Selling Hard Tonneaus

Dec 3, 2009

Retailers say listening is the key, so you can offer customers the right cover to fit their specific needs.

Retailers across the country say the market for hard tonneau covers is as strong as ever. With trucks becoming the family wagon as well as a workhorse, and manufacturers’ documented gas mileage savings, tonneaus of all types make sense to a wide array of consumers.

Keeping luggage, sports equipment and other cargo secure, clean and dry can be a great selling point to the truck owner, and unsteady gas prices make any mileage increases a big bonus. And, of course, there’s always looks; today’s truck owner wants style and functionality combined.

New models of tonneaus give more options in those categories than ever before.

Truck shop owners say the key to selling tonneaus is information, which goes both ways. Making sure the customer knows how a product works, its strengths as well as its weaknesses creates a happy buyer who may return for more accessories.

At the same time, asking about customers’ lifestyles, hobbies and how they plan to use their pickup helps salespeople guide them to the tonneau that best suits their needs.

Mark Benda
Store Manager
Custom Truck
Sacramento, Calif.

“The market for tonneaus is as hot as it’s ever been. Ten years ago, you couldn’t give them away. Now, if a customer had a shell on a pickup for years to hold toys for his kids, and the kids have grown up and gone away, the tonneau is great for putting luggage in and traveling.

“The younger crowd likes the look of them-they have a lower profile. [The market is] probably at its peak right now, and I don’t see a decline. The manufacturers are focusing on making tonneaus innovative with easy on and off, specialized fit and looks and paint to match. Before it was all one look-you got a flat one with a lock on the rear.

“In Sacramento, the store that I’m at is a 40-year-old, very established store in a very strong market. We carry a variety of everybody’s tonneaus. It always comes down to the customer’s preference, but we do try to put it all together-a look and style for them with function.

“We set up the image with visuals. When they come in, they are really just looking and have no idea yet what [a hard tonneau] would look like on their truck. We have pictures showing how it would look, and at some point we will try it on [their truck]. That helps the consumer have a better understanding of what he’s buying so he gets the look he wants, with no buyer’s remorse. It’s a hands-on approach.

“We see a variety of trucks, but most are brand-new, and all the makes and models are there. Some are lifted but the majority are stock and the driver is looking to fix it up. Typically in this business you’re going to find someone who’s going to want to fix up a new truck. The dealer has some options, but not everything they want.

“We’ve seen increases in customer purchases on vehicles and customer loyalty is changing a lot. In the last five years the Chevy guy has rolled to Dodge, Dodge people are going to imports, domestic drivers are going to imports. Sometimes they had a bad experience or it’s just a style preference.

“Imports are definitely on the rise. We sell a lot of Toyota accessories. The [Honda] Ridgeline is starting to be an up-and-comer. It’s a pretty nice vehicle; we’ve got one here now.

“The biggest thing is people have this perception they want room and height. We cater to the individual. We ask if they’re hauling big boxes or animals. They might not be a candidate for a tonneau.

“Just go to the customer and ask what they want. Be factual. Say, ‘What are you using the truck for? What do you do on a daily basis? What do you need to do with this truck five years from now?’ You can pretty much determine what they need through a series of questions.

“You need to eat, but in reality you don’t need a tonneau cover. People come in here because they want something. An accessory is a want, not a need; that’s where we come in.

“Five minutes of meet-and-greet is very important. You have to ask the right questions, and then listen to the customer. The key ingredient, and it fails in this business frequently, is to set customer needs. A response is critical.”

Jerry Verret
Store Manager
Lafayette, La.

“Around here, people want fiberglass covers they can paint to match the color of their vehicle.

“When a person comes in, they usually know what they want. One customer is going to want one for looks, while another wants a truck to put his merchandise in, but he will take the tonneau off from time to time. Another customer might come in and need to work that truck.

“I think the thing about a tonneau cover is when a customer comes in, you want information from him or her. You have to ask, ‘Why do you want a cover?’ Then I explain the differences between models, and let them choose what’s best for them. The challenge is not to try to sell them, but give them as many options as possible.

“I find the painted cover appeals to more of a middle-aged-type of person chances are they’re not going to use it for work. I think the 30-year-old guy who’s working construction is going to want a rolling cover, and an assortment of people want hard plastic ones for different reasons [including] price and accessibility.

“The full-sized trucks-Chevy, Ford and Dodge [are popular]. I sell tonneaus for a few imports, but not as many. For the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra, I might stock a couple of types.

“I like to be honest with people and give them options. What I’ve found over years of doing this is I see people-not here, our guys have been here a long time and learned how to sell but in some places you can tell they’re trying to force-feed you [a specific product].

“I show customers the item, the good points, and if it’s got a weak point, I show that to them, too. If you don’t, it’s going to come back and you have to explain it then. [So] build the customer relationship with honesty. When the customer realizes you’re honest with them, why would they go anywhere else?”

Greg Bolin
Truck Stuff Inc.
Wichita, Kan.

