They're not the typical products tire dealerships use to boost sales...the bug shields, towing accessories, truck bed liners, trailer hitches.
But selling truck and sport-utility vehicle accessories has been a boon for several tire dealers in Kentucky and West Virginia.
Looking for additional revenue streams, these dealerships have added these and other products to their traditional offerings of tires and vehicle service. And the results have been nothing but positive-raising their overall sales by 20 to 25 percent, according to those business owners.
What's more, such products can provide a healthy return to the bottom line.
``Dealers can enjoy a 30- to 50 -percent gross profit (on these items) depending on the products,'' said Brooks Swentzel, director of aftermarket sales at S&S Tire Inc. in Lexington, Ky. S&S distributes truck and SUV accessories from three of its six warehouses-those in Lexington, Nashville, Tenn., and Huntington, W.Va.-and has plans to begin carrying them in its Galax, Va., Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis, Tenn., distribution centers.
The dealership, which also operates 20 retail tire stores, expanded into vehicle accessories about six years ago. At the time, the company had dabbled in offering custom wheels but had not yet begun stocking these primarily bolt-on accessory items.
Mr. Swentzel said he had been encouraging his father Paul, owner of S&S, to get involved in the accessory business, but wasn't having any luck. That is, until his dad attended the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas where he saw aisle after aisle of add-on truck and SUV accessories. Then the idea began to take hold, his son said.
SEMA estimates that each new SUV and pickup truck owner spends an average of about $1,800 on accessories for his or her vehicles within the first six months of ownership. It pegs the total LT and SUV performance parts and accessories market at $8 billion.
``That's a huge amount of money,'' Brooks Swentzel said.
Initially, S&S focused its efforts in selling accessories on its retail operation and has even opened an outlet in Lexington-which it calls S&S Performance Center-dedicated to the automotive aftermarket. That store sells tires and truck and SUV add-ons but offers no vehicle service.
Eventually the company decided to also distribute these lines through its wholesale operation. ``That allowed our dealer customers to capture the market out there,'' Mr. Swentzel said.
Today, S&S distributes and retails an array of bolt-on accessories including trailer hitches, running boards, tool boxes, bed liners and mats, window film for tinting, nerf bars (round tube steps), fiberglass shields for campers, along with its own line of custom wheels called Extreme Alloys.
The effort has paid off handsomely, bringing in $9 million in revenue in 2001, Mr. Swentzel said.
S&S's foray into truck and SUV accessories has led many of its retail tire customers to also take on these items.
One such dealership, East Kentucky Tire in Martin, Ky., had been generating a lot of pickup truck traffic in its retail store in Prestonburg, Ky., and had wanted to do more business in that market, General Manager Wesley Case said.
However, as a result of its location in the rural southeastern part of the state, ``suppliers were not beating our doors down,'' he said. But as S&S got more into the accessories business, ``we got more into it, as well.''
East Kentucky Tire, which also operates a warehouse and commercial outlet in Martin, offers about any aftermarket product available for pickups, Mr. Case said. This includes bed liners, bed tarps, step bars, a variety of plastic vent visors and headlight covers-all of which are on display in its showroom for customers waiting for their vehicles to be serviced.
A key advantage to selling accessories is that it's an add-on sale, Mr. Case said.
``One of the secrets for people surviving in the tire business is getting extra profits per (sales) ticket,'' he explained. Taking business from a competitor is difficult, so an effective way to add to the bottom line is to increase the dollar profits per customer.
And there's not a big comeback with accessories sales, he added.
For East Kentucky Tire, offering truck accessories ``probably has increased the average ticket by nearly $100,'' Mr. Case said, and ``has developed into about a 20-percent jump in our business.''
Asked what concerns a dealer should have when offering accessories, Mr. Case quickly replied: ``No. 1 is having a good supplier.''
With S&S delivering twice a week, ``our inventories are amazingly low, where you don't have to have tens of thousands of dollars in stock,'' he said. ``We turn our inventory once a month.''
Dealers also should look at their customer base and determine the types of vehicles they're attracting to their service bays. ``We tend to specialize in truck accessories as pickup trucks outnumber cars,'' he said.
Getting involved in selling accessories is easy, added Mr. Swentzel, noting S&S will supply dealers with the products. But not every dealer has warmed to the idea. ``Some have taken it and run with it, others won't touch it,'' he said.
To be successful in selling accessories, the owner or someone in the company needs to get into it, he explained. ``You have to have someone there who is an enthusiast,'' he said.
City Tire & Auto Repair Centers, with outlets in Williamson and Logan, W. Va., is another S&S customer that has found success stocking vehicle accessories. That business now accounts for about 25 percent of the dealership's $3 million in sales, said owner Jerry Haynes.
But unlike the other two dealerships, City Tire caters not only to the light truck and SUV owner but also to the local ``tuner car'' market.
The dealership stocks trailer hitches, bed liners, vent visors and bug shields at both stores, offers wheels and import accessories through Keystone Automotive Industries Inc. and sells such tuner items as stainless steel mufflers and intake systems, Euro-style tail lights and undercar lighting kits. It also sells ATV tires and batteries.
City Tire even has someone on staff, Mike Runyon, at the Logan store, who handles the truck accessories and tuner part of the business for both locations and also performs as a service writer.
``He has a following of young people,'' Mr. Haynes said. ``We're acquiring a reputation as a place to go for restyling cars.''
One way City Tire has attracted new customers is by providing 10-minute oil and lube service at each location.
Five years ago, when he rebuilt the Williamson outlet, Mr. Hayes added two oil and lube bays, giving the store 10 bays and 8,000 square feet. ``What happened is we went from doing 10 to 15 oil changes a day to 40 or 50,'' he said.
This not only has increased the company's volume of business, but ``we find a lot of other work on these cars,'' Mr. Haynes said.
Then, after buying the Logan store last August, he added on two oil and lube bays, giving the former independent Goodyear outlet 10,000 square feet and nine bays. He also beefed up its tire inventory from 250 units to 3,000 and added the same accessories lines as the Williamson site.
Both stores have large showrooms-3,500 square feet in Williamson and 4,500 square feet at Logan-which Mr. Haynes has filled with tires and accessories displays that customers can browse while waiting for their vehicle to be serviced.
``A good showroom is important,'' Mr. Haynes said, where customers can ``spend time looking at stuff. They pick up $10 to $15 items right and left,'' he said.
To promote its accessories business, City Tire places flyers in the local newspapers. He said Keystone has helped with a flyer on accessories for small import vehicles. The company also has a flyer going out on light truck accessories.
The only drawback to offering vehicle accessories, according to Mr. Haynes, is ``you've got to invest money into to it to get the inventory. But if you don't, you can't sell it.''