Work that work truck market

Apr 1, 2010

The restyling world isn’t all glam and glitz. While outfitting a truck for fun is a big part of this business, so are the trucks that are rigged for work.

Despite a zigzagging economy, work trucks have to keep, well, working. And trucks need their own tools so they can work efficiently. We asked a number of sources for input on what the working truck market is like today.

Alan Kuehl of Hauler Racks, Minneapolis, says, “Well, we all know the obvious restyling products, but work truck accessories should not be left out. There is a market for all types of racks, toolboxes, hitches, and winches for the restyler.”

Jim Lenford of Highway Products Inc., White City, Ore., tells us, “The market for restylers is almost unlimited. -¦ By listening to our customers we are now involved in many specialty markets such as outfitting trucks for surveyors, beekeepers, firefighting brush trucks and heating, electric and air contractors.”

“Each day we receive calls from customers that have added canopies or roll-up bed covers and now need a way to access and organize their tools. Our pull-out Roller Coaster with storage boxes is the solution to this problem.”

Hartmut Schroeder of Long Beach, Calif.-based Snugtop notes that, “Declining pickup sales have been a blow to the aftermarket, as well. As a manufacturer of truck caps and tonneau covers, we have seen a move away from personal use pickups to commercial trucks.”

“Personal-use buyers were especially interested in painted-to-match tonneau covers that added utility and beauty to their pickup truck. Over the last year and a half we have seen sales of truck caps increase while tonneau cover sales have declined.”

David McInturf of Bedslide, Medford, Ore., says, “Products for restylers who are after the work truck segment include items such as toolboxes – both in-bed and underbody – racks, tool bins and shelves for vans, heavy-duty springs (suspension), grille guards, side steps, graphics and lettering, computer desks, floor mats (mud), toppers and bed covers and, of course, Bedslide. Many more products are available for this channel of business, (a) great source of business.”

John Stethem from Century Truck Caps, Elkhart, Ind., says, “Today’s challenging economic environment has turned many truck accessories customers into value shoppers who are trying to preserve their cash by buying the lowest-price alternative in the market. -¦ Dealers and their salespeople need to help customers compare, feature by feature, the difference between ‘cheapest’ and ‘best value.'”

Smart marketing goes a long way

Our second question dealt with some of the best ways to promote products and services for work trucks. McInturf starts us off with, “Best way to promote? Of course, have (the) proper displays in your showroom. Make sure they are clean and in proper working order. It’s not effective if displays are cluttered with nonrelated items.”

“Also use social media, trade-specific journals, e-mail, phone etc.,” he adds “The best way to promote work truck products is to set up a truck with an industry-specific setup such as one for contractors, or a glass company or a utility, etc. It does not have to be real specific – one layout may cover a number of industries.

“Then, go see the customer. Think about the fact that most people who are not truck and auto enthusiasts are not likely to walk in your shop. They may not know where to buy the items they need to do the job they have. Sometimes they don’t even know there is a question to be asked in the first place, such as ‘How do I make my work truck or van safer for my workers, thus reducing their concerns while reducing company liabilities?’

“We like to bring out the fact that Bedslide products are designed to make the work environment (truck or van) safer, more productive and organized. They bring the load to the worker, so the worker does not crawl into the truck or van to get product.”

Hauler Racks’ Kuehl says, “Marketing the products and services they have for work trucks should be done in a variety of ways. In-store displays are very important. Since the customer is already in the store, they could see something else that they were not thinking about. This will allow the customer to purchase the product and have it installed at the same time.

“Window displays, posters and banners are other ways that catch the customer’s attention.

“Since they are selling to the end user, get geographical e-mail lists of contractors, painters and electricians. Then send e-mail broadcasts to them.

“Social networks are another way to keep your company, along with the products and services you offer, out in front of the customer.

“Advertising in local publications is another way to stay in front of your customers and potential customers.”

Paul Campbell of Raider Industries, Elkhart, Ind., says, “We encourage Raider dealers to make full use of available in-store displays as well as full-size demos to help customers get acquainted with Raider products, features and options.”

“When it comes to commercial sales,” Campbell adds, “another important factor has to be considered, too: Generally speaking, commercial cap customers know exactly what they want and don’t want in a commercial truck cap.

It is likely they use their cap for hours every day, and they know its strengths and weaknesses. For customers like this, we recommend that dealers spend most of their time listening, so they know precisely how to build the cap that will fulfill the customer’s expectations.

“It’s essential for truck accessories retailers to be visible online. Dealers should look for ways to associate their websites and e-mail addresses with the commercial market as well as the retail market. They should consider devoting an area on their websites to commercial customers, and promote the Web address of that area.

“Online directories, Google local ads, online newspaper listings and other online resources should be used, as well, so commercial customers learn that their needs can be met locally.”

Highway Products’ Lenford says, “Most customers want to see displays that have the ‘Wow’ factor. The in-store displays should be a combination of products installed on truck beds, and a wall display showing additional styles.

“We have had numerous experiences with retailers only showing lower-end products. -¦ The dealers who we have built a relationship with are better able to grow sales by showing good, better and best. “A combination of print in magazines and the Internet is a great way to increase sales. Regional truck shows and having a salesman calling on potential accounts is imperative to starting and maintaining relationships.”

Schroeder of Snugtop says that “product displays in showrooms or outside the business are still the best way to promote truck caps to the public. However, when it comes to commercial products, it is more and more important to reach out to the customers and take a fully accessorized truck to their place of business. An informative website together with good literature will help in that effort.”

The right business contacts 

Our third question was about the people restylers need to contact.

Schroeder tells us, “There are many different ways to contact a commercial or fleet account. At the local truck dealer, the right contact person could be the sales manager, fleet manager or even the general manager. Large national fleets take a little more homework. Purchasing decisions are often made at national headquarters away from local offices.

