Rack in the Sales

Dec 3, 2009

Recreational racks give restylers a chance to serve even more customers.

There’s a leak in your showroom. It’s heading right out your door to the local sporting goods store-unless, that is, you sell and install recreational racks.

Take a look in a parking lot or on the freeway-count how many bare roofs there are, compared to roofs with racks, boxes, pods or other cargo attachments. Not only are these cargo carriers handy, they’re considered by some to be a fashion statement.

While many outdoor-minded customers may look first to their local ski or bike shop for recreational racks, there’s no reason restylers can’t provide them with these products.

“Right now, racks are primarily sold in outdoor specialty shops,” says Mike Steck, senior director of marketing at Yakima, Beaverton, Ore. “There’s an opportunity for restyling shops.”

These customers may even return for other products, or opt for something more while they are rack shopping in your showroom.

“People who have SUVs, pickups and vans-those are the same customers who come into a lot of the same accessory shops,” says Ron Storer of Go Rhino! Products/Xtreme Racks, Brea, Calif. “If they need racks to carry a bike or canoe or kayak or whatever, sometimes it’s nice if the customer can get tires and wheels or accessories, and get racks at the same place, and doesn’t have to go shopping everywhere.”

Wide-Open Market

There isn’t any one potential customer who stands out above the others, but a driver’s lifestyle can be a good indicator of his or her potential interest in racks.

“It’s the weekend-type of person who has a pickup truck and plans on going to his cottage on weekends,” says John Snodgrass, national sales manager for ProRac Systems, Minneapolis. “It’s someone who goes fishing, hunting, kayaking, bicycling or skiing. During the week he is using it for work transportation, but then makes a weekend exodus.”

The outdoor sports enthusiast dominates the list of who’s buying, but with new models of cars and SUVs shrinking in size, the range is quite broad.

“With the downsizing of vehicles, more cargo space and cargo management is needed,” says John LaBare, Western regional sales manager for Westin Automotive Products, Irwindale, Calif. “Typically, people will put plastic boxes on racks that enable them to put snow skis or golf clubs inside. I see a great deal of accessories for bicycles, kayaks and more. Racks enable people to carry oversized items so they can enjoy sports and travel. It’s gaining momentum.”

“Honestly, it’s people who are outdoor participants, folks that are biking, boating, skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing,” adds Steck. “It’s all the people with cargo needs, which is a very large audience.”

Not only are drivers buying racks for function, but also for appearance and those are the customers who will find lots to love in a restyler’s shop.

“Another category wants a rack on their vehicle simply because of looks, and they will probably never use the rack for any reason other than aesthetics,” says Dan Epting, president of Perrycraft, Winston-Salem, N.C. “Ten years ago that group was 90 to 92 percent of sales in our estimation. That’s dropped to 80 or 82 percent because the outdoor lifestyle is more prevalent. There are still a lot of vehicles with racks that never get used-they’re purely aesthetic just to dress up the vehicles, especially pickups.”

The range of vehicles is broad as well, ranging from compact cars sporting ski racks to behemoth SUVs with cargo pods on top.

“Basically, it’s any minivan, any SUV whether it’s large like a Suburban or small like a RAV 4. The newer crossover vehicles or almost any vehicle with that type of configuration-with the longer roofline-is a potential candidate for a rack of some kind,” says Epting.

While there are a few regional trends in the market, overall it’s viable nationwide.

“I can tell you different areas have different trends people use things for different reasons,” says Storer. “If you go to the Midwest or back East, hunting is very commonplace, where out in California, they use a rack to go to the beach and take their kayak and surfboards. There’s a wide range of uses for racks.”

While manufacturers say that most products are strong sellers, there are still some trends to note. With the downsizing of vehicles mentioned above, cargo boxes and hitch-mounted carriers are a good bet, they believe.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of cargo box sales as vehicles are starting to be a little smaller,” says Yakima’s Steck. “They’re more fuel efficient, but people still need space for all their things. Even those with larger vehicles put cargo boxes on the roof as well. There’s really a lot of strength in cargo box sales. There’s a lot of growth in [hitch-mounted carriers]. I see a lot of crossover vehicles that are still high enough that people are putting in hitch products like bike carriers.”

Additionally, with pickups as popular as ever, restylers can look into racks that fit on tonneaus or caps, and new truck racks that offer more styling than traditional contractor’s racks.

“Normally a customizing shop will not even handle a frame rack-it’s not something that’s stylish; it doesn’t add to the custom look of a car,” says Jerry Kramer, owner of Kramer Rack Plus, Atlanta. “A guy fixing up his truck with ground effects, nice wheels and stuff doesn’t want to put a [plain] rack on. That’s what we’re aiming for-”a guy with a nice truck who doesn’t want the frame look.”

Reaching Out

Sports-minded drivers often head to the outdoor or sporting goods store for the means to carry their toys, while those seeking more generic cargo management may head to big-box retail outlets.

