When the going gets tough…

Dec 3, 2009

You know the rest.

Cliché maybe. But true.

Listening to suppliers, and hearing from shop owners and managers, I get the news that echoes so much of what’s happening in the aftermarket accessories world -it’s the same thing you all hear from others, if not experience yourselves.

Generally, many restylers report a drop of 30% in business from at least a year ago. This isn’t a specific scientific study’s results; it’s just what people are telling me.

Some companies fare better, some worse. Many restyling operators already have or are beginning to diversify their services and product mix, although just about every one of them intends to hold onto the core business that has served him or her well, be that trucks, sport compacts, interior work, exterior work, suspensions, exhausts, mobile electronics, exterior film applications, etc.

Some shops have experienced a decided drop in their core areas, but as one owner, Jeff Glover, said, “Our business and survival are directly related to trucks. As models change and possibly decrease, I think sales will follow. That being said, I don’t think the light truck is going away anytime soon. Trucks are who we are; we need them to do what we do.”

Amen, to that.

His company needs to do what it does: serve the pickup truck customer. Glover understands today’s reality, but he sees the future, and plans for it, as any smart small-business owner does. Even while he’s seen former competitors fold their tents and leave the marketplace, he doesn’t wring his hands with high anxiety. Instead, he takes a more assertive stance and works smarter, if leaner, to keep the cash register ringing. His tonneau sales, for example, are up, better than expected he said.

Other shops, elsewhere in the country, point to a shift in customer demographics, perhaps older clients with new trucks that car dealers had to move from their inventory rolls, or drivers with late-model vehicles fancying them up.

Restyling pro Doug Pientok said he sees “a lot more upfitting of trucks to make a living out of them-a lot more contractors coming in versus the brand-new pickup owner coming in with temporary tags ready to dress up their new truck. I’d say that a lot more retired fellows are coming in with new trucks; and a lot of contractors who are hustling for work are coming in for upfitting.”

The business is out there, even while another restyling pro, Lewis Terowsky, said he believes that parts of the accessories business will “go away and never come back.” But he went on to say he sees opportunities, especially in putting together packages: “If we see a customer interested in a few different things, we work out a package deal on the fly. My BedRug sales have actually increased.”

Making business work.

No doubt the restyling business world has changed quicker than anyone thought. We might see fewer SUVs on the road in the next several years with, maybe, more small cars taking their place. Light trucks will rebound –  they’re just too popular and too important a vehicle to the North American way of life. More hybrids, more electric vehicles will appear; they, too, will want to be accessorized for their owners’ needs.

For now, business might be off. For tomorrow, it certainly will have its changes. But smart aftermarket restyling pros know how to hang tough in a tough market.

They’re not clichés; they’re seasoned businesspeople.