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Posted: August 29, 2015

On The Jeep Trail

Keystone's George Lathouris Shares Insight On How Retailers Can Profit From The Jeep Market

By Dan Sanchez

It's clear that truck accessory manufacturers have embraced the Jeep market for a reason. It's one of the fastest growing segments of the truck and SUV industry and is not showing any signs of slowing down. So manufacturers have jumped in, creating a variety of products that allow truck accessory retailers and restylers an opportunity to grow their businesses. From the viewpoint of a warehouse distributor, the Jeep trend can also give truck accessory retailers another avenue to grow their customer base too.

With 38 years of experience, former Chairperson of the SEMA LTAA and SEMA Person Of The Year,  Keystone's George Lathouris, believes Jeeps are one of the most exciting trends he's seen in recent years. "Overall, Jeeps are more accepted for families, and because of that, the popularity of the vehicle has increased and is quickly becoming the second vehicle." For the truck accessory retailer, Lathouris says it's important to realize that a large portion of this growing Jeep accessory market isn't necessarily made up of hardcore four-wheelers. In fact many truck accessory manufacturers who are now producing Jeep products that are sold through WD's like Keystone, agree that the target market are those Jeep owners who want to customize their vehicles to look good and perform off-road. Yet, most are primarily used for daily driving.

Because WD's like Keystone are quick to move on trends and carry a full line of Jeep parts and accessories, truck accessory retailers can have a full supply of hard and soft goods available to them when they're ready to jump into this market. "I think is our job to have the right product to suit the marketplace and to deliver at the right time," says Lathouris. "It's important for retailers and restylers who work with WD's like Keystone, to take advantage of the trends to grow their business."
Of the many brands and products Keystone carries, Lathouris says that retailers can't go wrong selling Jeep soft goods and cargo solution products. In addition, should retailers get some hardcore off-roaders into their stores, Keystone has a supply of its branded products that can cater to those customers as well. "The Trail FX/ brand is a perfect example of this," says Lathouris. "It was developed in response to a changing marketplace. We began with bumpers, grille guards, and side steps, and then added items such as wheels and a high-quality recovery winch line for those retailers who have grown their Jeep customer base. This variety gives jobbers high-quality products, that also satisfies consumer demands. It also allows Keystone to provide for reasonable support. In addition, these items are not just for Jeeps, but can also be sold for fleets and work-trucks. So there's always ways to move product off the shelves."

As with any new market, retailers are often fearful of stocking new products and not being able to properly communicate with their customers.  For those retailers, Lathouris has some suggestions on how to easily transition into selling Jeep products. "The first thing any retailer should do is attend a Jeep show to see what parts are popular and who the customers are. Right now there's a Jeep show or gathering every weekend so it's easy to find something local," says Lathouris. "Retailers can also get online and see what Jeep people are talking about, and what products they are interested in."

In addition, one of the easiest ways that Keystone can help retailers over their fears is to provide marketing materials and the company's 150 page Jeep catalog. "At Keystone, we can supply retailers with popular products such as soft-tops, roof racks and any other item that are hot sellers right now," says Lathouris. "We also provide website support, marketing materials, and our Jeep catalog can sit on the counter with the retailer's name on it. Customers can pick out what they want from the catalog and get it quickly without the retailer having to make any major inventory investment. The catalog is well thought out and is lifestyle specific, so new Jeep customers to experienced off-roaders will find something they like."

While some retailers think that the Jeep market has reached its peak, most believe it's not even near that point. "What the truck a retailer should pay attention to, is the amount of vehicles being sold," says Lathouris. "The data tells us that more Jeeps are being sold year after year. It's a very vibrant and growing market in which the brand has been established and goes through a constant evolution."  While the data shows that the Jeep craze is still in full swing, it's important to jump in on the trends. With support from WDs and manufacturers, selling Jeep products will continue to be profitable for retailers who added them to their inventory.

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