Raise a Rack-et

Nov 3, 2010

Commercial and lifestyle racks support your sales efforts.

A lot of us can remember the good old days when we used to put deck racks on by the truckload. If you were like me, you didn’t even bother measuring them after a while; you got so good, you could eyeball it, drill the holes, screw them down and you were done.

The big problem was they were mostly non-functional. Today, less and less cargo space in vehicles makes cargo management imperative. The lifestyles of many people dictates that they carry around “stuff” and it won’t always fit inside the vehicle. In addition, commercial demands have caused the development of a tremendous amount of rack systems that provide tradesman a myriad of ways to carry equipment, tools and material in an efficient manner.

This all means selling opportunities for the savvy restyler. It can also produce good, strong profit margins as well as residual sales and incremental business. You can make yourself a rack expert by doing some studying, mapping out a plan and learning how to sell just the right products to meet your customer’s needs. So, if before any of you dismiss racks, you need to realize you might be leaving a whole lot of money on the table.

Racks aplenty

For consumer use, the fact that there might already be a rack on the vehicle is no problem whatsoever. Frequently, there are add-ons that can be incorporated to increase the functionality of the rack. In other cases, the vehicle has no rack. Customers who bike, surf, kayak, canoe, ski, snowboard – you name it – are in need of a high-quality, functional, load carrying system that can accommodate their needs. In addition, it can look good, have flexibility and withstand years of use while providing a means to add additional features as needs develop.

For commercial applications, there are rack systems to fit vans and pickups. In the case of pickups, adding a system that extends over the cab allows for transporting longer building material, ladders and other equipment that otherwise would be hanging off the end of the bed.

So, what types of products are available? How can customers be stepped through the process to obtaining the right product for their needs? What is the difference between a static rack and an adjustable one? What accessories and add-ons should be stocked by a retailer? Knowing this information will help you position yourself as the expert in your market.

Who better to ask about products than manufacturers? We talked with Dan Epting, general manager of Perrycraft, Winston-Salem, N.C., who has been marketing an array of rack products for consumers for decades. Joining also is Alan Kuehl of Minneapolis-based Hauler/Pro-Rac. Hauler/Pro-Rac has applications for both consumer and commercial applications.

Karl Stearns: What types of products are available and what are their purposes?

Dan Epting: Essentially there are three basic types of roof racks: OEM, aftermarket/enthusiast and commercial. Depending on the load rating, in some cases an OEM rack can be up-fitted with attachments to accommodate carrying various sports equipment such as bikes, skis, kayaks, canoes, etc. Many aftermarket rack systems, such as our SportQuest system, are designed specifically for using those type attachments to carry such items. Other racks such as our Aventura and DynaSport racks provide a lighter duty load rating suitable for carrying luggage, duffel bags, etc, while providing more of an OEM look.

Commercial racks are typically designed for carrying heavier items on a daily basis such as multiple long ladders, lumber, pipe, etc., and are usually designed for installation on full-size vans, pickups and small delivery type vans which are used primarily by professional tradesman.

One of our biggest sellers is “roof rails”…basically side rails only without standard crossbars, in either the Aventura series or the DynaSport series. Our MB Gripper add-on heavy-duty load bars can be quickly attached to the permanently installed accent roof rails in five minutes or less, thereby providing load carrying ability when needed of up to 220 lbs. When load-carrying capability is not needed, the Gripper bars can be quickly removed to get back to the clean look of only accent roof rails for everyday driving.

In addition to roof racks, there are racks designed to fit into receiver hitches to carry skis, bikes, as well as those having a small load platform for carrying coolers, boxes, luggage, etc.

All our racks and/or roof rails can be installed on fiberglass truck caps/tonneau covers using a supplemental hardware kit designed specifically for installing them on fiberglass or composite plastic type surfaces.

Alan Kuehl: There are many racks available for various uses. There are commercial full-size truck racks that cantilever over the cab for carrying almost anything from construction items such as ladders, lumber, and pipe to lifestyle uses like boats and canoes. There are more affordable side ladder racks available for those that will only be carrying one or two ladders. This type of rack also works well for carrying a kayak and surf boards. There are also racks that fall between the two aforementioned categories. These consist of uprights and crossbars in the front and rear of the truck bed. These racks will carry ladders and ridged items. There isn’t any support over the cab with this type of rack so items that will bounce when driving cannot be carried or extended over the cab.