To avoid hearing, “I wish I’d known you sell that!” when they come in for bug shields or window tint and see racks on display, restylers should make sure their rack offerings are well known.

“The market is pretty big in the sense that there’s people who are involved in outdoor activities-people who camp, backpack, bike, do snow or water sports like paddling or kayaking,” says Steck. “That’s about 160 million people-a big audience to work with. The challenge is how to get individuals to shop outside of the outdoor store.”

For starters, customers need to see the rack.

“I think that having it at the retail location may spark a little flame and a consumer may purchase a rack at that accessory store instead of going to a sporting goods store,” says LaBare. “[Shops] have to display it. Without a display, it doesn’t mean the same thing. Customers like to touch and feel things and see what it’s all about.”

In addition to seeing it, restylers can help customers visualize more possibilities for racks for their SUV, pickup or car.

“If they haven’t had the product before, then what retailers need to do is show how these can be used by a recreational or sports person,” says Kramer. “Show pictures with kayaks and motorcycles and such. A lot of buyers think, ‘I don’t want the frame look’ because it doesn’t work with the sporty look. Powersports enthusiasts don’t normally use racks, but we’re coming out with stylish racks that will even have a camper attachment.”

While traditional advertising methods are certainly the first tools a restyler can utilize, outdoor sports events provide a further opportunity to reach possible rack customers.

“One way is to use traditional means of advertising, but [restylers can] also get out to some of these core events taking place in their area and have a presence, let folks know you can be a resource,” says Steck.

The Pitch

When looking at sporting equipment attachments as well as generic cargo options, racks can be a bit complicated to sell, which means the salesperson should know exactly what a given vehicle needs.

“When someone comes in and asks, ‘Can you put a roof rack on a Caravan?’ before you say yes, you need to know what the right rack is,” says Epting. “The primary question is, ‘What is it going to be used for?’ From that, guide the customer to the proper rack-not the one he likes best aesthetically, but the one that suits his needs better. If I could sit down with every shop one-on-one, that’s what I would tell them-they need to know what it’s going to be used for.”

If a vehicle has factory rails or bars, it’s a matter of selecting the right crossbars and accessories. If its roof is bare, then the customer will need a method of attaching the rails to the roof.

Most customers already know what they need or want.

“The consumer knows when he comes in that he has a bicycle or a kayak that will work on that rack,” says Labare. “The retailer’s job is making sure it’s merchandised correctly and making sure the salesperson has knowledge of how it works not just say, ‘Oh yeah, we got racks,’ but get in-depth on what a rack can do for the customer.”

Despite being a relatively simple item, racks and their accessories have seen a few innovations in recent years, partly due to the increased popularity of outdoor sports, manufacturers say.

“It’s hidden in the construction,” says Perrycraft’s Epting. “The load capability and weight limit has grown over the last 10 years, based on the fact that racks are used more than they were at one time. They used to carry 70-90 pounds, now it’s 120-150 or up to 180 pounds. There’s been a predominant shift in the market [regarding the] load capacity of racks as they get used more. Obviously there’s [also] been styling changes every year or couple of years as they restyle and try to come out with something a little more palatable.”

Sales Boost

When selling recreational racks, restylers might see sales of other accessories increase as well, including ways to make the rack more useful. A customer who may come in seeking a rack could be interested in items he or she hasn’t looked into before.

“There’s the basic rack, then depending on what you want to carry, add that accessory, like a bike rack,” says Storer. “Plus, everybody puts on tires and wheels. There are also running boards or side bars. The rear receiver hitch steps are a great product, so if you need something on top of the vehicle out of the cargo bag, you can step on that and be able to reach it.”

Additional rack accessories beyond the customer’s initial purchase may also boost the restyler’s ticket, either at the time of sale or on further visits later on.

“You get into ski carriers, bike carriers, canoe carriers, a cradle system,” says Perrycraft’s Epting. “Sometimes it’s not a matter of selling a rack and ski carrier or bike carrier; sometimes it’s just the ski carrier or bike carrier. Some shops will turn them away and send the customer to a ski shop or bike shop, but they can service that customer as well and make a profit.”

Rack manufacturers recommend linking additional products that may be of interest to a customer, depending on his or her lifestyle.

“When I’m thinking about racks and cargo management I’m also thinking about devices that slip into the trailer hitch and allow you to carry more, like skis, bicycles or baskets,” says Westin’s LaBare. “Probably if you’re looking at the demographic of the sports enthusiast, a guy would have some type of front-end protection like a grille guard or a bull bar; he also may have running boards or step bars on the side as well.”

Racks may be an additional sale a restyler can make if the customer comes in seeking something else, in fact.

Racks combine function and style, and for a restyler that’s a double bonus. Keep your customers from heading to the sporting goods store for their racks and add that profit to your bank account.