Change is constant.
The automotive world has epitomized this maxim throughout its existence. Restylers reflect this via an ever-evolving array of accessories and services that we make available to our customers.
Sometimes change is a result of new technologies that generate new applications or improve on existing accessories. Sometimes change stems from legislation.
Change can be consumer driven – tastes and trends constantly appear and retreat.
Change also may be driven by seasons. Seasonality generally refers to calendar and climate, but anyone in the accessory world also recognizes “buying seasons” that correspond to driving habits and automotive manufacturers model releases. As summer fades into fall we took the time to speak with individuals throughout the restyling world about seasonal products and services, with a focus on fall and winter.
Seasonality’s influence on accessory sales is by no means consistent; regional differences as well as functionality are major factors affecting a particular accessory. But a season’s relationship to the weather and to major holidays drives restyling shops to make appropriately paired accessories and services available.
“For us, seasonal products fill niche markets” says Wade Hopfauf, owner of Finish Line Truck and Auto Accessories in Bismarck, N.D. “People have a problem or need a product at specific times for specific tasks, and we’re here to help them and fill their need.
“Snowplows are one of those items that are definitely seasonal; if you don’t have snow, you don’t sell snowplows. In the last few years we’ve sold a couple of plows a year; then last year we sold more snowplows than ever before, which was great for us. During the season we stock a couple of plows. Although seasonal and weather-dependent, they are also impulse purchase items. If there’s a big snow and a customer is in the shop and sees a snowplow, it sells itself.
“We also sell a lot of bed covers year round, but we see spikes in sales when there’s a big snow or lots of rain.”
Greg Bolin, owner of Truck Stuff Inc. in Wichita, Kan., views seasonal products as a key to his shop’s success. “Having seasonal items makes us more of a one-stop shop for full accessory needs. We stock a larger inventory than most of our competitors, which means customers don’t have to order the product and come back a second time since we’ve got what they need ready to go.”
“Floor mats and cargo mats,” Bolin continues, “tend to have a little surge as we get into the fall and wetter weather. We see about a 20% increase during the winter, but this product is a great seller for us year round. The functionality of mats contributes greatly to their seasonal appeal. Over time we have seen that floor mats have greater appeal in the wetter weather so we promote them more aggressively in the fall. Husky Liners is one of our better sellers due to their high quality – and it doesn’t hurt that they are 40 minutes down the road here in Wichita.
“Also, as we head into the fall we see a pickup in lighting products as the days get shorter. Grille guards become hot sellers, too; this is because the wildlife, particularly deer, become more active during their fall mating season – we see a 35% increase in both these product lines.” And who says sex doesn’t sell?
Holidays, particularly Christmas, can have substantial effects on a product’s retail sales volume. Trey Owen, general manager of Earl Owen Co. in Dallas, notes that while regional weather doesn’t necessitate floor or cargo mats, “There is a spike in mat sales at Christmas time as they’re a pretty easy accessory to give as a present.”
Other seasonal factors contribute to accessory sales, as well, Owen adds: “We try to target anything that has to do with hunting in the fall season. Towing products season seems to be the spring and early summer months when everyone is traveling.”
On the topic of navigation systems, Adam Bernardino, the “12-Volt Guy” at Classic Designs in West Bridgewater, Mass., says that at Christmas “we promote the portable nav systems because we know that people are shopping for an easy-to-give gift. The heaviest times for these products are right before and after the Thanksgiving holiday.”
When it comes to remote starts, Bernardino says they are “the biggest seasonal item that I see at our shop on the retail level, mainly because of weather. In the winter they are such an easy sell as you ask a customer, ‘Hey it’s cold out; do you want a remote start?'”
Many restylers report seasonal spikes at other times of the year. Kyle Blake, president of Coach Automotive Restyling, Portland, Ore., elaborates with his perspective.
“The first thing that comes to my mind when you talk seasonal is seat heaters and sunroofs,” says Blake. “Climate obviously is a factor in the seasonality of products or even the need for specific products. I try to make all of my products non-seasonal so that we can be consistent in sales throughout the year.”
“I like the increased revenue that accompanies seasonal products. On the wholesale end, car selling season picks up in the spring and you hope it goes all the way to Thanksgiving. We are seeing some peaks and valleys in the selling season as a result of the economy.”
Our restylers report a variety of approaches to seasonal product promotion. Hopfauf explains a straightforward seasonal promotional opportunity to capitalize on: snow. “When there’s snow on the ground we have snowplows mounted on our company trucks with a large company logo on the plow blade. People see them and the logo, and it really draws them in. In transportation mode, you’ve got this big billboard on the front of the truck, so you might as well put your logo on it.”
