Heightened Awareness: Lifts & Leveling Kits
Help customers rise above the crowd.
This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine.
Whether they’re planning to tackle the toughest trails or simply want to look good while driving around town, truck and SUV owners continue to enthusiastically support the lifts and leveling kits market.
Offering sophisticated designs to match today’s high-tech vehicle innovations, lift and leveling systems and accessories are available for everyone from the highest riders to those seeking a simple, safe solution for their towing and hauling needs.
As evidenced by the number of suppliers interviewed for this article, the market is crowded and competitive, meaning there’s a lot to learn to stay ahead of the curve. Here are some tips and trends for shop owners seeking a heightened awareness of a product line that continues to stand tall.
Long a staple in the off-road community, today’s lift and leveling kits must keep pace with the latest OEM advancements.
“Innovations to OE vehicle technology—sensors, active dampers and safety equipment—continue to have a huge impact on the suspension aftermarket. The old days of throwing on a set of taller springs and shocks have become much more technical and precise,” notes Carter Reed, PR specialist for BDS Suspension. “While 2-, 4- and 6-inch, and in some cases even taller, lift kits are being requested, the electronics on modern vehicles designed for safety and comfort introduce new challenges for engineers. Government standards like FMVSS No.126 raise the bar and set higher standards for how vehicles (stock and aftermarket) must perform.”
Suspension systems are therefore naturally evolving, says Mark Krumme, Eibach’s head of marketing, North America.
“The leaf-sprung trucks that we know and love are now being replaced with high-travel rear coil springs. This opens up an opportunity to offer customers multiple variations of coil spring solutions,” he says. “(Shops can offer) leveling springs for the front of the vehicle, lift for all four corners, and even HD (heavy-duty) springs for those who are loaded down with gear or (are facing) extra tongue weight towing toy haulers and trailers.”
A comfortable ride is important to today’s enthusiasts, making it a priority for vehicle manufacturers, says Tom Bateman, director of marketing for SuperSprings International.
“Particularly as it relates to leveling kits, trucks are getting softer and softer in their suspensions, which is awesome for ride comfort, but it exacerbates the sagging and body roll on the truck when you load up and tow,” he says. “There’s a heightened need for a kit that solves for the leveling and at the same time solves for the rear end sag and roll.”
The changes are affecting the business approach of lift and leveling kit suppliers, says Mitch Kistner, director of marketing – DPI Off-Road Brands, for ToyTec Lifts.
“As new vehicles continue to incorporate more advanced technology, especially in terms of suspension, it presents both challenges and exciting opportunities for us to enhance their performance even further,” he says.
Along with the vehicle trends, aftermarket lifts and leveling kits also need to match changing consumer preferences, adds Andrew Hodgson, sales and marketing director for Timbren Industries.
“Families getting into the RV lifestyle and looking to turn their daily driver into a tow vehicle are a huge factor in the market,” he notes. “They need products that deliver on safety and provide a maintenance-free, zero-upkeep solution to keep their travels fun and avoid the repair bay. They want simple products that deliver.”
Unsurprisingly, the economy can also play a factor.
“With the recent increase in gas prices, we’ve noticed a surge in sales for leveling kits and smaller 3- and 4-inch lift kits, as opposed to our larger 6-inch lifts,” says Troy Davis, national sales manager – DPI Off-Road Brands, for Tuff Country Suspension. “This is likely due to the fact that bigger lifts, paired with bigger tires, can result in lower fuel economy and a larger bill at the pump.”
Asked about the outside factors most affecting the market, Dan Tourino, vice president of Carli Suspension, identifies “increased fuel and vehicle costs.”
GIVE IT ALL
With the amount of information available to consumers regarding lift and leveling products, the upgrades shops sell and install need to deliver performance and ride quality.
“The best thing an aftermarket manufacturer can do is put out honest content on its products and offer value for the products being sold,” says Mike Hallmark, marketing manager and international sales manager for Hellwig Suspension Products. “If your products perform as well as advertised, then the sales will follow. Value is key when offering any type of performance product.”
Much of that information is being shared among like-minded enthusiasts, says Mike Morris, general manager of Superlift/RealTruck.
“This isn’t just about looks anymore; it’s a lifestyle,” he says. “There are hundreds of social media groups you can join, and there are truck, Jeep and off-road clubs in most towns for people to join and show off their rides. It’s a social outlet for a lot of truck and Jeep owners.”
Another positive trend is that product availability remains relatively high, says Ed Donovan, category manager for Quadratec.
“We are still seeing some supply chain issues from manufacturers, whether they are waiting on supplies or simply playing catch-up,” he says. “The good news is things are getting better. It’s just a matter of time.”
Many consumers choose to have professionals put these systems in for them, making a trouble-free installation an important feature, says Hodgson.
“For shops that install the product, our kit can be done in less than 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time to get to more jobs while making good margins on the installation,” he says.
Davis has also spotted this trend.
“One of the best features of our lift and leveling kits is ease of installation. This means that you won’t have to struggle with fitment issues, and it can save you money on labor charges.”
Partnerships and pre-selected packages featuring products that work well together can be of great value to suppliers and shops, notes Dave Schlossberg, president/CEO of Synergy Manufacturing, noting his company has brought together a quality, consistent spring manufacturer and a reputable shock supplier.
“Fortunately, we are able to deliver both of those things,” he says.
While new vehicles are impressive, recent factors have affected some consumers’ ability to drive one home.
