Posted: April 18, 2014
25 Years Of Marketing In The Truck Accessory Industry
Dave Herrmeyer reminds us that you can't build a thriving business using old marketing modelsBy Dave Herrmeyer
Years ago, a customer arrived at our cap sales lot and ordered the fanciest woody topper we had. My brother Dennis had designed the cap, and we manufactured it in our family business. The customer had purchased a truck so he could buy the cap. He just liked the looks that much. What a great story. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience?
On another occasion (pre-Internet), I left merchandise at a local business to be repaired, along with my Trucking Times business card. When I returned, the owner said a customer had seen my business card and wanted to subscribe to the magazine, so he could find accessories for his new truck.
"You can’t build a thriving business using the old models."
What’s wrong with this picture? Compare it to the first story. How often do you suppose this happens? Why didn’t the truck owner visit a local truck-accessory retailer or ask his truck dealer, or look in the Yellow Pages? The fact is, many buyers don’t know where to shop. No wonder the Internet is the first source choice for many. You can’t build a thriving business using the old models. The original marketplace for truck accessories was with RV dealers. Times change, and we have continued to change with them, but perhaps not as much, or as quickly, as we need to. If you want customers, you need to understand marketing. Real marketing takes planning, work, and sometimes a few dollars to be intelligently leveraged and optimized.
For many years, our industry dreamed of a public awareness campaign for truck caps, similar to the “Got Milk” publicity campaign. It was a major TCAA goal. Unfortunately, members couldn’t agree on key issues, so the program never materialized.
But in 1999, SEMA allocated substantial funding for an industry-wide consumer awareness campaign. Though it generated much excitement, the results weren’t so exciting. There was no practical way to fund or move the program forward long term.
Yet there’s still a need for such an initiative. And over the years, there have been grassroots efforts to help retailers and restylers market and sell more products, some more successful than others. Awarding exclusive territories for valued brands. While necessary, an early reader survey showed 49 percent of cap dealers had franchise concerns. It’s not a marketing cure-all.
Years ago, there was considerable controversy and concern over letting car dealers into the SEMA Show. They’re an integral part of our industry, and should be on your radar as prospects and customers. A similar controversy arose when the Truck Cap Industry Association became the Truck Cap & Accessory Association and courted accessory suppliers to display at its annual trade show. The diversity benefitted all.
A more recent change has been the loss of the marketing ploy that our products are “made in America.” We need to keep updating. If local car dealerships don’t haggle over prices, customers tend to like that. It might be well to follow their lead.
"As markets change, as they have in work-truck accessories, you need to learn how to better market to that specific audience."
There have been many attempts to visualize products on specific models/colors of trucks using electronic configurator programs. They have generally not reached their potential. SEMA’s PRO council developed Codes of Recommended Business Practices. The codes show customers that PRO members belong to a recognized industry organization and adhere to sound business guidelines. A potent marketing tool to distinguish your company from competitors. Some OEMs have approved and licensed certain aftermarket products to be sold with the OEM’s name and logo on them. Brand enthusiasts love these products. Do you have them available?
Dealer buying groups have been formed to help leverage buying capacity. Cost matters.
DCi has an electronic catalog that speeds the ordering process and provides instant access to inventories and product-related information. Speedy purchasing with alternative sources and options can be a big advantage.
Computer-aided design programs are mostly for manufacturers, but the technology is more readily available. It can be used to create virtual reality from CAD drawings. Our September 2010 cover of a restyled truck and trailer underscored the practical use of this relatively affordable technology.
Styles change. Shortly after Hartmut Schroeder purchased SnugTop, he recognized that most then-current-style products didn’t sell well in California. He updated designs and built a new company image. An example of how identifying regional/cultural demographics and customer preferences can build brand recognition. Joint marketing alliances have been formed. Leer has been successful with several of these. The principle can be adapted to local accessory retailers as well.
Project trucks have been leveraged to increase our industry’s visibility. In November 2003, our cover featured Performance West Group’s 2004 Dodge Hemi Rumble Bee. Dodge asked to use the name and style for a special-edition pickup truck. Project trucks abound elsewhere, at the SEMA Show, in enthusiast magazines, on Facebook and You-Tube. How could you play off this to your company’s advantage?
QR-codes are now used commonly with smartphones to make buying information and price comparisons available on the spot — a great way to generate awareness and instant business. Companies have developed innovative marketing aids to support your marketing efforts, including dealer locators found on supplier websites, linking consumers directly to retailers/restylers. Support vendors that support you.
As markets change, as they have in work-truck accessories, you need to learn how to better market to that specific audience. I consider my July and September 2012 articles profiling That’s My Truck to be one of my most definitive work truck articles. That’s because Gerald Freetly was willing to share so many valuable insights into his own business plan and how he and his family are making it work. There’s lots of room for long-term marketing changes. YouTube videos and Internet downloadable forms make DIY easier.
They also help professional installers. Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail marketing also hold promise, and who knows what the future will bring? Dan Sanchez, the technology editor, has been working hard to provide guidance through this new maze of challenges. Despite all these marketing innovations, we still need to do more. Certain principles hold true, and help is available!
• Watch what works for others in and out of our
industry. Adapt them for your own use.
• Watch what doesn’t work, and don’t do that.
• Remain positive and creative.
• Read the P.R.I.D.E. marketing manual downloadable
• Join SEMA, LTAA and PRO. Utilize the resources available to members.