There are racks which help protect the back window of a truck from shifting items. There are similar accessories available for use on existing full-size racks, too. Most cap racks are a two-bar system with various weight capacities. You can carry ladders, boats, kayaks, bikes, and anything that is ridged and does not exceed the weight capacity of the rack and cap.

Van racks come mainly in two and three crossbar configurations, but extra crossbars are always available.

The common items carried are ladders, lumber, and miscellaneous items used for construction or for utility purposes. Full-size van racks are also available that include additional crossbars and side rails. These are used for carrying heavier items and items that are not ridged such as PVC pipe. Then you have your lifestyle cargo racks for cars, SUVs, and trucks. These racks are usually used to carry travel pods, bikes, kayaks, and other lifestyle items. In addition to roof-mounted racks, there are hitch-mount racks available. Hitch-mounted racks are mainly used to carry bicycles but some can carry skis and snow boards. These typically slide into the receiver hitch.

KS: How should a rack seller/installer help the customer choose the right rack; that is, what questions need to be asked/answered?

Kuehl: You should ask what vehicle the rack is going on, followed by, What do you plan to carry on it? Also, you would want to ask them what they feel would be the maximum weight they would ever put on the rack. You need this information to start directing them towards some options.
Some additional questions would be to find out if they plan on using it for commercial use and lifestyle/recreational purposes. This helps in selling them a rack that will work for multiple purposes along with showing them additional accessories.

Epting: What type items or loads will be carried on the rack? What is the vehicle involved? Is it a work vehicle, or family vehicle? Without ascertaining this specific information upfront a retailer is operating “blind” and can end up in a bad situation if the incorrect type rack is sold/installed on a vehicle relative to the intended use of the rack. Contrary to how many shop salespeople and consumers approach the situation, the “appearance” of the roof rack has to be a secondary factor relative to choosing the correct rack since the intended use of the rack is always the primary issue that must be taken into consideration when advising the customer on which rack will best suit his needs.

KS: When is an adjustable rack beneficial, as opposed to a static one?

Epting: In most cases, a static rack (non-adjustable crossbars) will be recommended when the items being carried are pretty much the same from day to day. For instance, a contractor having a work van who is carrying ladders everyday is rarely going to need to adjust the spacing between the crossbars since his load on the rack is consistently the same length. On the other hand, a consumer who will be using the roof rack for multiple functions such carrying a bicycle or two, then later perhaps carrying skis, kayaks, etc., will need the capability of multi-positioning crossbars to provide the needed spacing between the rack crossbars to accommodate the varying lengths of those different type items.

Kuehl: Adjustable or universal racks are beneficial to both the seller and the buyer. Once the consumer decides they need a rack they need it in a timely manner to carry something. By having universal racks in stock, the seller can make the immediate sale and install the rack. Another advantage is the customer can, in most cases, move the rack from one vehicle to another easier than a static rack. There are also removable racks that allow the customer to remove it when they don’t want the rack on their vehicle. Sometimes they need to remove a rack so their vehicle can fit into their garage.

KS: What rack accessories likely should be carried/offered by installers?

Kuehl: There are many accessories that should be available to the customer. Just to name a few would be tie-downs or straps, load secure posts, headache accessory for truck racks, utility and multipurpose hooks, bike carriers, ski carriers, kayak carriers, and pods. The more you have available for your customer the more likely they will purchase everything from you.

Epting: Relative to a retailer “stocking” rack accessories, we typically recommend they stock a universal bike carrier that will work on multiple crossbar types and the same for a universal type ski carrier.

As to what they should “offer,” if the proper questions are asked initially toward determining the correct type rack system to use (see the question above regarding choosing the right rack), the answers to those questions typically will provide opportunities for add-on sales. For instance if bicycles are the intended items to be carried, does the consumer already have bike carrier attachment(s)? The same would hold true for skis, canoes, kayaks, etc.

If the rack is going to be installed on a work van/truck, the customer likely could us load stabilizer supports that attach to the crossbars on either side of the item being carried to help keep the item(s) more secure when under way?

So, the bottom line is making sure what goes on top is the best choice for your customer. Approaching this market category in this manner will help you understand the wide array of products and applications available for your customers. This opens up an enormous opportunity to be the “go-to” guy or gal when it comes to cargo management products such as