It’s a Jeep (Aftermarket) Thing

Jun 19, 2013

“The Jeep offroad market-especially the Wrangler-has seen steady growth since 1999,” says Ben Martin, a digital strategist for Portland, Ore.-based Bushwacker Inc. “In fact, Jeep set an all-time sales record in 2012 with 701,626 units sold, and continues to carry that momentum into 2013.”

Selling ‘Rugged’

Whether a Jeep owner’s next destination is to an international rally, the beach, a park, or on the road, the versatility of the vehicle makes it easy to outfit with an abundance of product options. Aftermarket sales of Jeep accessories range anywhere between two categories: practical or personal.

“Popular and practical products that our clients buy include under-seat locking storage boxes, soft storage built to withstand the elements, and repair items such as soft tops, grille guards, and door kits,” says Megan Thompson, marketing manager for Broomfield, Colo.-based Bestop. “Personal products would be bumpers, new seats, and lights that a consumer is able to personalize.

“We feature over 1,000 SKUs in our Jeep accessory line to outfit any Jeep owner’s need-personal or practical,” Thompson adds.

Other popular Jeep additions include “lift kits, tires, and sway bars designed to complement the lift kit and provide a better driving experience when getting to the trail,” says David Wheeler, lead designer for Hellwig, located in Visalia, Calif.

“We perfect the aftermarket lineup by offering the only true power convertible top and climate-controlled seating (heated and air conditioned). We use a wide variety of high-quality leather for our seats,” says Mark Graham, marketing director for Roadwire.

Jeep restyling shop owners may rejoice in a common thread found among Jeep owners: once they start customizing, they just can’t seem to stop.

“It seems like owners get ‘the bug’-bumpers, winches, fender flares, tow hardware, and lift kits are all likely candidates,” Graham says. “It all goes to making the vehicle their own.”

A large demographic of owners are DIY-minded.

“Many Jeep patrons like to customize their vehicles with parts and accessories that fit their specific lifestyle,” says Warrior Products owner Tom Richardson. “When it comes to DIYers, we tend to see more of the tradesmen types, such as mechanics and others in ‘hands-on’ professions-they then install these parts and accessories on their own time. The professional-type patrons, such as businessmen and women are usually the ones who have Jeep aftermarket parts installed professionally.”

“Even if the customer isn’t a typical DIY individual, the simplicity of our product line enables them (the options to) give their Jeep instant power, economy, and/or offroad features they require,” says Jim McGinn, sponsorship and event marketing manager for Superchips.

“The avid rock crawler likely will be the only one touching their rig as they may be swapping engines and installing very unique parts. The casual offroader, or Jeep owner wanting to look ‘offroadish,’ will be likely to install many aftermarket parts themselves,” McGinn adds. “You tend to see Jeeps taken to the local 4×4 shops when things like tires, gears, and axles are added.”

Wrangling The Market

The Jeep Wrangler is currently Chrysler’s fifth best-selling vehicle.

“It’s easy to see why – it has no true competitor,” says Martin of Bushwacker. “It’s also in a league of its own with countless 4×4 of the Yearawards, which is why so many enthusiasts flock to it. There are not only a plethora of fun factors involved in the popularity of Jeep, but there are also practical reasons many choose the brand.”

The automotive aftermarket plays a large part in Jeep’s sustained success, he adds.

“From my perspective, Jeep is the last American 4×4 that embraces aftermarket innovation. It is also one of the few modern vehicles that have remained true to the adage of less is more,” Martin says. “Jeep also continues to appeal to do-it-yourselfers because it is still a vehicle that is easy to work on. With a massive aftermarket, an ecstatic community, and little competition, the Jeep Wrangler, specifically, is destined to continue growing.”

Wranger, and the Jeep brand in general, attracts enthusiasts from all walks of life, demographic, and every corner of the world.

“Wrangler used to only appeal to two demographics-either you were young and could (accept) the cramped space and rough ride, or you were older and owned a Jeep as a second vehicle for weekend fun,” says McGinn of Sanford, Fla.-based Superchips.

“We have noticed ages 18-25 make up the younger segment with less disposable income, and the majority is made up of men,” says Richardson of Durnham, Ore.-headquartered Warrior Products. “The older models of Jeep appeal to this segment in the way that they are more of a low-cost option for this type of customer. Some of these models include the TJ (’97-’06), YJ (’87-’96), and the CJ (’45-’86).

“Although Jeep continues to be the vehicle of choice for those adventurers and offroaders, we noticed a demographic shift when the Jeep Wrangler JK was released in 2007,” he adds. “That is when more women and family-oriented consumers began entering the marketplace.”

As Jeep’s demographic expanded to include families taking the offroad adventure, the brand also began gaining an audience of female enthusiasts.

“There are lots of women who have been in the marketplace for quite some time,” McGinn says. “Oftentimes, when talking with customers it becomes abundantly clear that the mom, wife, (or) girlfriend is the ‘CFO’ when it comes to purchase decisions.”

“Previously, single and younger women (ages 21-34) comprised over 50 percent of the two-door Jeep buyers,” says Graham of Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Roadwire.

Forging Trust

If a shop wants to cater to an offroad Jeep demographic, there are a few considerations to keep in mind in order to attract and maintain happy customers, according to industry experts.

“Be authentic, because building a working relationship is much easier when you know where the customer is coming from and when you can speak their language,” says Bushwacker’s Martin. “This builds trust and ultimately long-term business. But with that trust comes the responsibility of providing quality work, and the ability to order parts as needed.”

Earning a customer’s trust should not be taken lightly, and neither should providing superior products and excellent service.

“Customer service is paramount when trying to build a brand, because delighted customers are more likely to become brand advocates,” Martin says. “Advocacy is one of the most powerful forms of marketing, and can only be achieved through superior service. To remember this, I follow three simple rules: Listen to the customer, anticipate their needs, and have a solution.”

Carrying the right products is obviously a significant key to creating a successful Jeep aftermarket shop. But making a concerted effort to assist customers shouldn’t be discounted, according to McGinn of Superchips.

“Value not only comes from a price tag, and corresponding product features and benefits, but a shop’s willingness to go the extra mile,” he says. “When a customer knows they can swing by with a question, or ask for help, and not feel like they are getting charged an arm and a leg to do so, they will likely bring in repeat business and share their positive experience with
their friends.”