COAST TO COAST Pulling Ahead

Dec 3, 2009

With summer’s warm weather and weekend getaways just around the corner, the towing market is about to blossom.

Turning a blind eye toward rising gas prices, recreational enthusiasts continue to hook up their trailers and head to the mountains, beach or other isolated locale to enjoy their favorite power sport or leisure-time activity.

Meanwhile, those stuck at home doing the yard work are hauling landscaping vegetation, lumber and other materials in their utility trailers, or piling up a hitch-mounted cargo carrier with their must-have summer supplies.

Aftermarket towing products retailers across the country say business is strong, as Americans head outside to work and play. And with a trailer full of accessories now available-ranging from back-up lighting units and monitors to vehicle system upgrades that make hauling safer and more reliable-chances are a towing customer will be visiting your shop very soon.

We asked industry professionals in various part of the country how the market is in their area, and who’s buying what accessories to satisfy their unique towing needs. All said customers continue to seek out the latest towing products to help them on their way out of town, or to the local home improvement center.

H All About Diesels
Monica Gaines
Nashville, Tenn.

“Our customers range from RVers to those in the horse industry. Somebody’s always towing something. We cater to those who tow, whether it is someone who tows every day because of farming or livestock, or snowbirds who decided to retire, sell their home and travel the countryside in RVs.

“Our business is based on performance, reliability and longevity. People who tow are looking for extra performance from their vehicle, but they also want to keep it on the road as long as possible, and keep it as reliable as possible.

“One of the most popular things we sell is the White Night backup light system. That is a big benefit for those who tow, because it allows them to see where they’re actually backing up, and if they’re out in the barn or setting up camp, they can flip a switch and illuminate what they’re doing. It’s very handy for towers. Something else we recommend for someone who does a lot of towing is the Brite Box, which gives them up-close light as well as distance.

“There are four things we address when we’re trying to take care of trucks for towing. We look for performance upgrades to gain fuel economy, horsepower and torque for towing. Then we want to address monitoring-rivers need to keep an eye on what their truck is doing. They don’t want excessive exhaust gas or transmission temperatures.

“The next area we address is the air intake system. The more air you put in, the better performance and fuel economy you’ll see. Then they want to get the heat off the back of the turbo, which is the reason for changing to a bigger exhaust system. Those are the four key areas we address.

“By addressing those things, it allows our customers to be able to monitor their truck and provide them with reliability and longevity.

“I would say within the last year we’ve seen more people interested in fuel economy than anything else and that’s because of diesel fuel. They have taken out all the lubricity, and with ultra-low sulfur fuel, everybody’s looking for fuel economy.

“For us, [the towing market] is on a gradual incline from year to year. Our particular target area is ages 40 to 60. We really cater to baby boomers, and for most of them, their kids are grown and through college, and they are ready to live their lives for themselves for a while. Some of them are even selling their houses, and making this a full-time thing for them. They go to Florida, New Mexico or Arizona in the winter and travel back home in the summer. They don’t need a house anymore.

“There are also a lot of farmers in this area with cattle, pigs, horses, the whole nine yards. Where we’re located is the-Tennessee Walking Horse capital of the world, so we deal with a lot of the trainers bringing in their trailers. They are constantly towing, and towing heavy loads, so they are looking for that fuel economy and extra power. For these guys, it’s their work truck so they monitor the engine, they do the intake and exhaust because they want it to last. When it comes down to towing, be it an RV or for agriculture, they’re all looking for the same basic necessities, and that is what they can get for fuel economy and what they can do to protect their truck and keep it on the road as much as possible.

“Our philosophy is performance, reliability and longevity. That is what any person who’s towing is looking for.”

Tom Sams
Vice president

“In our trailer hitch and truck accessory business, we do a lot of business with landscapers. We also work with a lot of dealerships and those in the contracting business with enclosed trailers. There are a lot of goosenecks, too. We even do a lot of exotic cars, high-end cars and SUVs that don’t get used for towing so much as they are for [carrying] bike racks.

“What we find are hot tickets are grille guards and step bars to go with the hitch- safari package, basically. There seems to be a growing number of people coming in for that. As far as SUVs and trucks, they also like spray-on liners. People come in and doll out their whole truck with guards and bumpers.

“There’s been quite a lot of growth in the towing market. What they want nowadays are aluminum ball mounts-lighter mounts with heavier ratings-different ball sizes with Convert-A-Ball or the B&W Tow & Stow receiver hitch. Some people have a variety of trailers, so it works with different ball sizes and different heights, and tucks up under the truck when you’re not using it.

“We also sell Roll-n-Lock and Under-cover tonneaus to those who do a lot of towing. There are a couple reasons why: if they have a fifth wheel, a lot of people want to know how they can cover it or protect it. The covers protect the whole truck bed so they can stow things in there so people don’t steal them.

“We also have headache racks to protect back windows. There are almost no limits to what people do to their vehicles now compared to what they used to do, including hitch baskets and barbecue grills and all kinds of different cosmetic things. Used to be, a ball and a hitch was all you could do-now it’s almost unlimited.

