Take A Seat

Jun 1, 2012

Forget all the jokes that “aim for the butt” of the seating market. It all comes down to a driver and passengers spending 100% of their car time in a sitting position. And for many, that equates to wanting a noticeable degree of comfort. Throw in a few style options and you have the seating market in 2012. We asked a few of our sources about that market and how it can affect business this year.

Our first question was about how interior styling has become an even more significant theme in the past year or so. We wondered how that has affected sales of replacement interiors nowadays. And, just who are trending to be the main customers of these new styles?

At Pecca Leather Inc., Downey, Calif., Scott Wolin tells us, “Interior styling is playing a big part in the market today and we are seeing this in a couple of different areas. The need to have a unique interior has always been a big part of the aftermarket in order to differentiate yourself from the factory look. Secondly we are seeing the need to fit someone’s lifestyle. This is being done by adding a two-tone interior, contrasting stitching, embroidered headrests, piping and special materials as ways to dress up the customer’s interior. This is pulling all types of customers into the market and it’s not specific to any one particular demographic.”

Ron Leslie of Montebello, Calif.-based Katzkin Leather Interiors, says, “Interior styling is certainly big to the end user and dealer need in today’s environment. Many manufacturers have really stepped up the quality of their interior designs. This has driven a lot of the assets we’ve added at Katzkin this year, and even added to our company mission to be leaders in design. We’ve developed an online interior configurator that has designs for almost every new vehicle that is produced.

“We’ve also made significant investments into our design department and added Dave O’Connell to lead our design direction. Dave came to Katzkin with a 20-year history of leading OEM design for multiple manufacturers in the U.S., Europe and Asia.”

For Roadwire Leather Interiors, of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., Dave Edmondson says, sales “have seen major growth, in both new and used vehicles. Our current TV sponsorships, OEM relationships, automotive dealership presence, and a following of over 120,000 Facebook customers brings us a diverse demographic; people of all ages desire personalization of their vehicles with custom leather and standard OEM-matching colors. Trucks, cars, sports cars and restoration enthusiasts all benefit from our offering of patterns going all the way back to 1960.”

Who’s driving design?

What about style changes: Are they driven from the consumer up, or from the interiors designers/manufacturers down to the consumer? Leslie from Katzkin says, “Consumers certainly demand the ability to personalize their vehicles. The huge automotive aftermarket is a testament to this fact. Leather interiors are still relatively an unknown to new-vehicle shoppers that make up the largest segment of the leather interior segment, so design must be driven by manufacturers like Katzkin, and restylers and their dealer customers.”

Edmondson from Roadwire points out, “Style changes can come from multiple points. Automotive dealerships like to place vehicles upgraded with a custom leather interior on the showroom floor to promote impulse buying. Let’s face it, a vehicle with custom leather is more pleasing to the eye than a standard leather or cloth interior. Enthusiasts see vehicles with custom leather in magazines and shows, driving their personal desire to design and purchase their own leather interiors. Manufacturers have followed our ideas over the years and we are now seeing two-tone interiors, contrast stitching and other related decorations. When the door of the vehicle opens, all of the outside restyling disappears. This is where an eye-popping leather interior comes into play. It can be elegant, stylish or sporty, and when done right it should have all three elements.”

Wolin from Pecca points out that “it’s really coming from both directions, and preferences from the OEM and our current customers are shaping the landscape of today’s and future interiors. As an OEM and Tier One supplier, we are working on future interiors for our valued customers and our Pecca Style lab is playing a critical role in designing the interiors on those specific vehicles. We are, in turn, using the resources of Style Lab to design interiors for our aftermarket customers to provide them patterns, materials and unique designs to help them separate themselves. In addition, we work closely with our fabric suppliers to learn more about their leading-edge materials and how we can incorporate them into our interior designs.”

21st century adjustments

We wonder, too, how leather and other seating materials/construction differ from, say, even five years ago. Edmondson says, “Roadwire and its sister company Distinctive Industries have been mass-manufacturing interior upholstery products since 1969. The craftsmanship of our interiors has not changed. However, the addition of advanced airbag technologies has certainly changed. We take great care not to re-create safety, and our comprehension of these new technologies allows us to continue to produce high-quality, safety-orientated leather interiors and related items.”

Wolin tells us, “At Pecca Leather we have always used automotive-grade materials in the construction of our interior kits. In addition, we have invested in technology and equipment to streamline the manufacturing process. These are key components to our TS 16949 quality certification and having our interior kits successfully tested by our customers; and MGA [material testing] ensures the highest quality product on the market today.”

