Posted: May 23, 2014
How To Easily Profit From The Jeep Market
Restylers And Manufacturers Give Insight Into Which Jeep Products Are The Hottest SellersBy Dan Sanchez
Many retailers and restylers are gaining new customers by offering products and installation services for the growing Jeep market. According to a recent report by WardsAuto, Jeep® Wrangler sales have increased by more than 50 percent within the last few years, making it one of the most popular SUVs on the road today. Combine a large number of Jeeps with a growing abundance of accessories, and you’ve got a formula to establish a new profit center for your store or restyling business.
Manufacturers have been aggressive in supporting this segment of the market, and already provide their dealers with opportunities to expand product lines and deliver additional revenue. Many who began making products for trucks, such as bumpers, nerf bars and grille guards, quickly added Jeep accessories early on and have enjoyed riding the wave of accessory sales. “The growth of the Jeep market has been especially productive for us,” said Mike Deschenes, managing partner of Rampage Products. “We basically launched our business about a year prior to the release of the new version 2007 JK Wrangler. Overall, this specific model, along with the continuing Jeep upgrades in other models, such as the Grand Cherokee, have attracted a wider enthusiast audience to compliment the historical rough-and-tumble, off-road Jeep crowd.”
“The Jeep market has had a huge impact on our growth over the last few years,” added Jeff Perez, president at Aries Automotive. “We’ve seen the growth in our Jeep accessories nearly double, and this year is even better. The Jeep market is now close to 20 percent of our growth, and with our latest lines we see that vastly improving.”
Even the performance segment of the truck-accessory market has seen the potential for growth with Jeeps, and has also expanded product lines to take advantage of it. “Without a doubt, the truck market has been our core, but with the growth of the Jeep Wrangler over the past 10 years, it would have been crazy for us to ignore,” said Danny Adair of PayDirtMedia for Gibson Performance Exhaust. “Jeep enthusiasts love to hear great sound with more power too. That’s why we offer 100 percent bolton, single and dual systems, including headers for some models, and have expanded the line to include the Jeep Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Commander, Compass, Liberty/Renegade, Patriot, as well as the Wrangler (from 1991-2014).”
Accessory manufacturers that have traditionally only been in the truck and SUV market, have also seen the growth of the Jeep segment, and realize that these customers have similar likes, as well as the urge to accessorize their vehicles. “The growth of the Jeep market has impacted ICI’s business in a positive manner and encouraged ICI to expand on new categories, specifically Jeep related,” observed Mike Stanifer, ICI’s national sales manager. “Truck owners and Jeep owners are both enthusiasts of aftermarket accessories. It’s not uncommon for the same person to be both a Jeep owner and a truck owner.”
Some manufacturers have been so successful tapping into the Jeep market that they’ve even begun developing niche products that allow retailers the capability to fulfill the needs of Jeep owners who are more serious about how they use their vehicles and the products they want for it. “With the high rate of Jeep accessory sales, we have developed many Jeep- specific products, such as winches and winch mounting systems, LED lights and mounts, receiver hitches, GenX step bars, Wade floor liners and cargo mats, just to name a few,” said Bob West executive VP, Westin Automotive Products.
With proven sales that show a clear area of growth, many truck accessory retailers are still hesitant to stock Jeep accessories. But the reality is that truck-accessory manufacturers are using existing distribution channels to make it easy for retailers, and many are finding that it’s not so difficult to get Jeep owners into their stores.
“A percentage of Jeep owners also own trucks. By offering both truck and Jeep accessories at one location could allow the retailer to capture both markets,” said Mike Timmons, BedRug national sales manager. “The transition is simple,” added Aries’ Perez. “We find that a lot of our customers are carrying more and more Jeep products. It used to be only the hardcore Jeep enthusiasts who would accessorize their Jeeps. With the increasing popularity, however, we’re finding everyone from weekend warriors to the nonoff-roader wanting to add something.”
So the potential for gaining new customers is high for truck-accessory retailers and restylers if they are willing to step up, as the majority of Jeep customers are not so much different from their current clientele. “The demographics of this expanded consumer base is not dissimilar to the truck owner profile, and is quite similar to popular SUV models such as the Escalade, Tahoe and Expedition that many of the truck retailers had already recognized as parallel vehicles,” said Rampage’s Deschenes. “Those truck retailers that supported accessories for the Jeep Wrangler have captured more business.”
Recognizing that it’s not a huge leap of faith, could allow retailers to expand their customer base and increase profits. “There is high crossover, 40 to 50 percent, of truck owners who also own a Jeep,” commented Jim Chick, director of sales and marketing at Bestop Inc. “So it’s not a huge reach to add another vehicle segment to a retailer’s line up. Some research, merchandising, and POP displays will result in customers commenting that they didn’t know your store could get parts for their Jeep.” While those are good percentages to work with, it’s important to also realize that not every Jeep owner has a truck and vice versa. “One of the things that make Jeep owners so interesting is that many of them are truck and non-truck owners, too,” said West of Westin. “The latter seem to gravitate back to the dealer or to Jeep-specific retail locations for accessories.”
But knowing the difference in the type of Jeep customer you can attract into your store is one of the reasons why truck-accessory manufacturers have been so successful. They’ve recognized the needs of the larger percentage of Jeep owners who enter truck-accessory retails stores, and cater to what that owner will want and purchase for their vehicle. “We noticed that not every Jeep owner is a hardcore off-roader,” says Adair. “So we’ve created Gibson exhaust systems that emphasize style while still providing improved horsepower and torque. We also know Jeep owners want new and cool designs, so we’ll continue to give it to them.”
