Leather Bound

Jul 25, 2013

Our panel-consisting of professionals from Katzkin Leather, Roadwire, Alea Leather, and Pecca Leather-have agreed to share their personal insights on the latest style trends in leather seating, the top aftermarket product pairings, and how restylers can best maximize their operations in the segment.

Market Glance

The first topic we touch on, of course, is the current state of the market. How exactly has the replacement leather industry been affected in recent months by the improving economy?

Ron Leslie, vice president of restyler sales at Katzkin Leather tells us, “The market is definitely up, but not for any single reason. Increased new-vehicle sales and improved lifespans on used vehicles are certainly impactful. Growing product awareness at the dealer and consumer level is also making a meaningful impact on the increase. And, the restyler network is growing in size and strength, so service is at an all-time high for dealers choosing to make leather upgrades a meaningful part of their profitability plan.”

Chris Lodwick at Alea Leather says, “Leather has been on a steady rise for quite a while now. People are realizing that they can have aftermarket leather installed more economically than it would be to upgrade to a luxury package, and paying for other options they didn’t want or need in the first place.

“Also, with the state of the current economy, a lot of people are holding on to their cars for a few years longer than they normally would. Leather upholstery is a great way to renew that older vehicle.

“Safety is also huge in the market today,” he adds. “These days, almost every vehicle comes with at least side airbags. This is the main reason why Alea has implemented the PFAFF DocuSeam system. Every stitch is being measured by a highly sophisticated computerized system that meets the OEM standard. We take pride in our workmanship and the quality of our interiors, which sets us apart from the other companies out there.”

Dave Edmondson, vice president of Roadwire’s Distinctive Industries division says, “Roadwire has continued to see growth year over year. Two thousand twelve was an amazing year for leather restyling and two thousand thirteen has started off even stronger. The automotive dealership-both new-car and used-see the value of personalization, trim level upgrades, and profit when adding custom and OEM-styled Roadwire leather interiors.”

Bill Leith from Pecca Leather says, “We see growth and opportunity as long as we, as manufacturers, continue to monitor the market and provide quality products that are different from factory options, i.e. different color combinations and styles of leather interiors.

“Factory-match leathers are still a big part of what we do, but we see some restylers doing a good job offering more custom interiors. By adding value for the end buyer, the dealer will sell more cars with higher grosses, which is good for all of us.”

Hot Rides For Cool Leather

What vehicles seem to be the best candidates for leather additions this summer and fall?

“Any vehicle is a great candidate for leather,” says Lodwick of Alea. “We have been getting new 2013-2014 patterns weekly and expect to see a wide variety of vehicles being asked for. The most popular are going to be the new trucks being launched in the summer, especially the new-body Chevy Silverado and Toyota Tundra.

“It seems like it’s going to be a pretty nice summer/fall, so I would expect to see a few more convertible models and some Jeep Wranglers being asked for as well.”

Leslie of Katzkin says, “There really isn’t a bad segment, but the economics really work in consumers’ favor when they selectively add the items they want (like leather) to full-size trucks, SUVs and XUVs. The packages on these vehicles often pack in $7,000-$10,000 in total costs and include many items that are not as valuable to the consumer as the leather seats.”

Leith from Pecca says, “The Ford Focus outsold Toyota Corolla this year. Accord, Grand Cherokee, Altima, Silverado-”these are all great vehicles to target. There are many opportunities with today’s vehicles.We just have to stay in the dealers and see how we can help them sell more vehicles, earning more of their business.”

Fashion Sense

What types of colors, color combinations, patterns, piping, trim, and other design trends should sell well in the replacement leather market this season?

“Roadwire’s new line of affordable Designer Series leather interior kits have taken leather design aspects to a new level,” Edmonson says. “Historically, decorated- or custom-leather kits contained the simple piping and two-tone combinations. With our new sewing technology, Roadwire is able to add elements to seat patterns, which enhance the overall look of the vehicle while providing a new elegant styling. These elements include fine European perforation and options such as contrasting trim, which incorporates different colors of leather inside of channels with contrast stitch colors throughout the kit.”

Dave O’Connell, chief designer at Katzkin, says, “In terms of design, the leather world has dramatically changed in the last decade. While the ownership experience and reward that leather provides is still a fundamental truth, the creative applications of the material continues to evolve. The OE seat designs are much more sculptural than in the previous generation of cars and trucks, but at the same time, carmakers are reducing interior content to save manufacturing costs.

“This is a perfect opportunity to expand the design of leather in ways that we have not done before,” O’Connell adds. “Using piping and stitching to accent dimensional shapes is a growing trend, while moving away from the severe high-contrast, two-tone executions that have been the industry trend for many years. Customers expect to see automotive leather move and progress forward at the same pace as other components.”