Leslie notes, “Today, interiors are increasingly more complex. The safety testing that Katzkin invests in is an important reason many restylers and OEMs choose us. Also, we’ve added step-by-step instructions for all of our styles so that restylers can view (in pictures) the installation of critical safety components before attempting the installation.”

Help when you need it

With so many seating and interior options available, how do interiors suppliers help train an aftermarket shop to help its personnel help the customer select the best item(s)?

“Restyler training is critical, and Katzkin maintains a 10-person field sales organization to meet with restylers and educate them about the changes in design direction and the options available,” says Leslie.

Says Wolin: “Basically, you have a couple of options to choose from: the factory look and the custom look. We are developing interiors to best match the factory look, but also working closely with our customers to expand our custom interior business. We are producing custom kits in our Los Angeles facility and recently opened our Malaysian facility to support us in this growing segment of Pecca’s business. This allows us to get the customer’s unique pattern and design that they need in a timely manner. In addition, we are working to educate the customer on our materials, quality, safety and testing methodology used in the manufacturing of our interior kits.”

Edmondson notes that Roadwire has “an extremely tenured technical sales and service staff that can answer and support any leather questions or need possible.”

A season to buy…maybe

Next, we asked about this market being seasonal. Are there better trending times for aftermarket replacement seating and why is that?

Edmondson explains, “The spring and summer season always spike sales. It has always been this way and is also a trend in restoration upholstery. It is a time when consumers start working on their vehicles again and a time when automotive sales spike. Leather interiors, as they relate to new-car dealerships, are like a barometer of sales. When new-car sales go up, leather interior sales follow.”

Leslie notes that “the winter months lead to increased sales opportunities for seat heaters, while the summer months seem to open up additional opportunities with convertibles. But the traditional cycle tends to mirror the key selling seasons for vehicles in general. When the weather is nicer, more people shop for vehicles and it creates a boost for the industry.”

For Wolin, a “season of change” isn’t as it once might have been. “We are finding that the market is not centered anymore on specific times of the year as it had so prominently been in the past. This is primarily due to automakers introducing new vehicles at different times of the year and making mid-year changes, as well. This has us constantly working to develop new models and to make updates needed on mid-year changes. We are seeing more global platforms, and this helps to streamline your development activities; but there are subtle changes to those vehicles in North America. It is a very exciting time for us at Pecca, as we see our pattern list grow – which provides more profit opportunities for our customers.

That’s the market wrap-up on seating. Since you’ve spent a percentage of your workday reading this, you will help your customers even more when they spend 100% of their driving time on better seating.

Are seat-sensored airbags a concern?

Last year there was a concern expressly voiced by automaker Nissan that aftermarket seating should not be installed in its vehicles because improper installation could cause the failure of airbags to deploy (in-seat occupant sensors). Even SEMA apparently has had no response from Nissan or any other OEMs. Is this an issue that remains? How should an installer proceed?

Dave Edmondson of Roadwire Leather Interiors tells us, “Our leather interiors have been tested since the onset of advanced airbag technology and occupant classification systems/seat sensors. Roadwire pioneered the aftermarket testing of these systems. We have never had a failure in testing and, more importantly, we have never had a failure in over 3 million leather interiors sold and installed.

“When a product is manufactured in redundancy, meaning regardless of where they are made they are made exactly the same with the same leather, vinyl and materials, it is manufactured to spec. All of our interiors are the same and cut digitally, therefore assuring a perfect product, just like the OEM. We have current OEM programs, and the OEMs in both current and past programs have found that our leather interiors have no negative effect on the advanced safety systems in their vehicles. This holds the same for any OEM’s vehicles, including Nissan.

“Proper installation includes reverse engineering; our interiors install just like factory, using the same clips and hog rings. Installers need to be aware of how the OEM cloth or leather came and ensure that they are installing it the same way. Our leather interiors only go on one way: correct.”

Scott Wolin says that “at Pecca Leather, we worked closely with SEMA through the PRO (Professional Restylers Organization) Council on a taskforce when this announcement was made public and we will continue to work closely with SEMA/PRO in the future on any other circumstances that arise in the marketplace.

“As noted earlier, we are very confident in our interiors, capabilities and successful independent test results, and we are also a current OEM supplier to Nissan. In addition, we work closely with our authorized dealers on all installations and specific applications. We are very confident in our products that they meet or exceed the marketplace expectations.”

Photos of Mitsubishi backrest courtesy of Roadwire Leather.