Exploring New Pathways To The Jeep Market
Knowing that your store can attract truck owners who also have Jeeps, it makes sense to begin by identifying those products that can be easily added to existing inventory and that will sell quickly. Many begin by using accessories that cross over both markets, but one of the most popular is LED lighting. Manufacturers such as Westin now have a complete line of LED light bars that are available for a wide variety of trucks and Jeeps. Accessory manufacturers like ICI are also making it easy to replace factory driving and fog lights with LEDs using mounting bracket kits. “ICI makes brackets called OE Lighting Solutions, to mount aftermarket LED lights on Jeeps and pickup trucks,” said Stanifer. “ICI’s Light Locks are also very popular. These are bolts that are especially designed for the Jeep pillar to secure LED lights on the vehicle and prevent theft.”
In many cases, truck-accessory manufacturers like BedRug have taken their existing product line intended to protect the bed of a pickup, and simply found that it easily adapted to work on Jeeps. “With the unique interior products BedRug has to offer, we’ve seen steady growth,” said Mike Timmons, BedRug national sales manager. “Since the release of our first Jeep TJ (97-06 Wranglers) replacement carpet kits in 2012, BedRug has been focused on growing this category by releasing the same product for Jeep JK (2007 – 2014 Wranglers) in 2013,” he added. “With the demand for flooring kits in older Jeeps, we’re excited to announce the release of the YJ (87-95) and CJ (76- 86) models this year!”
Another popular Jeep item that is a good seller, but not normally found in truck-accessory inventories, is a soft top. Soft tops allow the Jeep owner to easily open or close the top for a variety of weather conditions. “BesTop’s new and popular Trektop NX is an example of a flagship product any truck-accessory outfit can install and service without
any special training,”said Chick.
Along with these items, many manufacturers said you can’t go wrong selling products like nerf bars, floor mats, hitches, light bars, and cargo-carrying solutions. In fact, you’ll find that many manufacturers have already begun to add these types of items to their product line, making it easy to work with companies you already purchase from and have relationships with. “ICI also offers nerf bars for Jeeps and intends on expanding into other types of side protection, including the Rocker Armor panels that are already in our product lineup,” said Stanifer. “Jeep ses a fair amount of common drivetrain and hard parts from its sister companies at Chrysler,” observed Chick. “Specific products like suspension, wheels, oversize tires, interior parts, lighting and so forth, are likely right there in the catalogs retailers and restylers already have.”
According to the manufacturers we interviewed, the market isn’t likely to shrink anytime soon, and many of them are gearing up for new products that will be added to their line. “We definitely anticipate continued growth in the Jeep market,” said West. “Jeep owners want to stand out from the crowd, and they are always looking for that new item that will make their vehicle look different and personal. We are developing some new items that we hope will appeal to this kind of Jeep owner in the future.”
Many of these companies have been around long enough to know that diversification is the key to success in this business. In fact, Bestop is celebrating its 60 anniversary, which lends to its market savvy and credibility of getting into new markets that will sustain their company for a while. “Chrysler predicts Wrangler sales to remain strong for the next couple of years when they will introduce a replacement for the “JK” platform,” says Chick. “In the meantime,Bestop continues to find new products and new markets for its current products as the Jeep Wrangler finds new owners in the US and across the oceans.”
So with so much potential and support from many of your existing manufacturers, jumping into the Jeep accessory market can be a positive growth area for restylers and truck accessory retailers,all it takes is the willingness to head off the beaten path and trek onto new ground.
PHOTOS FROM TOP TO BOTTOM:
1) Aries Automotive’s Pro Series front Jeep JK Wrangler grille guard allows the installation of LED lights that are within an articulating channel bracket that protects the light and allows it to be angled to the desired direction. The grille guard is made from 1-1/2 OD steel tube with a 1/4-inch thick front plate, and is available in a textured black powder coat finish. www.ariesjeep.com.
2) The Rampage Frameless Trail Top converts Jeep Wrangler hardtops to a frameless soft top, and includes new Door Surrounds that allow for a snug fit without additional bows or support hardware. www.rampageproducts.net.
3) BedRug’s Jeep flooring and liner kits are fully custom-molded, waterproof, and install quickly without the need to remove seat brackets or center console. Individual pieces can be quickly removed and hosed off after a long day on the trail. The BedRug Jeep liner dries quickly, resists harsh chemicals, and will not stain, stink, mold or mildew. The 1/4-inch polypropylene foam insulates the interior from road noise and heat. www.bedrug.com.
4) ICI has expanded its line of products to include items like their Jeep Wrangler Magnum Bumper. The Magnum front bumper features a winch mount and locations to add LED lights that are important to Jeep owners wanting to get serious about venturing into the outdoors. www.icionline.com.
5) Westin manufacturers a wide variety of products for the Jeep Wrangler that includes the company’s winch bumpers, nerf bars, wind deflectors, hitches, and the company’s newest line of LED light bars and light mounts. www.westinautomotive.com.
6) Gibson Performance offers a variety of Jeep Wrangler muffler and exhaust systems that provide additional performance. The new Dual Extreme systems are available in Metal Mulisha with a 5-inch Ceramic-Coated Tip and Stainless Steel Skull Badge, or the Gibson Elite Black Series with 4-inch Black Ceramic-Coated Rolled Slash Tips. www.gibsonperformance.com.
7) BesTop offers its Trektop NX, a bowless Jeep soft top that uses the Wrangler sport bars to give it shape and support. This gives the top a fastback or “raceback” look that’s stylish, and different from factory soft tops. The Trektop NX features removable windows, factory-style door surrounds, Sunrider sunroof features,and factory-style header bar. www.bestop.com.