Leith notes, “We see a lot more contrast stitching today. Two-tones are still fairly popular. Some of our pre-stocked, two-tone kits are still selling well, also. We are seeing more customers adding more colors and asking us to change up the designs to make these kits unique. The factories are using more synthetic materials and combinations of cloth and vinyl/leather. Some people like them, but we see many customers changing out these interiors with full-leather product.”

Lodwick adds, “I have seen the trends change drastically over just the last few years. Customers are looking for more personalization.

“Because we are seeing more and more new vehicles now coming standard with two-tone or a contrast stitch, things like this just aren’t meeting the customer’s needs for personalization. Whether it is a diamond stitch, Ferrari-inspired inserts, or something as simple as piping, Alea brings a ton of options to choose from for the installer and the customer alike.”

Interior Application

At the restyling installer level, what’s the most common replacement leather upgrades?

“Leather seating is the main item, of course,” Leslie says. “To a much lesser extent on new- and late-model vehicles, some restylers can upgrade steering wheels, shift boots and E-brake handles. The leather interior upgrades done by most restylers include consoles and door panels.”

Lodwick says, “Most of the business is still going to be standard, color factory replacements. Truck leather kits are also a huge seller for us and probably will be for a long, long time. I would say the most installed leather item is by far the Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra in black.”

Package Deal

What are some popular or recommended package deals with leather seat installations?

Edmondson says the most common combination sold by Roadwire is its leather accompanied by seat heaters.

“Signature Sunroofs and Roadwire Leather combinations are also a dealership-proven, revenue generator,” he adds.

Leslie agrees that seat heaters “are almost standard additions for most restylers when doing leather upgrades. The next most popular item is clearly sunroofs. The combination of sunroofs and leather really transform a vehicle into a luxury model for thousands less than most factory packages.”

Lodwick echoes that, “seat covers are probably the most popular package deal that a restyler can offer to a customer with leather. It’s a cost efficient way to spruce up the deal.

“Granted, seat heaters aren’t the most popular everywhere in the country (like Texas for example),” he says. “But now, we have the heaters and coolers, which are starting to get much more popular. DVD headrests and drop-down units are also a great way to create a sort of package deal and with our DVD units, for instance, we wrap the headrests in matching material so it looks like it was all meant to be.”

Refining The Pitch

What’s the best way restylers can promote and sell an interior redo?

Leslie says, “New- and used-vehicle dealerships provide the opportunity to create a repetitive customer for years or even decades. When you’re selling to a dealership, you should focus on the value you’re creating for them and make sure that their sales team is aware of the special value in the upgraded vehicle. By studying the vehicle trim lines, you can create models that are unique for that dealership and drive incremental sales and profits.”

Leith says, “If the restylers will work with the new-car dealers to build relationships and get the dealer to allow them to participate in the dealer’s sales meetings with the sales staff, this is a great opportunity to show the different designs, colors and packages to the salespeople, and help them understand that many car buyers do want to personalize their vehicles.

“It will not hurt to ask the buyer about adding leather and other accessories,” he adds. “I think so many dealers want to push cars over the curb and may be afraid to ask for the sale of accessories, but they leave many dollars on the table by not at least offering the buyer these options.

“Today, buyers can research new-car pricing online, then tell the dealer what they will pay for the vehicle. Aftermarket products allow adding margin to the vehicles and the buyer will have to look very hard to find out dealer cost. It is still a great way for new-car dealers to add margin, and in today’s car business, they need to find ways to utilize aftermarket leather as a great source to generate this additional margin.”

Lodwick says, “There are many ways for a restyler to go about promoting or selling a new interior. First would be resell value. Installing a new leather interior may add a couple thousand dollars to what you are going to be able to get for your vehicle when you’re ready to trade it in or sell it. Especially when you are using high-quality Italian leather like Alea does.

“Another would be what I call the ‘custom effect’ or the ‘warm and fuzzies.’ Especially with the custom interiors, installing a new leather kit is a way for a customer to feel like they are customizing their vehicle and adding their touch to it. If ‘Joe Customer’ buys a new Camaro and decides to do an F1 leather interior, and do a two-tone with some other options, most likely anyone he shows it to will have never seen an interior like that and will be blown away. It’s quite the feeling when your car just stops people in their tracks when they see your custom seats.”

Edmondson says, “A restyler needs to focus on the make and model and how much it costs a customer to move from a base model into a model with leather. What else does the consumer have to purchase in a package, to get into leather? Some models may cost as much as $5,000 more, just because the customer wants the creature comfort of leather.

“These are the focus vehicles that restylers need to be aware of. Roadwire creates tools that assist in educating restylers on trim levels.”