SEMA News - July 2010
The Recession Hurt, But Prospects Are Looking Bright Again
Restyling provides increased marketing opportunities for both independent businesses and vehicle dealers. While the OEMs have reduced the variety of their offerings, restylers are taking advantage of new techniques and technologies to provide products and services that are otherwise unavailable. Courtesy of Tops & Trends
“Decontenting by manufacturers to lower costs will provide a lot of opportunities to accessorize and restyle,” said Karl Stearns, president of KMS Marketing Solutions and chairman of the Professional Restylers Organization (PRO).
“Manufacturers also frequently bundle certain popular items, such as spoilers, with other pricey options, and the whole package pushes the vehicle out of the price range for buyers. It produces vehicles that consumers don’t necessarily want, with upgraded trim packages or performance features that must be purchased to obtain the few items the buyer does want. Restylers can make the popular parts available to dealers so that vehicles can be niche-marketed while eliminating the expensive, undesirable options.”
Knowledgeable dealers have come to understand that restyling provides a significant marketing opportunity. While the OEMs reduce their offerings, restylers are taking advantage of new techniques and technologies to provide products and services that are otherwise unavailable.
Innovative sales approaches can provide winning scenarios for all involved. For instance, Katzkin offers a premium leather upholstery and sunroof package, providing additional profit to the new-car dealer and a cost savings to the vehicle buyer. Courtesy of Katzkin
The most popular exterior product accessories currently come in the form of bolt-on designs, according to Jeff Nowicki, president of Specter Werkes, an automotive prototype and fabrication facility based in Troy, Michigan. “Properly designed and executed products are really what the marketplace is looking for right now,” he said. “Smaller companies are able to ramp up quicker and don’t have to go through the validation and testing that the OEMs do. We’re able to get product to market a lot quicker.”
The buzz for his business currently is carbon fiber, Nowicki said, and the automakers have embraced it on high-end vehicles such as the ZR-1 Corvette and others. Carbon-fiber produces not only an aesthetic appeal but also offers weight reductions in components such as spoilers, chin pieces, lower front splitters and underhood accessories.
Eldon Bracken, president of Graphic Mart, said that printed graphics and vehicle wraps offer another cosmetic option. Many of the attendees at the recent PRO Technical Skills & Training Conference, held in Lima, Ohio, mentioned that graphics and striping are becoming a stronger part of their businesses again, Bracken said.
“Digital printed graphics can be repeated with consistency over time,” he pointed out. “Lower-cost digital printers allow shop owners to create their own graphics as they need them, and vehicle wraps are changing the way businesses advertise. We’ve also seen this technology being used with a niche of enthusiasts who want to be different and express themselves.”
The light-truck market—hit with the double whammy of escalating fuel prices and then the recession—seems to have stabilized somewhat as fuel costs first retreated and then steadied, and some restylers are seeing increases in their SUV and pickup business.
The marketplace is looking for properly designed and executed products, said Jeff Nowicki, president of Specter Werkes, and smaller companies can get product to market quicker than the automakers. Courtesy of Specter Werkes
Nowicki said that leather remains the core restyling product for interiors, but he has seen a movement away from traditional perforated fabrics and basic flat leathers toward more unusual skins, with the market moving to high-end suede for steering wheels, seat inserts, door panels and shifter-ball boots. “Everything that your hand touches should have that soft touch so it doesn’t slip and you get better feedback,” he said.
Electronics have also become a significant interior restyling item. Several sources indicated that the Ford Sync system has led to a revolution in how consumers and the industry view electronics, and electronics manufacturers have been forced to review their offerings to ensure that they are compatible with factory systems. Not only navigation and entertainment electronics but also safety sensors have led to refinements in specialty equipment.
“New vehicle technology and safety systems continue to be a main focus for Kaztkin,” said Stefan Majlinger, regional manager for Katzkin Leather Interiors, “We work with independent testing facilities as well as OEM engineering departments to ensure that our products don’t hinder the operation of any safety systems. We also employ a fulltime person whose main focus is technical issues. Our technical specialist helps our customers understand how to properly deal with occupant classification system sensors and airbags in vehicle seats.”
Katzkin is also using unique, ultra-soft interior leathers in addition to its standard offerings, and the company has added a combination package to improve sales. The new package includes premium leather upholstery and a sunroof, adding value to base and mid-level vehicles. “It provides a great cost savings to the new-car buyer and an additional profit to the new-car dealer,” Majlinger said. “It’s a win-win for everyone, and it is selling very well!”
Electronics have also become a significant interior restyling item. Not only navigation and entertainment electronics but also safety sensors have led to refinements in specialty equipment. Courtesy of Tops & Trends
Industry leaders also advocate taking advantage of educational opportunities as well as the ProPledge program, in which participating companies offer a minimum of 36-month/36,000-mile warranty coverage and provide minimum liability coverage of $5 million.
“SEMA and PRO have really pushed to make the ProPledge program a viable source of information for dealers so that they feel comfortable if they’re going to work with aftermarket products, whether it’s a sunroof, leather or navigation,” said Joey Johnston controller of the restyling company Tops & Trends. “The program verifies that dealers are going to get a quality product installed by a quality installation facility. Industry certification and the ProPledge program are two of the best efforts to put the dealers’ and retail consumers’ minds at ease.”
With the trend toward fewer new models and vehicle owners continuing to hold on to their current cars and trucks, restyling and accessorization can play major roles in providing the options and value that today’s customers seek. But the key is being proactive, business veterans said.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there for the industry,” Stearns advised. “If you’re dependent on car dealer business, get out there and strengthen your personal relationships with dealer principles. Do some PR and marketing work. Make yourself an invaluable part of the dealer’s operations. Find new products. Learn new skills. Don’t be afraid to tackle things you’ve avoided in the past. With good training, you can do it.”