific. Otherwise there’s not much of a demand anymore. The last one I sold was for a customer with a 1972 Chevy pickup.

“Here in the Midwest, fall is best time for selling them. People want to get their truck bed covered up before the snow flies. I had a run on them after the first cold snap.

“We sell quite a few soft tonneaus. They are more popular than the hard tonneaus. They’re half the price and easier to load and unload from the bed of the truck. If you have a hard cover, you can’t put a refrigerator or a snowblower in the truck without leaving the top open, but with a soft cover, it’s easier to get in and out and easier to remove. People like the versatility.

“We sell quite a bit for the Chevy and Ford full sizes, but also the Canyon and Colorado. Really, sales range pretty much across the board, though Chevy and Ford more than others. I have one on my Dodge Ram.

“Most customers I’d say are in the 30-55 age group; mostly middle class.

“To sell them, I think you need to know the product well, and know the warranty. A POP display helps; those are working really well. I have a few that are my favorites, and I know those inside and out. I have one on my truck, and there’s another on our company truck, so I can show customers how they work in real life. If they ask for a product I don’t like, I let them know; I say, ‘I will sell it to you, but I wouldn’t recommend it.’

“I think one thing that is real hot right now is advertising how it can save on gas mileage, with the price of gas going up, and it looks like its not coming back down. We use print and radio ads, but the biggest thing is word of mouth.”

Robert “Camperman” Biamonte
Sierra Tops
Sparks, Nev.

Price and security help sell soft tonneaus to truck owners and those who tow RVs for this restyler out West.

“We carry the Access and have great success with it,” says Robert “Camperman” Biamonte, who calls himself the chief cook and bottle washer at Sierra Tops. “We also sell the Vanish and Lorado.

“I’ve been doing this for 29 years. Vinyl covers are vinyl covers; they used to have snaps, and they used to be a pain to do. These new ones are pretty easy. We sell about two or three per month; we might get a lull, but then we’ll sell three or four in a row. They are more popular toward spring and summer-we see a little more action then. They build them really well now. They’re cool to install, and the manufacturers really step up to the plate if you’re missing a part.

“Our average customer is usually somebody pulling a fifth wheel, or an older couple that doesn’t want to go into hard tonneau. They want something that’s easy to use, so they go with a soft tonneau. It keeps stuff nice and dry, and they can still use their pick up bed. It is a pretty good market; most buyers are between 30 and 65.

“Basically, what sells the soft tonneau is really a price issue and a security issue. The soft tonneaus are pretty enhanced with a double layer that is hard to cut. You could still cut it with razor blade but that’s pretty hard to do. People find the soft tonneau is something they can get into and have a couple of dollars left in their pocket for other accesories.”

Rod Swaney
Time Truck Accessories
Rapid City, S.D.

It’s truck country in Rapid City, S.D., where Time Truck Accessories sells soft tonneaus and other truck accessories.

“We sell a lot of them,” says owner Rod Swaney. “We’ve carried them for 15 years. They are a lot more popular than they used to be, because they’ve gotten better-”more user friendly, more dependable.

“I’d say the Silverados are the most popular, and other GM pickups. The buyers seem to come from all walks of life.

“I advertise in a local advertising paper and the weekly newspaper. We run a small display ad in those publications. We do a little bit of radio, too. Having the POP displays and display models in the showroom really works; I can demonstrate them to the customers.