“The lack of light truck and SUV production from automotive manufacturers has impacted dealership and new vehicle accessory sales and has been further exacerbated by the rise of inflation and gas prices,” says Kistner. “However, we view this as an opportunity to increase sales of legacy lift kits for popular applications. With increased inflation, consumers are choosing to further upfit their existing vehicles rather than purchase new.”
WHAT’S ON THE MENU
A big benefit for shops is that customers seldom come in looking solely for a lift or leveling product, allowing for package and add-on sales.
“Once the lift is installed, there is the opportunity to sell the customer larger tires, new wheels, upgraded brakes and upgraded sway bars,” Hallmark explains. “When you lift a vehicle you change its center of gravity, which directly relates to how much body roll the vehicle will experience when turning. A performance sway bar is a great way to enhance control, comfort and driver confidence.”
Other popular add-ons include steps, running boards, mud flaps and fender flares, says Donovan.
“When a customer is interested in these items, then this is the perfect time to really get them excited about the look of their vehicle and all the changes they can make,” he explains.
Tourino advises shops to take advantage of “the ability to sell ancillary parts to complete the customer’s vision for the build that began with a simple height alteration. Think wheels, tires, lighting, bumpers, winch, etc.”
Among them, wheel and tire options, in particular, are driving the market, says Morris.
“The number of wheel sizes, colors and styles available in today’s market is at an all-time high,” he says. “A lot of wheels require a lift for clearance—especially the wider, heavy offset options. Aftermarket tires and wheels, combined with the appropriate lift kit, drastically change the appearance of the vehicle.”
And with wheels and tires, along with suspension enhancements, come alignments, adds Krumme.
“One consideration is an upgrade to alignment hardware. Though our lifts are designed to work in conjunction with factory control arms and hardware, customers may still want some additional adjustment capabilities to allow room for those larger tire configurations,” he says. “The ability to adjust caster angles helps to better center oversized tires in the wheel well.”
Schlossberg recommends this type of comprehensive approach that includes consideration of the lift, wheels and tires all in the same package.
“If you have good, talented salespeople working the counter, closing these upsells should be easy,” he predicts. “Another thing that is becoming very popular with these sales is warranties using third-party companies like Extend. Any shop not offering this service should be looking into it immediately.”
Customers come to trust businesses that steer them in the right direction from the beginning, Bateman observes.
“When a shop sells and installs leveling kits, it’s likely that it’s establishing a relationship very early on with the truck owner and has the opportunity to serve the customer for the whole build—lights, steps, racks, you name it,” he says.” In addition, if the shop can educate the customer on the negative effects of a front-end lift on rear end sag and then be the one to recommend, sell and install the airbag alternative from SSI, they become a trusted partner.”
Unsure of the perfect package for a customer’s specific needs? Look to your suppliers for help.
“BDS and FOX take pride in building lift and leveling kits that are ready to install right out of the box,” says Reed. “Shocks/coil-overs come pre-tuned and preset for the right ride height, so there’s no need to make adjustments. Hard parts are prepped, and hardware packs come labeled to ease with installation.”
Producers and suppliers continue to flood the lifts and leveling kits marketplace. Hellwig’s Hallmark, for one, sees it as a positive trend.
“We are excited about the opportunities the new lift and level kits offer,” he says. “With more manufacturers offering more products, the competition is getting fierce. This means new, innovative ways to lift and level a vehicle.”
It enables a real-life opportunity to move the industry and the products forward, says Morris from Superlift.
“It’s constantly evolving. The days of the OEMs keeping a chassis the same for 10 years are over. We don’t get complacent. The more change that happens, the more knowledge we gain.”
Davis believes Tuff Country is also up to the task.
“With new options and everchanging body styles coming from the factory, we relish the challenge of designing and building products that allow our customers to upgrade and customize their vehicles,” he says.
Advancements on all fronts will continue, predicts Quadratec’s Donovan.
“The technology that goes into lift and leveling kits is really incredible and will only get better over the next few years,” he says. “From shocks where you can electronically change the damping by either using a controller mounted inside the vehicle or having adjustments made automatically with an ECU, to stronger springs, control arms and steering components, the future of lift kits will be defined by just how far engineers are willing to push the envelope.”
High riding means high tech, agrees Carli’s Tourino.
“The automotive aftermarket is getting smarter as the OEMs develop more sophisticated vehicles. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined a system like our E-Venture. The future will only see more tech.”
Different choices will always appeal to different customers, says Hodgson from Timbren.
“More and more consumers are turning from traditional helper spring methods to the set-it-and-forget-it alternatives,” he observes.
Schlossberg from Synergy Manufacturing notes that delivering a quality, reliable lift package to an enthusiast can lead to repeat sales.
“It’s a doorway for customers to come in and see all of the other products our company manufactures,” he says. “Getting a customer stoked on a leveling kit or suspension system will hopefully make them look at our other product offerings, like our heavy-duty steering kits and components.”
Meanwhile, carmakers are doing their part to continue producing exciting vehicles, notes Eibach’s Krumme.
“The technological advancements happening in the truck, SUV and CUV markets are amazing. Vehicles are now equipped with damper and suspension technology that was only seen on race vehicles a short time ago,” he says. “The OEMs are pumping out some very capable vehicles from the factory—that said, there is always room left on the table for improvement.”
And enthusiasts remain, well, enthusiastic.
“It’s a huge market that isn’t going anywhere,” says Bateman from SuperSprings, “and it’s a fun market. Big, lifted trucks are fun.”
As such, opportunities for growth in the market remain, says Reed from BDS/FOX.
“We’re excited for the challenge of innovating and continuing to bring modern solutions to future 4×4 vehicles to enhance on- and off-road capability, while helping owners stand out from the crowd and get the most out of their trucks.”