New Jersey may not seem like a potential hotbed for the booming overlanding market, but the Garden State is crawling with Jeeps, trucks and SUVs outfitted with the latest gear to tackle and tame even the harshest terrain.
Overlanding-which combines the adventures of off-roading with camping, hunting and fishing-has grown in such fervent popularity during the past decade that 4×4 shops across the nation have been challenged to tap into the trend by adding the most unique items available to satisfy their wilderness-loving customers.
“We always called it off-roading and camping” said Jim Oostdyk, president of OK Auto, 4WD & Tire (OK4WD) in the rural town of Stewartsville, New Jersey. “It’s basically being able to live out of your vehicle. The thing I love most about having a four-wheel-drive is that you can go anywhere and get away from people. Camping is something that I always wanted to do with my family, so we certainly embraced overlanding when it became something bigger.”
For those who think of New Jersey as a suburb of New York City, they might be surprised to learn that most of the state is covered by wooded mountains and wild territory. In other words, it’s an off-roader’s paradise.
“When people come here, they are surprised to find that we are the most rural four-wheel-drive shop they’ve ever been to,” Oostdyk said. “We’re in farmland in the middle of nowhere, but there’s also a lot of money here being close to New York and Philadelphia.”
Combining his desire to travel with a need to research overlanding products, Oostdyk was able to discover a world full of ideas for products to bring into his New Jersey shop. Whenever possible, he would take his three children-now in their 20s-around the world on charitable mission work, traveling to remote areas in Haiti, Africa, Mexico and Peru. These trips helped him realize that in most areas overlanding is not just a trend, but a way of life.
“I’ve been to some pretty remote places and found that everybody needs a four-wheel-drive no matter where you go,” he said. “Even in the poorest countries there’s four-wheel-drive (vehicles) because people need transportation, they need to get through roads that are washed out or whatever. You get see how people utilize them and you get ideas and say hey we can use that here.”
The overlanding product range spans everything from simple items like camp stoves, tables and portable refrigerators/freezers, to pop-up truck campers with pressurized showers and comfortable beds, all designed to fit neatly onto the back or roof of a 4×4 rig and be taken on the trail. Fully-outfitted rigs can range from $10,000 to well over a $1 million for a hard-shell, luxury SUV.
With a healthy economy providing more disposable income and access to credit, overlanding is gaining traction despite elevated costs. According to a survey at the 2017 Overland Expo West, nearly 60 percent of attendees reported an individual annual income greater than $80,000, and almost 30 percent said their income was more than $150,000. The trend is not slowing down, with the 2018 Expo reporting a 17-percent increase in visitors and 30-percent jump in the number of exhibitors showing off tricked-out overlanding rigs.
To help market these overlanding items locally, Oostdyk’s shop hosts several events designed to get customers out for weekend trail rides in groups of like-minded adventurers. For the past 30 years, he has hosted a special Oktoberfest charity event on the shop’s 3 acres of woodland that includes a truck show showcasing 250 rigs, music, games, and vendor booths.
“There’s a lot of four-wheel-drives in this area,” he said. “With the weather that we get in the winter people are always going to have them so that helps. There’s also a lot of people here who love to use a four-wheel-drive to just get away. So, the market is all over the place.”
Whatever motivates the customer, Oostdyk’s OK4WD shop exists to serve. The 24,000-square foot facility sitting on 3 acres of woodland is surrounded by a park. In the back is a rock pile off-road course used to help educate customers about the nuances of off-road driving.
“A lot of people who own a four-wheel-drive don’t know how to use it,” he said. “We will take them out to the rock pile and give them some pointers. It’s a little course and you could take different lines and angles. It gives people a really good sensation when they are going up and they can’t see over the hood.
“I’ll bet you that 50 percent of people who own a Rubicon don’t understand all the things that a Rubicon has,” he added. “There are so many people that don’t understand or are too afraid to ask, so a little one-on-one training by taking them out there and showing them how to do things is really appreciated.”
Oostdyk, a self-described tread lightly guy, is proud of the fact that his facility is powered by a full array of rooftop solar panels.
“I’m not a tree hugger,” he said, “But I’d like to keep the planet for future generations. We’ve always tried to run our business very clean with as little waste as possible.”
The solar power not only results in lower electrical cost but allows him to keep the shop air conditioned in the hot and humid summer months.
“We are net-zero with electric and the real beauty of it is that we can air-condition our shop for our technicians,” he said. “It’s tough working in the hot summers that we have here. If we could do that without having electric bill or producing any extra carbon emissions, and have our air-conditioned shop, it’s a win-win. We even have a battery backup system, too, so if we do lose power we can still function as long as the sun’s out.”
The newest part of the Oostdyk’s OK4WD business is also the most challenging: online orders.
“That was a difficult segment to get into,” he said. “We have developed a decent website. Then you’ve got to stock a lot of parts and have a good warehouse and logistics system to move parts to get them out to our customers. It’s been hard but that’s been our biggest growth in the last couple of years.”
Whether it be overland or through the air, this shop in rural New Jersey is clearly blazing a trail in the rapidly evolving world of aftermarket accessories.