Continuing in this vein, Stephen Sverdahl, owner of Swerksound Auto Electric in Sylvan Lake, Alb., reports “Seat heaters sell year round for us, but definitely they sell a bit more in the winter. As we come into fall and during the winter months I will put the seat heaters and remote starters on special. We definitely push these items more than anything else we’re doing. I’m not hugely discounting products, maybe 10%-15% on a base heater or starter.”
In addition to obvious fall and winter weather-related promotions, accessories appeal for alternate seasons, safety factors and pairings with related products. Dan Buchanan, president of Coach Automotive Restyling in Union City, Calif., expands: “Sunroofs are probably the only seasonal item that we sell. Backup cameras have become a fairly substantial marketplace for us. We install a lot of cameras in conjunction with navigation units. Backup camera systems are a self-promoting product. People are very safety conscious about kids and vehicles, and the cameras are very effective at improving safety in situations where kids and vehicles interact.”
“Also, with vehicles like large SUVs, the cameras can save a driver from backing into a pole or object that even at 5 mph can do expensive damage to a vehicle. It’s a safety factor mainly. Rostra’s backup camera sales literature even shows a small child on a tricycle behind a vehicle.”
“12 Volt Guy” Bernardino explains his shop’s promotion methods: “We have a billboard out front of our shop, we use a little bit of newspaper advertising and for our expediting work we go heavy with fliers to our dealers. Remote starts are price-driven products, so we stay competitive in the marketplace; but we’ve been in business for 24 years, so people know our name and know we’re here.”
Restylers consistently emphasize the importance of sales staff to connect wholesale and retail clients to accessories.
“We have a couple of dedicated salespeople who handle our wholesale sales and marketing, calling on existing dealer clients and generating fresh accounts,” explains Bolin. “They emphasize our seasonal products when calling on dealers. With retail, we promote seasonal items a little stronger with our television and radio ads.”
Another effective promotional method is to pair or group accessories for the client. Coach Automotive’s Blake explains: “A lot of times you’re doing multiple products: Leather is a huge tie-in with seat heaters. It becomes a mentality almost like adding an order of fries with your hamburger. From a monetary standpoint, there’s duplicate labor when you’re doing a leather interior and seat heaters; there’s a monetary advantage to the dealer or customer to get both done at the same time.”
For shops that feature retail and wholesale clients, seasonal spikes in sales bring in revenue otherwise not realized. Expediter work bucks the seasonal trend somewhat, but restylers report that this isn’t a bad thing. As seasonality poses inventory and promotions challenges, non-seasonality at dealership clients has its own challenges.
“You have to have a sales force that trains your dealerships to impress upon customers not to buy products based on the current season,” says Blake.
He prefers an incentive for dealerships with pairings and groupings of products in pre-loaded showroom vehicles over an actual price discount on products that may not be in as great a demand at certain times of the year.
He adds that “with dealerships, pricing consistency is important. Our only retail is referral business from our dealerships.”
Blake says that existing car owners will be directed to his store for accessories not installed at the time of purchase, and “that is another avenue of our relationship with the car dealerships.”
Expediters and their dealers
Buchanan notes the circumstances surrounding wholesale clientele: “As an expediter with no retail sales at all, backup cameras are not a seasonal item. Any aftermarket item can be a good gift during the holidays, so a little rush in backup camera sales is consistent with other accessory sales increases at Christmas.”
“Normally our backup camera sales are not on pre-loads at dealerships. In fact, the only accessory that we do pre-load is a navigation system. Sixty-five percent of our buyers are family people and 85% of those sales occur during the sale of the vehicle at the dealership. We’ve also found that camera and sensors are immune from the economic conditions because it is such a safety issue.”
Entirely different buying habits are represented in the expediter/dealership relationship. Says Sverdahl, “On a wholesale level you’re looking at trying to move a car that the dealership has on the lot so the customer doesn’t have to wait for a special-order vehicle. When you’re expediting, customers tend to be putting the accessory into their payments. They’re willing to spend the money at that time because they’re only seeing five or 10 bucks a month, if that, rather than an out-of-pocket cost $600 or $700.”
In speaking with restylers on the wholesale and retail level, many things are clear about seasonal products. Buyer demographics are extremely broad, reflecting the general accessory market as a whole. Profit margins are reported to be consistent or slightly higher than non-seasonal items. And in all but extreme cases these accessories are year-round sellers with welcome spikes in volume.
Promoting seasonal products in and out of their respective seasons results in good payoff for the restyler who keeps an eye on trends and accessory function.
Let it rain, snow or shine bright – there’s an accessory for every season and every vehicle.