This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine.
When it comes to bed protection options for your truck-driving customers, tonneau manufacturers have you covered.
Hard folding, roll-up, expandable and related models can fit any need, for work or play, while feature-rich offerings and quick installations allow shops to add a professional touch.
Tonneau suppliers share sales tips to help you maximize opportunities in the bed protection market.
As with most truck accessory categories, tonneau covers have seen their share of changes over the past decade, as innovations and improvements drive the market forward.
“Material and framework advancements have made covers lighter, more durable and more affordable,” says Fred Konkle, category manager for Quadratec. “In the Jeep market, the Gladiator’s rollout in 2020 meant skyrocketing demand for tonneau covers, and particularly for versions that are easy to install, operate and maintain. Additionally, there has been a surge in the availability of customization options, allowing customers to choose covers that align with their specific needs and preferences.”
As the popularity of pickups has increased, so has demand for bed coverings.
“We have seen the number of truck owners who accessorize their trucks grow, along with many new truck bed cover product categories (hard rolling, rack-compatible, etc.), new products and new technology,” says Andy Nephew, VP of sales – retractable truck bed covers for RealTruck, pointing to the company’s Retrax EQ product that incorporates Bluetooth technology to utilize the OEM key fob and a mobile app to operate the cover as an example.
While tonneaus may be considered relatively simple products to sell and install, there’s still the challenge of finding the right suppliers from a growing list of manufacturers—including some that may not perform as well as others.
“The market has become increasingly saturated with low-quality products,” warns Steve Raivio, director of business for Worksport.
Diversification and product development support customers’ evolving lifestyles, says Bryan Baker, director of marketing for Leer Group.
“There are many more brands, models and options to be considered, which is why LEER offers a variety of solutions including hard quad-fold, hard trifold, soft rolling and retractable tonneau covers to meet the specific needs of truck owners,” he says.
With so many options, shops must do their homework to deliver quality products to local truck enthusiasts.
“We’ve witnessed a lot of consolidation in the market over the last 10 years, and we see a lot of tonneau manufacturers making very similar products,” says D.J. Potter, CEO of Sawtooth Tonneau.
Adapting to meet the needs of today’s pickup owners requires a commitment to quality and creativity, notes Nils Forssman, president of Truck Covers USA.
“New technology is always disrupting the tonneau cover market—constantly providing new and exciting ways to approach production and design,” he says, noting the current popularity of overlanding as an example. “We have had to remain nimble over the years, doing everything from updating our machinery multiple times to investing in software to better manage and improve our factory procedures.”
The results are that today’s covers are more versatile than ever, says Mike Timmons, vice president of sales and marketing – aftermarket sales for EGR USA.
“There are so many great tonneau covers in the market, and we’re seeing people gravitate to covers that have more functions versus something that just covers the bed of their truck,” he says. “Smart covers like the EGR RollTrac seem to be the future.”
Suppliers say tonneau sales should not be a race to the lowest price point—not when consumers continue to rely on shop pros for informed opinions and quality installs they can’t get on the internet.
“I’ve always been a big believer in top-down selling,” says Baker. “If you start with the lowest-priced covers, it’s an uphill battle to move a customer up into the higher price bracket tonneaus and, in the end, they will be pleased with a better product that suits their needs.”
Professional outlets should concentrate on delivering a professional experience.
“Sell based on the service offered by the shop, with installation and ongoing maintenance of the cover,” Raivio recommends. “Many covers are available at discounted prices online. The consumer needs a reason to buy from the shop instead of choosing an online purchase.”
Understanding each cover’s unique features helps create value for customers, Forssman notes.
“There is a wide range of quality in the tonneau cover market, so it is important for shops to have a good understanding of the different offerings in order to provide helpful information,” he says. “Additionally, knowing the differences between products allows for accurate and timely installs.”
An informed consumer is likely to be a satisfied consumer.
“Customers may have different needs, such as security, accessibility or weather protection, and it’s essential for shops to understand those needs and recommend the most suitable tonneau cover accordingly,” Konkle advises. “Proper product knowledge and clear communication with customers can help avoid mismatched expectations and ensure customer satisfaction.”
Nephew agrees that client interaction is mandatory for a successful sale.
“Understanding your consumer’s true needs for their truck is an important aspect in choosing the right cover for them. Providing a great consumer experience will bring repeat business and be your best advertising for future customers.”
When it comes to customized solutions, Timmons notes that feature-rich covers can take longer to properly install, requiring shops to plan accordingly.
“Tonneau covers are evolving, and the installation times will increase due to more tech interfaces and the weight capacity needs of the consumer,” he says.
Therefore, establishing yourself as the local expert is important, Potter explains.
“The best thing you can do for your business and consumers is to learn about the various new options, listen to your customers, find out their needs and provide them with good, viable options,” he says. “You, as a shop, will not only become a trusted resource, but will also increase your revenue. Getting the message out that there are better options for consumers is key to a shop’s success.”
Shops looking to serve their tonneau cover customers better should consider two key factors, according to Forssman of Truck Covers USA—education and service.
“The education customers receive at shops can be instrumental in guiding their purchasing process. Dealers must be educated on the important features and benefits of each product so they can accurately communicate this information,” he says.
Getting to know the customer is an important first step, Forssman continues—finding out what kind of cargo they want to carry, what their budget is, what weather conditions they expect to encounter and more.
“Additionally, once the customer has made their decision, service becomes a key driver of their experience,” he continues. “Dealers with good, trusted installation protocols allow customers to enjoy their product immediately without any issues. If a shop can provide good education to help its customers decide on products and good service to help them get their products installed, then they are doing a great job.”
Knowledgeable salespeople can start by differentiating products based on their unique features, says Worksport’s Raivio.
“Find covers that are not available through every shop and online retailer,” he says, using the company’s quad-fold cover as an example. “The SC4 is not only patent protected but also is not discounted in the marketplace. These types of products help ensure that when you educate the customer about the benefits of the tonneau, they return to the shop that helped them.”
Sawtooth’s expandable tonneau offerings are another example, Potter notes.
“A key tip to increasing your shop’s tonneau cover sales is to be knowledgeable and provide real options. When a consumer walks into your shop and sees four similar folding or vinyl roll-up tonneaus, they can become confused. Consumers—and the shop, too—don’t always know the real differences among similar tonneau products,” he says. “They need significant and real options. This will also build your shop’s credibility and help drive sales.”
The entire client experience should be an enjoyable one, says Leer Group’s Baker.
“Make sure your focus on customer service and product knowledge shine through when helping customers select the right cover that fits their needs,” he says. “Add to their comfort level by making it a point to discuss the expertise of your installation technicians. Your Google reviews should support your claims—be sure to ask for those reviews!”
Highlighting tonneaus in your showroom can also help consumers get a feel—literally—for bed cover products, says EGR’s Timmons.
“Having a display is critical to selling tonneau covers. Consumers like to touch, see and compare what they get for their dollars.”
RealTruck’s Nephew, however, cautions against an overcrowded sales floor.
“One mistake that I have seen is having too many displays in a showroom. It can become overwhelming and confusing for an end-user,” he says. “Shops should identify specific products within each category to provide the customer an option at every level and price point without showing too many options and causing confusion.”
Quadratec’s Konkle agrees that seeing is believing.
“A big help for shops looking to increase tonneau cover sales is proper staff training on these products, and then offering demonstrations that cover features and benefits before a customer makes a purchasing decision. And, of course, to provide superior customer service throughout the entire process,” he says. “Allowing customers to physically see and interact with a specific tonneau cover will absolutely help them better understand the product and determine if it will fit their needs, thus reducing possible returns.”