“Restylers should be in contact with local, city, county and state agencies. Snugtop offers toppers that are specifically designed for telecommunication companies or other industries. Thorough research is required to find out specific applications and needs and then offer a tailor-made topper or tonneau cover.”

Lenford says that, “whether you are calling on a smaller contractor or a large municipality, your calling card is to solve their problems. The problem can be the quality of the products they currently use, service issues or the current salesman hasn’t established a good relationship.

“If you call on an account, my advice is to ask questions and listen, too; then offer solutions to their current concerns. You are dealing with smart people who know a sincere and truthful person from a phony. When you don’t know the answer, let your customer know you will need to call them back. Your timely follow-up to the unanswered questions will be a great relationship builder.”

McInturf notes that “you need to begin a relationship with the buyers at such places as the city or utility, construction firm and other businesses. You can simply call the person, such as the buyer or shop maintenance manager or police chief. They may direct you to the proper person.

“Remember, their motivating factor is, How do I make my worker safer, more productive, lose fewer products due to damage or poor organization? So, key into their needs, ask questions and find their concerns. How do you make their job better? How do you improve efficiencies? How do you save them time? Can you help their worker make one more stop per day due to improved organization?

“Testimonials are great. Try to get on common ground; if you have one success story of how you helped a business with their cargo management needs and a testimony, it will go a long way to improving your credibility with your new prospect.”

And, remember, McInturf, adds, “Many of these folks must adhere to government standards in their industry and will welcome your professional input on how to improve their performance as managers.”

Vern Kaufman of Pace Edwards, Centralia, Wash., says, his retailers “would take a wise first step by visiting the local new-car dealerships in their market with a Pace Edwards-equipped truck. Their target at those dealerships is the truck manager or fleet manager. He/she is in touch with many local buyers of commercially equipped trucks and is likely to know someone who could benefit. Of course, this kind of contact has to be repeated on an ongoing basis, so that Pace Edwards is on the mind of truck managers when they are faced with a suitable application…”

“It’s a good idea,” adds Kaufman, “to provide the operators of vehicles like this with a business card or discount/promotion offer, while spending a few moments to explain to them how the product can help them do their job better. Police departments and other security agencies are ideal candidates for [our] retractable bed cover technology, because security is so important to them.

“Reaching the person with buying authority can be challenging, but dealers can start with phone calls to all the area law enforcement and security groups.”

Kuehl tells us that in addition to previously mentioned contacts, “painters, siders, electricians, plumbers, pest control and roofers are some other people to contact. Since they are a local company, many of the contacts like to work with and give business to local companies. Letting them know that they are local and knowledgeable about the products they sell is one way that will help you get in the door.”

“Also, Kuehl continues, “if you have been in business for a good period of time, let them know that. You should talk about quality, experience, and knowledge of the products and services you and your employees offer. I would say something like this. ‘Hello. I am (Your Name) and I would like to introduce you to my company and the products and service we have to offer you. My company has been in business since (year), and I have been working for them for (number) years. We choose the products we carry very carefully in order to make sure they are of the highest quality with a good history of customer satisfaction. Our installers are trained and experienced. I would like to take a few minutes to go over the products and services we offer that I know your company would be interested in.’

“References? Definitely. Anything that the customer can visually see is always very useful. References of satisfied customers will immediately help you build more confidence in your potential customer since they may not know anything about you and your company.”

Signs of the economic times 

Our last question was about what economic indicators are important to follow. Schroeder tell us this: “As the economy improves, construction and other commercial activities will pick up and sales of pickup trucks will bounce back. According to Ford, core truck customers, such as fleet buyers and occupational buyers, have increased from 30% of the full-size truck segment in 2003 to 40% today. Many buyers are looking for products that make their trucks look good and work efficiently -” this is where the restyler comes into the picture. Let’s not forget that it is not all about the utility; the image is just as important.”

Lenford says, “I believe that too much can be made of economic factors. Trucks and equipment wear out and need to be replaced. The contractor or fleet buyer might put this purchase off, but eventually will spend on new trucks and accessories. When your competition is being conservative on advertising or sending a salesman out, this is a great opportunity to increase your share of business.”

McInturf says it’s important to “know your local economy. Each area is different and may have strengths such as strong mining or agricultural industries. We have found such business such as pest control and communication firms still going strong in many parts of the country.

“Seek out the performers in your area. Many firms have been holding back on their fleet purchases and now have trucks and vans with 200,000-300,000 miles on them. Ford and GM are gearing up for improved sales this year, and many in our industry expect to see improvements as fleets are forced to replace aging vehicles or are preparing and taking advantage of opportunities for growth. [You] need to get in front of these businesses before they make their buying decisions and let them know what you can do for them.”

Kuehl notes, “It is important to know what is happening in your area. You need to be aware of new housing projects, commercial developments, road improvement projects and anything else that is happening in the community(s) you serve.

“Every community is different so you need to get to know yours. I would join the local chambers of commerce and other local business organizations. Also, attend or get the minutes of your local city(s) council meetings. You can learn a lot about what is happening and going to happen.”

Stethem says, “We suggest to Century dealers that they attack the work truck market in spite of the negative economic news the national media seems to emphasize. More important to the local retailer are local employment numbers, new-home starts, and other construction figures.

“As with retail sales, contract and fleet sales benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations, and dealers should do everything they can to promote referrals and recommendations like this. -¦ In all contacts with governments, local fleets and potential work truck customers, retailers should emphasize their own ties to the local community [and] that they are a local business that depends on and deserves support from local governments and businesses.”

The market for outfitting work trucks clearly indicates it’s time to “Get to work!”