“Here in the Wichita area, economically we are in pretty good shape; we have an aircraft economy. Those companies are going full-blast and hiring, unemployment is at 4.5 percent and everyone who wants a job has one.

“The new-truck market is always really good, and the hard tonneau market has been quite good for the last two or three years. It’s been growing and I think it will continue to do so.

“I would say it’s probably due to their functionality. More people are using their trucks for things other than just work. They want the ability to lock up things, and also the fuel savings are attractive. A lot of the manufacturers are promoting [fuel savings] and it’s helped out the market quite a bit.

“Color matching is always one challenge. It’s very difficult to stock the right colors, no matter how hard you try. Also, the turnaround time from manufacturers on painted tonneaus can be challenging from time to time, and that has helped us to sell quite a few of the covers that are not paint-to-match.

“[Tonneau buyers] tend to be in the upper economic classes for the most part. Hard covers are a fairly big-ticket item, and they tend to be customers who can afford newer trucks, and price is not as big an issue.

“It’s pretty much mostly domestic trucks, full size, half-tons for the most part with the 6 1/2-foot beds, or the SuperCrews and newer Chevrolets with the shorter beds. Imports have been coming on strong, although we’ve been a little slower here in Kansas to pick up on imports than most places.

“We have done Tundras and Titans, quite a few Subaru Bajas and some Ridgelines. I think I can safely say that every Baja in the area with a lid on it, we’ve probably put on.

“Probably the biggest thing is to ask customers what they’re going to do with the truck. If they need the cover out of the way very often, we steer them toward retractable or easily removable tonneaus, color-matched or not.

“We’ve kind of been diversifying our advertising a little in the last couple of years, which seems to help. Traditionally, in the 20 years we’ve been in business, we’ve done the bulk of our advertising on country music radio, or local cable stations. That has always been good, but as there are more and more avenues to advertise in, it waters down the impact of what you’re doing.

“We’re trying to do more local advertising with banners in an indoor soccer facility and local high school programs for their football teams. That has seemed to work out quite well for the dollars spent, and it reached a different type of audience. We’ve also been targeting advertising more to female-oriented radio stations, and that’s been a very good thing for us. And I do find a lot of the advertising that the manufacturers do in consumer publications helps a lot.

“When selling, the biggest thing is to push the functionality of the covers. Customers can carry their favorite outdoor equipment, from hunting gear to golf equipment, and know that everything is secure and dry. It’s great for travel. That’s the biggest thing people look for out of a hard tonneau.”

Dave Sweeney
CMS Accessories
West Carrolton, Ohio

“The tonneau cover market in Dayton and Cincinnati is continuing to grow. We still see a lot of first-time pickup buyers, switching over from a car into a pickup. The OEs have done a great job with their half-ton extended and crew cab pickups. More people are buying pickups; their families can ride in comfort and still [have room to] carry a load of mulch.

“Our demographic ranges from ages 30-70 and includes both men and women. You see more women and retired people driving trucks these days. Pickups drive more like a car, which opens up a larger customer base. A pickup bed with a hard tonneau cover and locking tailgate has much more available storage space than the trunk of a car.

“We have seen an increase in tonneau cover sales for full-size pickups. We have also seen an increase in import tonneau cover sales, especially for the Honda Ridgeline.

“Our customers are car dealers in Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus. To increase our tonneau cover sales through our customers we put P.O.P. displays in showrooms and have dealer sales meetings with hands-on presentations. Educating our customers with product knowledge makes their job easier in reaching new customers and selling tonneau covers.

“Our latest sales method is placing a fuel saver sticker on the back window of trucks on our dealer lots. Advantage has designed a sticker that says, ‘Improve fuel mileage, protect valuable cargo; ask for details inside.’ We have noticed a significant increase in activity after placing stickers on rear windows at our dealers.

“There are some challenges in selling hard tonneau covers. You must spend time with your customers asking questions to find out their specific needs and requirements in a cover.

“Don’t let price affect your sales presentation, and explain the benefits of a hard tonneau cover so the customer understands value. Keeping your valuable items safe, secure and dry under a hard tonneau cover is priceless.”

Evan Weible
E. C. Liner
Ridley Park, Pa.

“In our area, we get all the seasons summer, winter, spring and fall. Everyone here uses their truck for a different thing. Guys use them for work and recreation.

“I’ll put a Torza cover on with a Weekender ladder rack. They’ll use the truck for a work truck during the week, then take the Weekender out and go about their business on the weekend, whether it’s traveling or whatever they do.

“I stock some tonneaus at various dealerships, so when the finance guy has them in there, that sells them. I have some dealers that stock them in the parts room, too.

“[Buyers] often come back for nerf bars, bug shields, bedliners and, because it’s winter now, molded floor mats and mud flaps.

“I just got back from the SEMA Show, and there are a lot of variations [of hard tonneaus available]. It seems to be you can find something for anyone with as many as are out there now.

“As far as customers, I get guys from their mid 20s to their 60s, and women, too. I think it’s really because anyone can use them, from a contractor to a soccer mom.