Special Effects

Dec 3, 2009

A good guideline in offering products for the automotive restyling aftermarket is this: People like shiny things. Nothing is quite as shiny as chrome, or is it? Chrome was once a given in aftermarket upgrades, and then it wasn’t, and then it was again, and then…well, now it is. You get the point.

Frank Turner of Lund International in Suwanee, Ga., explains that, as an industry, chrome accents are cyclical: “If you were to go back 40 years and track it, you’d see peaks and valleys where chrome becomes popular and fades away for what some call a monochrome look, and then it comes back. I think that right now it’s pretty hot; it certainly does well for us.”

Cyclical trends

All products are prone to trends, and products whose popularity goes in cycles are certain to be more trendy than most. A recent trend to hit this shiny world of accessories is chrome graphics, offered by just a handful of companies.

According to Lane Carter of Cincinnati-based Auto Trim Express/Chrome Effects (Restylers’ Choice is the parent company for each), “We offer three graphics that are printed on chrome: the Saber, the Edge and the Rapier, and we just came out with them.”

Carter explains that Chrome Effects came out with chrome graphics to provide restylers with a finishing touch for chrome projects. “When a guy chromes out a vehicle, he now has chrome graphics to finish it off.”

Carter adds that the response to those graphics has been a little sluggish so far, but he credits the current economic environment for that feedback, saying, “Graphics in general have been sliding.” He’s also quick to note that their other chrome accessories are doing quite well: “That stuff is always hot. Chrome is a big item for us, and we do very well with it.”

Bill Wagner of Husky Liners in Winfield, Kan., explains that his company offers only one product that fits into this area. “That product is our line of Add-A-Vent items.

“We watched a couple of years ago as high-end new vehicles began to display a front air cleaner vent in chrome. Thinking that this was an excellent way of upgrading a plain-Jane truck or SUV to the look of a higher-end vehicle, we brought out our first number to give GM owners the look of stepping up to an Escalade-styled vehicle.”

He adds that this number also afforded other vehicle owners an opportunity to personalize their vehicles. From there, they moved to on to two more vents that provided a greater number of enthusiasts the option to make their vehicle look new.

Turner says that, in terms of chrome accents, he has seen normal types of accessories, such as vent visors, hood shields and side vents, coming out in chrome.

“Those are all big products for us now,” says Turner. “We have chrome versions of most of those things. Anything that you can basically stick on a vehicle to cover up an existing piece, like a door handle on trucks, a tailgate latch handle, a fuel door cover, anything like that is fair game for putting on a chrome version.”

Bill Potts of Mode Auto Accents in Arlington Heights, Ill., says the general trend that he has witnessed is that chrome is being applied to a wide range of vehicles, everything from hot rods to late-model SUVs. “One of our local jobbers just did something for a Lincoln SUV,” he says. “It has even overlapped into the motorcycle market. A guy ordered some pieces recently for saddlebags on his Harley.”

Marketing chrome

How does a restyling shop market a cyclical product such as chrome? Auto Trim Express’ Carter recalls a standard rule in marketing and recommends that shops have photos of the graphics on vehicles on display for customers: “If they can’t show the graphic, they can’t sell it.”

According to Lund’s Turner, packaging is the way to go. “I don’t mean the packaging that the product is in. I’m talking about packaging the pieces together. For example, let’s take the F150 truck. If you move from the grille backwards, you’ve got chrome vent visors, chrome window visors, door handle covers, fuel door covers, artificial side vents, etc., and all of these things can be pitched as a package at one price. Tell your customers, ‘For $199, we’ll outfit your vehicle with chrome accessories.'” He adds that consumers are probably going in that direction anyway.

Wagner, of Husky, suggests marketing the individual nature of adding a high-end accent or trim to a vehicle. “The fact is that for a few dollars more, the consumer can have a one-of-kind vehicle,” he says.

“Remember, when we were kids (at least for me that was the late ’50s early ’60s), we put dice hanging from the mirrors and the 8-ball on the shift knob with a few flames on the side. A vacuum gauge made your car look like a racecar with a tach. These new chrome accessories fit that ‘grown-up’ desire to make a statement.”

Modes’ Potts says that it’s best to be open-minded and be flexible in marketing chrome accents. “You can’t presume that they’re going to pick a design that you feel is a top seller. We see in our sales, although there a couple pieces that are more popular, customers have been going with a wide range of pieces that have a classic or throwback look as opposed to a new, modern streamlined look,” says Potts.

Sometimes chrome is on top, sometimes not. But, whether you’re a lover or hater of this ritzy accent, you must acknowledge chrome’s place in the automotive world: perpetual. Make sure it has the same place in your business’ sales.