A Step Forward

Sep 17, 2013

Restyling and upfitting business owners don’t need to journey down a yellow brick road or hobnob with a wizard to recognize that these truck accessory products can bring substantial value to their customers and company. In fact, the market for these somewhat ancillary parts is larger than you might think.

Restyling & Truck Accessories rounded up some professional sources-Dan Kruzic, director of marketing for Dee Zee Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa; Mark Wronski, director of marketing for AMP Research in Tustin, Calif.; Mike Deford, marketing director for Go Rhino! Products and Big Country Truck Accessories in Brea, Calif.; Joe Flores, marketing manager for UCI Inc. in Arlington, Texas; and Megan Thompson, marketing manager for Bestop Inc. in Broomfield, Colo.-all of which specialize in running boards, steps and nerf bars. Together, they cover current selling trends, what’s new in the market, which trucks are in fashion for these products, and how to maximize profits.


The Market Now

How have running boards, steps and nerf bars performed as of late?

“At Dee Zee, we’re seeing steady growth in both the running board and nerf bar market for the year,” Kruzic says. “The uncertain weather slowed step sales down in the spring, but we’re seeing very strong interest into the summer months. Three-inch nerf bars are still the best sellers overall, but the influence of the OEM look has customers looking at other options.”

Wronski says demand is increasing for high-quality, made-in-the-U.S.A. products.

“Sales of AMP Research PowerStep running boards have seen continual growth,” he says. “Even through tough economic times, people want to spend their hard-earned money on well-made products that add utility and value to their vehicle.”

DeFord says Go Rhino! has “seen tremendous growth this year. Be it the economy coming back, the increasing market size or any other reason, the growth has been substantial.”

According to Flores, “There are more nerf bars sold today than ever before. Running boards are popular, but the nerf bars are still ahead of the game in our opinion.”


What’s New?

Next, we wondered what new running board/step/nerf bar products these suppliers are currently marketing to their aftermarket clients?Thompson says Bestop launched a new Wi-Fi electronic running board-the PowerBoard NX-this past spring.

“Because of the Wi-Fi components, PowerBoard NX installs in less time than the original PowerBoard, and for the first time, does not require any contact with the interior of the vehicle. This means no door panels, kick panels, kick plates, or carpets are touched; no cutting, splicing or tapping into the complicated wiring harness,” she says.

“The PowerBoard NX adds Wi-Fi components-door sensors that affix to each door pillar without drilling-and a receiving unit solidly located under the truck. Instead of relying on the factory “door open” wire, these sensors use a magnetic trip.

“As soon as the door opens, the battery-equipped sensor sends a signal to the receiver, which triggers the PowerBoard NX to instantly extend into position. When the door is closed, the PowerBoard NX automatically retracts after a five-second delay,” Thompson adds. “Very different from a fixed side step or nerf bar, powered running boards tuck up under the truck when not needed, but automatically and instantly extend, ergonomically dropping down about 6 inches and out about 2 inches when the doors are opened. We also now have a PowerBoard application for the upcoming 2014 GM truck.”

Kruzic of Dee Zee says, “We just introduced our new, 6-inch Oval Nerf Bar this spring. Available in both stainless and black steel, the new Oval Nerf Bar gives consumers a real ‘OEM look’ and the safety of a wider step area. No-drill braces are easy and quick to install, saving installers time and money.”

Wronski says, “AMP Research PowerStep applications for 2014 include Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra, Ram 1500 and HD trucks, Ford F-150 and Super Duty, Jeep Wrangler JK, Toyota Tundra and Tacoma. We also offer BedStep2, a non-motorized, flip-down step for side of the truck bed for 2014 trucks.”

DeFord of Go Rhino! says the company just released its new product for the 2014 Chevy Silverado

“In addition to the 2014, our OE Xtreme program is our primary focus. It is a new concept within the market where the bars and the brackets are sold separately. This allows a consumer to purchase one set of brackets for their truck or SUV and then mount any of our OE Xtreme line of product, which in turn gives them the flexibility to change the appearance of their vehicle as they desire,” he says. “For our jobbers and dealers, the OE Xtreme program is a no-brainer, with only six mounting brackets and eight sets of side bars. The jobber can now service 92 percent of their full-size truck customer base.”

Flores of UCI says, “Our newest nerf bar is the 5-inch Oval Chrome 304 Stainless Steel, and more new products are in the works.”


Trucks Stepping Up

With all these new products hitting the shelves, are there any particular new-model trucks positioned as leading candidates for new running boards/steps/nerf bars?

