Posted: August 01, 2014
Uncovering the true potential of the roll-up and retractable bed-cover marketBy Ellen McKoy
Pickup trucks have been around in some form since the birth of the automobile in 1896. At first, early customizers modified cars by adding wooden cargo beds. Until 1925, when Ford rolled out the first actual pickup truck, the Model T Runabout. Dodge and Chevrolet followed suit. And the rest is history. But from the get-go, there was one challenge: how to cover and protect cargo. Oftentimes, tarps, canvas and other sturdy materials were tossed over the truck bed. As time went by, automakers came up with a tonneau cover. But unlike anything we’re accustomed to nowadays.
The word tonneau is French, meaning barrel or cask. Early tonneaus were open, barrel-shaped rear-passenger compartments. Later on, canvas covers were created to shield unoccupied rear seats in roadsters, and, more recently, in convertible sports cars.
Somewhere along the way, someone noticed all the pickups with open beds and seized an opportunity. Along came the first tonneau for a pickup bed. And a new industry segment was born.
Soft vinyl covers came first, followed by paint-matched fiberglass, both still popular. Other iterations have entered the marketplace, with several manufacturers now offering retractable, folding or roll-up tonneaus that continue to gain traction among truck owners who use pickups as personal transport or workhorse.
“We’re definitely up year over year,” said Nils Forssman of Truck Covers USA, whose company makes three types of retractable covers: a standard version, plus small toolbox and large toolbox covers. “We see this market continuing to show steady growth. There are a number of factors that have made retractable tonneau covers extremely popular. They are easy to use and versatile, while ensuring security. All these factors apply to work and play.”
According to Vern Kaufman, the popularity of half-ton, short-bed crew cabs has spurred interest in Pace-Edwards’ Switchblade. It features a weather-resistant, padded polymer bonded to rigid aluminum panels and a continuous tension spring to ensure the cover retracts smoothly. “Truck owners want a locking cover at a price point that offers good quality and value. Retractable covers allow the user to have a locking trunk or full use of the bed in one product,” he said. “We are experiencing increased demand for our product lines,” said AgriCover’s Amy Wobbema. The ACCESS® Roll-Up Covers latch down securely and provide full bed usage when needed. And because they mount inside the bed rails, work-related accessories, such as ladder racks and toolboxes, can be mounted on top of the rails.
Functionality and security are key for those who need bed access and cargo protection, noted Brandon Bernardo of Roll-N-Lock. “Growth in the tonneau market has been tremendous and will likely continue provided new-truck sales remain strong. Ease of operation, versatility, and security on and off the job site are critical. Roll-N-Lock provides commercial buyers with an easy and reliable way to protect tools and equipment.”
Folding covers, like the TorzaTop from Advantage Truck Accessories and LEER’s new Trilogy, also offer features appealing to work-truck owners. “Fleet and commercial guys love our product,” said ATA’s Chris Fleeman. “It’s a great option for truck owners who like the multifunction of their truck, and want to protect cargo from the elements and keep it out of sight.”
Added LEER’s Kevin Page: “We expanded our product line to meet the demands of an ever-changing marketplace. Trilogy meets the criteria of many commercial pickup users who primarily carry large, odd-shaped cargo that’s often difficult to cover.” For instance, when closed, Trilogy safeguards tools and equipment, while the segmented deck can be partially or fully flipped up to provide smaller or maximum cargo space.
Given the millions of new and late-model pickups on the road, it stands to reason that opportunities abound to capture a bigger chunk of the bed-cover business.
“The tonneau market has a huge upside,” observed BAK’s Charly Henley. “The number of pickups with open beds would surprise you. While THI has amazing sales numbers, we’ve only scratched the surface of what can be achieved as more consumers find out how these newest designs complement how they use their truck bed. The more we educate the consumer, the more we grow our business every day.”
For starters, suppliers suggest a proactive approach to merchandising. Free-standing showroom displays or a tonneau mounted on a shop owner’s vehicle can help customers preview product choices. “To remain competitive with other channels, it’s absolutely essential for brick-and-mortar retailers to offer potential customers the ability to touch and feel a product,” said Extang’s Steve Kelley.
Suppliers urge retailers and restylers to reach out in other ways to potential customers. Suggestions include participating at hunting, camping and fishing shows, building relationships with auto dealership fleet managers, and attending the NTEA Work Truck Show. And, of course, pursuing fleet and commercial customers in your own backyard. “Waiting for the commercial fleet/work-truck customer to walk in your door may or may not happen,” said ATA’s Fleeman. “You can change that by walking in their door. But don’t go empty-handed. Pick two or three products to highlight during your visit. Be sure to look your best, and over time you will see your commercial business grow.”
Advantage Truck Accessories’ revamped, soft-folding TorzaTop sports a matte black finish, black frame, lower profile and side-arm clamps. It comes fully assembled, requires no drilling, and delivers maximum protection from the elements. www.advantagetruckaccessories.com.
BAK Industries’ BAKFlip hard folding cover is made from tough aluminum panels. Constructed to offer 100-percent access to the bed with a flush-fitting design, the BAKFlip operates from either side of the truck and provides full access to stake pockets. www.bakindustries.com.
Commercial customers will appreciate the versatility of AgriCover’s ACCESS® Toolbox Roll-Up Cover. It mounts behind most 19- to 21-inch over-the-rail toolboxes, allowing small tools to be stored in the toolbox and larger equipment underneath the tonneau. www.agricover.com.
Extang has reengineered its best-selling e-MAX Trifecta to fold up to the cab at a 90-degree angle. Besides offering overall utility, durability, easy operation, and quick installation and removal, the e-MAX is the only soft tri-folding cover that provides full bed access. www.extang.com.
The Switchblade from Pace-Edwards is designed for crew cab, extra short-bed pickups. It features Pace’s ArmorTek construction, a weather-resistant, padded polymer bonded to rigid aluminum panels. A continuous tension spring helps the cover retract smoothly, while a removable canister allows for total bed access and maximum cargo capacity.
The new RetraxPRO from Retrax Holdings combines the latest retractable bed-cover technology with a stylish, glossy black power-coated finish. The cover is constructed of heavy-duty aluminum slats connected by flexible hinges to create a weather-tight seal, and is key lockable in any position along the rails. It utilizes a patented design to retract on sealed ball bearing rollers into a canister at the front of the bed. www.retrax.com.
The low-profile M-Series retractable tonneau from Roll-N-Lock opens and closes in seconds. Other features include a rigid vinyl-over-aluminum laminated construction, a ratchet-style locking mechanism that allows the lid to be locked into multiple latching positions, and a built-in tailgate locking system. wwwrollnlock.com.
The American Work Cover from Truck Covers USA is a unique combination of toolbox and tonneau in one unit. The toolbox actually houses the retractable tonneau and comes equipped with two sliding trays and a dual locking system. Ladder racks specially designed to work with the cover can carry up to 500 lbs. www.truckcoversusa.com.
LEER has expanded its product lineup with the all-new Trilogy, a hard folding, top-mount tonneau. Easy to use and designed for maximum functionality, Trilogy is lightweight, tough, secure, can be installed in minutes, and can travel in both open and closed positions. www.LEER.com.
TruXedo’s low-profile Deuce cover comes preassembled, uses no-drill clamps to install, and mounts inside the truck rail for a low-profile appearance. It features a quick-release latching system for easy bed entry. Rear-mounted controls self-adjust to keep the cover tight in fluctuating temperatures. www.truxedo.com.