The industry is growing, he says, because, “We’ve noticed people move out of the city. There are a lot more people traveling with campers, or they have an RV that they take when they go camping. They tend to spend more money buying pop-up campers and toy haulers and fifth wheels so they can take everything-the whole family, all their toys. I believe that trend has grown tremendously in the last few years. We do a lot of that kind of work nowadays compared to five years ago. It’s more of a trend now-just getting away versus flying.

“We have had a roller-coaster ride in our business. We find most people will spend more money on recreation than anything. They will even let their bills go just to go on a weekend outing. Is that going to change? I don’t think so. I think it’s more appealing now to people than it was in the past-people will spend the money to get away.

“Our business is growing every year because of it. We are tremendously busy most of the time, and it’s all in the traveling part of it. People tow pop-ups, boats, motorcycles, Jet Skis, whatever. It is the same for me, too-I always have time to go boating or fishing. It’s a release for most people, when they take a weekend trip, get away for a couple of days-enjoy the life that’s out there.

“Fewer people in the older generation are traveling. We’re seeing more people between their 20s and 40s than 30s and 50s. I’ve noticed that a lot. We don’t see the older people coming in as much as we used to. We’re finding that out of most people at RV shows, the older people come to the shows but don’t buy. They just look to see what’s out there.

“People in their 20s to 40s are buying and they’re buying big, not small. A lot of people who buy the big motor homes are retiring. They sell everything, live in the motor home. They don’t have expenses, they just travel.”

H Hitch Pro & Tow
Craig Metzger
Corporate secretary
Eugene, Ore.

“There are a lot of motor home manufacturers here so we do a lot of tow bars and also a lot of standard receiver hitches for travel trailers. The Roadmaster tow bars are real popular, especially in the spring. This time of year we sell a lot of fifth wheel hitches and in a month or two we will really be doing more tow bars and braking systems, including auxiliary brakes for towed vehicles.

“We do have a few contractor accounts, but the majority of our business is recreational. A lot of contractors get a vehicle and drive it for so long-here’s not the turnover that the recreational side seems to have.

“Being close to the manufacturers of the coaches helps us, and we’re just an hour or so away from the mountains. This area is excellent for recreation on both sides-it’s 1 1/2 hours to the mountains, or 45 minutes to the coast.

“We have definitely grown. We’ve been here about seven years and every year we seem to keep growing, at rates of about 20 percent per year, and for the last three years it’s been more than that.

“For the tow bar side, with a motor home pulling a car, that’s definitely an older crowd-for the most part 65 and up. On the fifth wheel side the customers are 45-55, and when it comes to receiver hitches for boats and such it’s definitely a younger crowd, in their 30s and up.

“It just keeps growing. Even with gas prices going up, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. People are willing to take that time to relax and get away, maybe not go as far on a trip as they were before, but definitely to get away and get out.”

H Glenn’s Welding
Mark Ingraham
Vice president
Lynnwood, Wash.

“In our area, we see a lot of recreational [travel trailers and pop-ups], Jet Ski, boat, utility, snowmobile and fifth wheel trailers. We also do a lot of work for contractors repairing, modifying and maintaining their cargo, flatbed and equipment trailers.

“We sell a lot of basic hitch parts like hitches, ball mounts, hitch balls, wiring supplies and adapters. We also do a lot of fifth wheel hitches. We sell a lot of trailer-related stuff like axle parts, brakes, bearings, springs, lights, tie-down rings and trailer repair. We cover the whole gamut. We are a full-service facility-parts sales, installation, repair and maintenance.

“Customers buy a hitch or part and then will come back for maintenance or repair items, or bring the trailer in for service-pretty much anything related to a trailer. Most of our customers are middle- to upper-income and probably in their early 30s, all the way on up into their 80s.

“We don’t sell as many actual trailer hitches as we used to, since so many vehicles come with one now. Nearly any new truck or SUV usually has one installed at the factory. Also, more people are buying small utility trailers just for yard work. They either don’t have a pickup or they have a nice pickup and they don’t want to throw gravel, bark or building materials in the back. They prefer to put that in a trailer.

“With so many new vehicles coming with hitches on them, we see people who aren’t towing. They might want to buy a nice hitch cover, bicycle rack or cargo carrier. There are a lot of accessories that plug into those receivers. So, even the people who don’t have a trailer, if their new vehicle came with a receiver hitch, they are a potential customer.

“The trailer towing market seems to be consistent, if not growing. Overall, it really didn’t seem affected by the gas price increases in the last year or so. The person who’s going to work in his yard or on his home is going to need a utility trailer, and since he’s not towing it across the country, just going to the hardware store, gas prices aren’t really a factor.

“It seems that every week there’s a new place within 10 miles of us where you can buy a trailer. Even the home centers and outdoor stores are selling trailers. Most snowmobile, ATV and motorcycle dealers are selling trailers now. Several of the horse trailer dealerships in our area now also sell a full line of utility trailers.

“There is a lot of need for education of the customer. They need to understand the tow rating of their vehicle and the different types of equipment they may need [besides just a ball and ball mount] to tow what the vehicle manufacturer says the vehicle will tow.”