Wronski of AMP Research says, “Full-size Chevy, Ford and Ram are the leading truck brands for AMP’s PowerStep running boards. There is growing popularity for four door, HD diesel trucks outfitted with the top-of-the-line trim levels, like Chevy Silverado 2500 HD, Ram 2500 or Ford Super Duty.”

DeFord notes, “Across the board it is pretty even, but with the introduction of our products for the 2014 Chevy, those products have been moving very quickly.”

Flores says, “We see that there are some truck models that sell more than others. But we do notice the five top models that do very well: Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra, Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra/Tacoma and Nissan Titan.”

Kruzic gives his nod to pickups made by Detroit’s Big Three.

“All three major brands have their ardent supporters. The new Chevy and GMC trucks are just now hitting dealerships, so we anticipate they will be very popular this summer,” he says. “Dee Zee just recently released our new list of fitments and part numbers for both of these new trucks a few weeks ago.”


State-of-the-Art

What are the latest advancements in running board/step/nerf bar technology?

Kruzic says, “You wouldn’t think that technology would be a very long discussion when it comes to running boards and nerf bars. Dee Zee has been in the pickup step business for more than 38 years. It’s how we got started and it’s amazing how much both have improved over the years.

“How many remember drilling a couple dozen holes into a pickup frame to install an angle-iron brace for a running board or nerf bar? Those days are long gone due to advancements in design technology, metal fabrication techniques and equipment,” he adds. “Steps are a higher quality now than ever.”

DeFord tells us, “Our OE Xtreme line showcases the technology, the versatility, the ease, the profit margin and every aspect of what makes being in this business so fun and rewarding.”

Thompson of Bestop says the new PowerBoard NX is a great example of the technological advancement seen within this market. Development of the NX unit took more than three years.

“We’ve put thousands of hours into testing, both at independent labs, and in real-world ‘torture’ testing,” says Rick Troeger, a project engineer for Bestop. “We’ve invested in metallurgy tests, breaking-strength tests, and with the new Wi-Fi components, electrical interference testing, and lots more. This is the most thoroughly tested product in Bestop history.”

Wronski says, “Since we introduced the first power-deploying running board more than 10 years ago, AMP engineers have continued a process of continual refinements and improvements that you may not see, but add to the reliability and durability. Details like die-cast aluminum alloy components with self-lubricating bushings and military-spec finishes that resist corrosion in harsh climates; low-profile/weather-tight LED lights; OEM-style wiring harnesses and a step board with two internal ribs for added stiffness.”


Selling Tips

Lastly, we asked our sources for their best tips for selling running boards, steps and nerf bars.

Thompson says, “Bestop offers install tips, install and FAQ videos, and packed-with-detail install guides to help all sales of the PowerBoard and PowerBoard NX. Through our Authorized Dealer program, we release bi-weekly tips on the product, informational flyers and rebates throughout the year.

“Our relentless testing of the product, superior and available customer service, as well as pictures and product call-outs all provide valuable selling tools,” she adds. “We also list all of this on our website, toolbox or in the box itself for easy access to information at any time. Bestop prides itself on giving up-to-the-minute information of our product in a multitude of different venues, as well as high-dollar consumer rebates to make sure you close the sale.”

Kruzic says, “The best tip I can give is to listen to your customer. Dee Zee offers a very wide range of step options. Make sure your customer is aware of what shapes and styles are available and what fits their lifestyle best. For example, a family with kids may be better served by the wider step provided by a running board than a 3-inch nerf bar. Or, possibly a 6-inch-wide nerf bar would be a good option. A quick review of the Dee Zee catalog with the customer only takes a few minutes, and who knows, they may see other accessories that they will add to the sale.”

DeFord agrees: “Know your customer and your product.

“If you are in a part of the country with harsh winter conditions, if you have a lot of customers with lifted trucks-whatever the case may be-knowing their needs, listening to their requests and fulfilling their needs quickly will lead to a sale, be it side steps, grille guards, tires or anything else. Customer service and dedication to your customers is key”

Flores says, “Sales opportunities increase by promoting our ABS model’s brilliant chrome that won’t lose its shine, the 5-inch-wide non-slip rubber step pads and the 45-degree bends on each end. With our 304 Chrome Stainless Steel, the name says it all-it will not lose its shine. Unlike polished steel, ours is chrome over stainless, so it’s a win-win type of finished product.”

Wronski says, “One of the best ways to get customers ‘on board’ with purchasing a set of AMP Research PowerSteps is to have a set installed on a shop truck. There’s always a surprise when you open the vehicle door and the PowerStep glides out from behind the rocker panel. If a husband and wife are together, it’s the woman who typically closes the deal when she discovers how much easier it is to get in and out of their high-riding truck. In the showroom, AMP offers a wall-mounted display with a fully operational PowerStep that customers can activate with a push of a button.”