This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine.
When selling aftermarket bumpers, the approach is simple—the products work better, look better and offer a touch of personalization over stock options.
Available for the front and rear of a wide variety of off-road, 4×4 and daily-driver trucks and SUVs, aftermarket bumpers can be further customized with winches, LEDs, shackles and other accessories to keep drivers safe and secure at the jobsite or on the trail.
The products are currently very popular, as shown by the number of manufacturers found in the market. Several of them step up with advice and observations to help shops sell and install aftermarket bumpers with confidence.
MAKE YOUR CHOICE
With aftermarket bumpers in high demand, shops will first need to choose their preferred suppliers from a growing number of manufacturers entering the market.
“We’re continuing to see a surge in new brands coming into the industry that are essentially manufacturing products that have small variations to options that are already available,” says Jesse Brown, director of marketing for Magnum. “I would suggest continuing to build on relationships with manufacturers and seek out those who have credibility so you can ensure you’re choosing the right brands for your customers.”
Steinjager Inc. purchased ACE Engineering in 2021 in what Adam Morrow, sales manager/dealer support, calls a “competitive arena.”
“The manufacturing industry has seen raw material costs to manufacture bumpers skyrocket, along with the need to keep increasing labor costs to keep quality manufacturing personnel,” he observes.
As the space continues to evolve, established manufacturers are looking to provide a wider range of choices for consumers, including more affordable options, says Autumn Hauck, director of sales for Fab Fours Inc.
“The evolution of bumpers has vastly changed with the popularity of more eco-friendly and EV platforms,” she says. “We’re seeing more lightweight and tech-compatible options that are also functional without compromising the strength and reliability of the product.”
Application availability and trim level compatibility are key factors to look for, says Nupesh Patel, brand manager for Body Armor 4×4.
“Not every application is treated equally, so things such as grilles, bumpers and bodylines can play a huge part in whether a bumper is going to fit,” he explains. “A little homework and research go a long way, and when in doubt shoot an email or call the manufacturer to get those specs.”
STYLES & SELECTION
As new vehicle styles emerge, today’s aftermarket bumpers continue to receive updates of their own.
“We’ve seen a shift away from the heavy plate steel bumpers that were very popular about five years ago to preferences for lighter-weight, more streamlined designs,” observes Jane Donnelly, marketing director for TrailFX.
New designs mean different areas of focus, says Jason Gauci, vice president of product development for RealTruck.
“While the majority of aftermarket bumpers are pretty straightforward to mount, fog light and sensor relocation are oftentimes overlooked,” he says. “Also, skid plates are often afterthoughts and can sometimes interfere with the bumper.”
When the right choice is made, the products can be an automotive representation of a driver’s personality, lifestyle and fashion sense, Patel believes.
“Through the years, bumpers have evolved from what was once a plain, archaic look prioritizing only functionality to a fashionable statement, but still preserving that functionality,” he says. “With all these factors and still being able to work with the OE sensors, bumpers have come a long way.”
Drivers appreciate those that look good and work well.
“While aesthetics continues to be important, consumers are looking for bumpers that offer improved protection, better off-road performance and greater functionality,” says Hauck. “Aftermarket bumpers are typically heavier-duty and more rugged than standard OEM bumpers, providing greater protection to the vehicle and allowing for the installation of accessories such as winches, lights and other bumper recovery accessories—what we refer to as ‘bumper jewelry.’”
Installations are mostly straightforward, but there are always tips and tricks to make life easier.
“One of the very few challenges we hear about are misaligned bumpers after installation is complete. This is caused by completely torquing down the bumper while installing, leaving no option to adjust the bumper,” says Rick Sanchez, director of sales and marketing for Steelcraft Automotive. “We recommend during installation to lightly tighten down bolts to allow for adjustment. Once it’s fully installed and aligned correctly, you can move forward with torquing everything down.”
