SEMA News—December 2013
By Steve Campbell
In the Family Way With Chuck’s Truck Accessories and Line-a-Bed Sales
Many of the most famous names in the history of the automotive specialty-equipment industry started as family endeavors. Chuck’s Truck Accessories and Line-A-Bed Sales exemplifies that type of familial heritage. In fact, one of the joys of doing business for owner Chuck Vaughn comes from the fact that his wife, father, son and several cousins work at the retail and installation store.
The business, as it currently stands, is a testament to the need for flexibility and adaptation as markets shift, open and close. The company has adopted new methods of advertising, made judicious adaptations in the way they stock parts, but been careful all along to emphasize customer service.
“My uncle held the original patent for Line-A-Bed plastic bedliners, and my dad, Jimmy Vaughn, started our Nashville store in 1976,” Vaughn said. “We originally did nothing but drop-in bedliners, but we expanded in 1985 into truck tops and accessories. We no longer specialize in any one area now. It’s a complete free-for-all. On any given day, we may install a truck top or two, five or six bedliners, raise or lower a truck or Jeep, spray a couple more bedliners, install a gooseneck or step bars, wire a trailer and then swap an engine.”
The expansion started gradually when bedliners alone weren’t providing enough revenue. The younger Vaughn had completed his bachelor’s degree in business and began to add products to the store’s repertoire. The business stayed in its original location for the first few years and then moved to its current site. Eight years ago, the business had grown enough that Chuck’s Truck Accessories built a larger facility to incorporate more retail space as well as several installation bays.
Chuck’s Truck Accessories and
“The market has changed a lot, and I don’t think you can stay in business as a specialty store any more,” he said. “You must be very flexible, be willing to do all that a customer needs and do it promptly—or someone else will.”
Chuck’s currently employs four full-time sales and technical personal, including dad Jimmy, who still works full time at the age of 72. Vaughn brings in three part-time employees during the summer months when the store is at its busiest. He also teaches his installers how he wants things done.
“We have them follow us through the various installations we do,” he said. “Most of the employees have been around the store a lot and were already truck guys, so they have been working on their own vehicles for years.”
A few outside sales people added to Vaughn’s accessory business education, and the truck-top enterprise blossomed under the tutelage of an industry veteran.
“When we started, a guy who worked for American Specialty Inc.—which was eventually acquired by Keystone Automotive Operations—helped me a lot with the accessory end of things,” Vaugh said. “We also brought in Clifford Davenport, who had worked for Gemtop Manufacturing for a long time. He came to work for us for four or five years and taught us the topper business.”
While the store has been successful since its inception—even through the recent recession—inventory control has changed. With the burgeoning of light-truck models and trim levels, it is no longer possible to maintain the enormous parts diversity required.
“At our height, we stocked about $450,000 in parts,” Vaughn said, “but things changed in 2004. We now keep only about $150,000 in parts in inventory. Trucks are changing so drastically that we now rely heavily on our warehouse distributors, which include P&E Distributors, Keystone Automotive Operations and Meyer Distributing.”
Vaughn said that his relationship with his WDs is one of the keys to the success of Chuck’s Truck Accessories.
“In our location, you cannot physically stock everything,” he said. “That’s why our distributor network is so important.”
The store receives at least one delivery per day from each WD and two from P&E. But because P&E is so close, Chuck’s also makes up to 10 trips a day to the warehouse for parts and kits.
“That’s the thing that sets us apart,” Vaughn said. “We can supply parts almost immediately through our distributors. A guy will walk in, want an Undercover tonneau, and we’re able to get it for him right away. With most shops, it takes until the next day because they have to wait for somebody to deliver it. We can go to P&E and be back in 30 minutes. It’s rare for us not to be able to get what the customer wants quickly.”
Great salespeople at the WDs also make a huge difference, he said. Chuck’s has had the same salesman at Meyer Distributing since the start of business there, and it’s been the same at P&E. And Vaughn is also able to rely on the WDs to keep him informed about new products and vehicles, with recommendations for items that sell well.
Vaughn said that most of the customers at Chuck’s are 45 years old or more, and a lot of them are retired UAW workers. That demographic is steadily changing, however, with lift and leveling kits as well as wheels and tires bringing in a much younger clientele. The shift in age may also partially explain the success of Vaughn’s best marketing arm: the Internet.
“You’ll never beat word of mouth, but that only comes with great customer service and time,” he said, “Most of our advertising is on our website, Craigslist and the Internet yellow pages.”
Vaughn said that he’s pretty good with computers and was able to build the website himself using Network Solutions. He added that it was the best return on an investment he’s ever had.
“The biggest draw on the site is the used stuff—tops, lids, parts and accessories,” he said. “Most of the calls we get are from the website’s used-parts pages, and that’s all day every day. My wife Tiffany handles most of that. She also does local shopping pages that she understands from doing antiques and crafts, and those pages do just about as well as Craigslist. The used products also bring in customers who start out looking there and then decide on something new instead.”
Of course, none of it works without great customer service. Vaughn said that avoiding mistakes is on a par with his WD relationships in ensuring the success of his store.
“You don’t want to see customers come back until they are ready to buy another part,” he said. “We make sure that they’re not having to return because of a squeaking step bar or something wired wrong or incorrectly installed. We have almost no comebacks. That’s where word of mouth builds.”
It also leads to one of the greatest rewards for him and his employees—seeing a customer grinning from ear to ear as he’s handed back the keys to truck with a new installation. A huge bonus is the fact that it’s all a family affair.