Jeep® Is More Than Just A Brand -- It’s A Lifestyle
Seventy-five years and still going strong, we salute an iconic brand that made its debut as a wartime hero and successfully transitioned from battlefield performance to an alluring lifestyle, both on- and off-road. It’s fascinating how something so utilitarian simultaneously represents individuality, empowerment and adventure, evoking a sense of pride and unity among a community of diehard loyalists, while maintaining its exclusive status. All because they’ve managed to sell a lifestyle, not a product.
Few execute at the level of Jeep® and even fewer brands balance a global impact with social responsibility. The current tag line -- “We Don’t Make Jeep®. You Do” -- is a humbling nod to loyalists around the world, because anything is possible behind the wheel of a Jeep®.
Jeep® has succeeded both quantitatively and qualitatively, from global brand recognition to impressive unit sales and more. In 2015, Fiat Chrysler reported a record-breaking year. Not only were annual sales up seven percent, marking the sixth consecutive year of growth, but Jeep models also increased 42 percent collectively, experienced unprecedented sales in the U.S., and had its best December to date.
Jeep® steamrolled into 2016 and drove FCA profits during the first quarter. An impressive 15 percent year-over-year sales gain marked 72-plus months in an upward trajectory, with Wrangler continuing to lead the way. Yet, the sales are merely a profitable byproduct of an even bigger feat. Jeep® has evolved into an international phenomenon with significant influence over consumer demand, touting a rugged appeal that transcends societal demographics.
What makes the Jeep® such a commanding consumer purchase? In part, its ability to attract everyone from mainstream consumers and general car enthusiasts to outdoor lifestylers and hardcore rock crawlers, commented industry veteran George Lathouris, Keystone’s director of U.S. sales. “Until 2007,”said Corby Phillips, Warn Industries’ national sales manager, “we were accustomed to the 2-door sport utility of Jeep®s of the past,” which had a more limited consumer base. “With the release of the JK 4-door, it appealed to a whole new buyer,” he added. “You now see more women than ever piloting their own JK and jumping into the lifestyle. The new Jeep® platform offers extra space and convenience, and truly marks a new era for the brand.”
For an insider look at the current ins and outs of the Jeep® market, Keystone, the leading and largest wholesale distributor of aftermarket parts in North America, teamed up with some of its customers, sales associates and accessory manufacturers.
Racecar aficionado Enzo Ferrari once said, "Jeep® is America's only real sports car." It’s true, kind of. Synonymous with freedom, the Jeep® brand is an experience, an adventure. It offers enthusiasts a similar thrill in a top-back, doors-off, monster-truck tires sort of way, but is exhilarating nonetheless. “Jeep®s are a fun vehicle to drive, plain and simple. It’s a vehicle that’s easily accessible to consumers, and it’s a highly customizable option that truly offers something for everyone, whether someone is building it to tackle Moab trails or just wants to take the doors off, add a bikini top and cruise,” said Ryan Osborne, off-road enthusiast and Keystone sales associate in Greensboro, NC. There are no limitations to its appeal, and that alone spells cash for retailers and restylers.
Ricky Artes, owner of Jeepers Den, Orlando, Florida, has been living the Jeep® lifestyle since 1995 and transformed his hobby into a business venture in 2003. The rest is history. Jeepers Den is booked solid for months at a time and experiences double-digit growth every year. While it’s a Jeep® specialty shop, Artes and his team can fix or customize any vehicle. “We believe in doing business the right way. We’re honest, provide great customer service, treat people kindly, and build awesome Jeeps,” said Artes.
There are very few shops that operate within a silo anymore. Modern means smart diversification to increase inventory margins and bolster profit potential. Archie’s Off Road & Performance Center in Wells, ME, has been thriving for 34 years. The company quickly learned the benefits of diversification during the 2008 economic downturn, rounding out its offerings in retail, enhancing installation capabilities and taking advantage of market trends, such as the steady and reliable Jeep business. “The Jeep® market has grown tremendously, and we don't see it changing any time soon, as Jeep® is the number-one accessorized vehicle in the market,” said owners Archie and Julie Stevens. “They have done a great job continuously reinventing the brand to appeal to a wide variety of consumers. You can have a hardcore off-road Jeep®, one that dominates at the drag strip, appeals to a pavement princess, rides at the beach or pleases a soccer Mom.”
