Posted: March 15, 2014
25 Years Of Truck Accessorizing
Dave Herrmeyer reflects on how the industry has changedBy Dave Herrmeyer
Wow, time flies when you’re having fun chronicling the changes in our industry, and in our rides. I’m honored to be asked by our current editors to contribute articles relating my past experiences as Trucking Times remembers and celebrates 25 years as the voice of the industry!
I thought the best way to begin would be to look back at how the hopes and dreams stated in our first issue have fared. I hope you enjoy this look back and that you might ponder my personal opinions of what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong as time’s gone by. A good place to start is with a quote excerpted from our very first issue: “With the TCIA (Truck Cap Industry Association)and Trucking Times Magazine as new forums for industry improvement and the introduction of new products, we will see a snowball effect as the industry gains momentum… Truck specialists sometimes do not have the contacts and the background for recognizing the potential for a wide variety of products and services that can be provided. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas last November (1989) had over 550 new products introduced for the automotive aftermarket trade. Many of those products were for pickup trucks. Keeping up on changes is a fulltime job, and that’s what Trucking Times Magazine hopes to help you do.” In that article I went on to explain the restyling roots of the accessory industry.
I then devoted several issues to identifying varied profit centers that could all be brought under one roof — that of the truck-accessory specialist who would build a business based on the reason the buyer bought a truck instead of a car. What was unsaid in that first issue is what I had mistakenly assumed didn’t need explanation. I thought all entrepreneurs were like me — never satisfied until my business was fully optimized and I dominated the market. It took me a long time to learn that many businesses were complacent and had little desire to change anything about how they did business. In fairness to those less-aggressive businesses, many of them were struggling to keep up with their current workload, and when work did slow up, they were struggling to pay the rent, not to add new products to their inventory.
I was excited that companies now had an effective venue for introducing their products through a TCIA trade show and a trade magazine that could easily reach their targeted buyers. Take a moment to imagine the challenges faced by new entrepreneurs before those tools became available.
In the end, however, I watched literally hundreds of companies struggle to introduce what I thought were viable products only to have buyers tell them, “I’ll take some literature for my display and I’ll sell them one at a time as customers order them, but I’m not ordering anything new.” Many dreams were shattered as a result of this phenomenon — including mine. This is not what an industry needs when it is founded on selling accessories that quickly become obsolete or out of fashion.
Some retailers, however, rightfully rejected products thinking they’d buy next year if the manufacturer had the staying power. In many cases, companies brought products to market they were not prepared to back. That issue could have been resolved, perhaps, by a group of accessory retailers willing to confirm the commitment and resources would be available. Without help, many specialty products fell by the wayside. As that happened, I saw another trend begin. I saw fewer and fewer truly new-product ideas. Our creativity fell into slump that lasted nearly ten years. We still get new products, but it’s not at all like it used to be. Perhaps our history of underserving the newcomers’ needs is related — perhaps not.
I also thought more cap dealers would venture into other profit centers, like sound systems, snow plows, commercial products like bed extenders, car alarms, and more appearance items like the graphic packages that were so popular. We did articles on how to sell and install such products, but not much seemed to happen. The same attitudes that kept many dealers from trying new products are likely the same ones that kept them expanding into other profit centers.
At the same time, however, many cap dealers and installers did expand with new products and new profit centers. Some of them made incredible amounts of money in the industry, and they have enjoyed the greatest stability over the long haul. As some of you may know, I’ve always had a penchant for lending a helping hand.
We quickly learned from the get-go to rely on our base advertisers for magazine revenue and to make sure those with new products had more realistic expectations. I spent many hours with industry newcomers, explaining margins, reviewing their products for any flaws and giving them advice that often included, “Don’t quit your day job. I come from a family of inventors, and I understand them, perhaps too well.”
As I reflect on those early days, there’s no doubt in my mind that launching a new magazine was also quite an undertaking — and a bit of a risk. And I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to all of our advertisers for supporting our publication. But I am especially indebted to Dillard Fletcher, then president of TCIA and 20th Century Fiberglass. His decision to purchase the back cover of the first issue — the most expensive page for advertising — not only provided the support I needed, but it came at the time I needed it most. I’ll never forget the feeling of validation I received on that day.
Over the years, the magazine continued to deliver solid, informative content, and chronicle the changes in the marketplace. And, of course, there are many stories to tell. I look forward to sharing more of these memories in the months ahead. In the meantime, I wish all of our advertisers and readers a prosperous 2014. Keep on trucking!