WORKS WELL WITH OTHERS
Drivers want the ADAS systems and related electronics found on today’s off-road vehicles to work flawlessly with their new aftermarket bumpers, meaning manufacturers must constantly step up their games.
“As technology advances with newer vehicles, it’s increasingly challenging to engineer aftermarket bumpers to work with all the sensors that come as a stock option. For example, if you have parking assist, adaptive cruise control, etc., our engineers must constantly adapt to design new products that will work seamlessly with all that technology,” Brown explains. “Do your research and make sure that these key elements that are needed for your bumper to be compatible with your vehicle are being met so that you don’t end up with a dissatisfied customer.”
“Compatibility with OE technology like front collision and back-up sensors remains very important.”
Gauci explains some of the manufacturing challenges.
“With ADAS, it’s critical to not interfere with radars, and sensors must be at the same angles as the original design to maintain the same field of view,” he says.
It keeps bumper designers busy.
“We have in-house engineers, so we are quick to implement support for these vehicle technological advancements like adaptive cruise control, cameras, etc.,” says Sanchez.
It can all add up to more homework for shops, Hauck notes.
“The more information you gather on the specific lines you carry, the better the customer experience. We’ve run into jobbers purchasing products that aren’t compatible with certain platforms,” she says. “There are so many different trim packages and variations to those trim packages that it’s important to educate yourself on those trims so you can pick the right products.”
As your shop works to increase aftermarket bumper sales, don’t forget to seek out your top brands for assistance, says Magnum’s Brown.
“Check with your manufacturers to ensure that you have the latest P.O.P. available to help you be successful with their bumpers,” he says. “For example, we have new Interactive QR Code posters that shops can hang in their showrooms and customers can interact with by scanning the QR code to watch a product video that highlights the features and benefits of our bumpers. Let the folks who know their products best help you be successful.”
Manufacturers have many tools to help, says Steelcraft’s Sanchez.
“Get familiar with our website and catalog,” he says. “P.O.P. banners, catalogs and trifolds are available through your local distributor.”
Dealer discount programs and promotional kits featuring catalogs and stands, banners and social media offerings help Steinjager/ACE Engineering connect with shops, says Morrow, offering access “to a great-selling product line that can add new revenue by adding new brand products to their existing offerings.”
Meanwhile, a bumper trend that’s extremely popular right now is including some type of aftermarket illumination.
“Suggest LED lighting options that are compatible with the bumpers that a customer chooses,” says Donnelly. “Not only is it a product sale opportunity, but it can be turned into an installation opportunity as well when the bumpers are going on.”
Custom configurators such as those offered by Interactive Garage allow customers to see what different bumpers will look like on a vehicle before purchase and installation, she adds, noting all TrailFX bumper designs are available to view in the IG database.
A strong selling point is that the products really do work, says RealTruck’s Gauci.
“Sell the durability and features versus an OE bumper—improved protection, recovery mounting points, lights, winch-mount and a more aggressive appearance,” he suggests. “Stock bumpers used to be real bumpers 20 years ago. OEs have now made weight reduction and aerodynamics the priorities in their designs over protection.”
Shops that understand their customer base will be a step ahead, says Hauck from Fab Fours.
“Identify your target market. Create an environment that provides products that meet the needs of those customers. Offering a range of aftermarket bumper options can cater to different preferences and budgets,” she explains. “Good customer service can make all the difference in attracting and retaining customers. Educate yourself on product offerings, including materials, functionality and warranty coverage. Provide a seamless and efficient purchasing process, offer clear and timely communication, and address any concerns or issues promptly.”
Also, upsell opportunities are plentiful, says Patel from Body Armor 4×4.
“Consider the add-on accessories such as winches, D-rings and lights on the bumpers, and further accessorization of the entire vehicle,” he says. “This can lead to repeat business, as most people have more than one vehicle they’d like to accessorize. All these are proven recipes to increase a shop’s business.”