How many products and at what cost to build a rig that can withstand the assault of harsh landscapes? Accessorizing a Jeep® doesn’t need to be a tug of war between quantity versus quality. “The brands and products continue to evolve, but the main, core focus of the Jeep® market remains the same,” said Rhonda Pilto, a West Coast-based Keystone sales associate. And this consistency offers retailers and restylers a level of stability when investing in inventory.
Keystone offers its customers access to hundreds of aftermarket manufacturers that produce quality products at an affordable price point and for those who want the premium treatment, well, they have that too!
Archie’s Off Road purchases plenty of JKS, Fab Fours, Pro Comp, ReadyLIFT, Mickey Thompson, Toyo, Super Swampers, Skyjacker, Smittybilt, WARN, Crown Automotive, Hypertech, Superchips, Edge, Magnaflow, MBRP, K&N and aFe from Keystone. Jeepers Den kicks out its fair share of TeraFlex, Factor 55, Rancho, BOLT high-lift mounts and fender flares of various brands. “Lifts, wheels, tires, bumpers and LED lighting continue to drive Jeep® aftermarket sales for my customers in the Upper Plains region,” said Jeff Grega, a Keystone sales associate with experience in the Northeast and Midwest regions. “But one of my favorite new products is the Bestop Sunrider, which is an all-weather replacement for bulky freedom panels on factory hardtops.”
Keystone’s Osborne agreed that Bestop’s new product is a game changer. “We anticipate this to be a hot seller in the Southeast areas, states that see sunny weather most times, but benefit from having a hard top (during) some poor conditions throughout the year.” In Texas, it’s go big or go home. “Texas continues to knock out the 3.5-inch lift and 35-inch tire option as its go-to, or adding flat fender flares to get even larger tires stuffed under their rigs,” said Erich Ross, Texas-based Keystone sales manager. “LED headlight replacements are still very popular as well, and I think Jeep® owners are always looking for new and innovative ways to carry bicycles, kayaks, etc. to promote their outdoor lifestyle, so cargo-management options are important, too.”
So how do aftermarket manufacturers produce game-changing products year after year? “Rugged Ridge is always in motion to remain successful,” said Northeast Sales Manager Ray Weaver. “Everyone from marketing to engineering contributes and everyone shares in the company’s success. We’re not afraid to try new things and if something isn’t working, we’re not afraid to change course either. Our new C3 Cargo Cover, Exo-Top and stamped steel bumpers are unique, functional and give the consumers what they want.”
As Jeep® gears up for its 2017-2018 launch, aftermarket manufacturers are ready to pump out even more dynamic product. “New models always represent a sales opportunity and Jeep® will be introducing a redesigned Wrangler soon. Our engineers already are implementing a strategy so that Rugged Ridge can be first to market with several products,” said Weaver. “One nice thing about the Wranglers is they pass through several owners, each wanting to add their own modifications. As a manufacturer, distributor, retailer or restyler, this offers several bites of the apple so to speak,” he added.
Failing to merchandise a showroom properly can result in missed opportunities with new and repeat consumers. Keystone’s Pilto believes in the power of displays, always reminding her customers about the importance of allowing consumers to use their senses to interact with the product they want to purchase.
“Displays sell product! They trigger a consumer response since they can look, touch and judge the quality right in front of them. When consumers shop online or out of a catalog, they have to rely on pictures, descriptions and reviews,” said WARN’s Phillips.
It’s also a perfect opportunity to upsell, he added. “If you’re selling a WARN winch, then merchandise winching accessories near the winch display and help a Jeep® consumer make the most of their purchase. WARN offers a rigging/accessory bag that comes with a snatch block, 2 d-ring shackles, an 8’ tree strap, winching gloves and a 30’ tow strap -- everything they need to get unstuck!”
Jeep® -- An Aftermarket Game Changer
Shop owners and aftermarket manufacturers that continue to engineer, market and sell quality products perpetuate the success of the Jeep® brand. Continue to ensure generation after generation of Jeepers have access to the most innovative aftermarket products, so they can trail blaze an individualized path and explore, pushing boundaries both on- and off-road.