Keystone News

Keystone's George Lathouris shares his 38 years of experience, and discusses the growing Jeep® market

Industry veteran and 2013 SEMA Person of the Year George Lathouris has vast experience in the off-road market. Specifically, the knowledge he has acquired about all things Jeep® make him an asset to the Keystone category management and sales teams, as well as to the industry at large. Here he shares some of his 38 years of industry wisdom.

Q: The Jeep® market is always bumping, so what makes this year any different?

Lathouris: First, the Jeep® network just continues to broaden as more and more mainstream consumers get involved. Second, high-quality products are in and low-quality products are out. Retailers and restylers stand behind trusted brands. Consumers want the brand names that look good and last longer, so they’re willing to spend bigger bucks for the quality upgrades. Third, adaptability is a huge trend. Consumers want products that accommodate multiple lifestyles, from convertible tops and safari doors to exterior cargo management.

Q: How do you help your sales team stay abreast of the ever-changing and ever-growing Jeep® market?

Lathouris: We encourage key manufacturers to conduct sales training in our call centers regularly. We promote national, regional and community Jeep® events, and support our associates’ attendance. We recently joined the Off Road Business Association (ORBA) to get more engaged in this ever-growing marketplace. We also have a teacher-pupil model in the call centers, so those who are considered experts in the Jeep® and off road market segment serve as educators to their peers -- the go-to person about all things Jeep®.

Q: Do you ever anticipate an end to the Jeep® craze?

Lathouris: No. It’ll continue to provide growth for the aftermarket. Introducing the new JK with the four-door option in 2007 changed the dynamic, providing families with a fun and functional vehicle, and Jeep® with explosive sales growth. It’s attractive, versatile and now a family-friendly option that has expanded Jeep®’s reach. It’s added new wind in their sails. In addition to the expanding first and second owner JK market, the TJs are highly desirable for many off road enthusiasts. So the aftermarket potential will truly be a long term ride for all of us.

 

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.

Why Jeep®?Jeeping ni Moab

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.

Why Diversify?

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.”

What’s Hot?

Rapto Worx HandlesHow 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 sharBestop Sunrider Tope 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.”

Why Merchandise?

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.

 

Recent Articles

Keystone Automotive Announces 2019 RAM Project: The TerraRAM

Exeter, PA – Keystone Automotive Operations announced during its BIG Show at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, TX, plans to build a customized 2019 RAM 1500 show vehicle – the TerraRAM.  Modeled to be the Ultimate Overland Adventure Vehicle, the TerraRam will be a fully self-contained, on- and off-road explorer that combines rugged good looks with the latest technology and performance improvement products available in the aftermarket.

 

“We wanted this project to be a collaborative one where we have a chance to showcase the products and brands going into the build along with our customers that will be instrumental in putting the whole thing together,” says Larry Montante, VP of Category Management. Playing off the BIG Show theme, “The Ultimate Road Trip”, TerraRAM will be taken on a year-long odyssey that will feature Keystone customers contributing to the build along the way. Larry adds, “We think it will be a terrific way to build a community around the project and shine a bright light on the suppliers and installers that help make it happen.”

 

Shrouded under a cover on the exhibit hall floor during BIG Show, the TerraRAM drew a lot of attention and questions from attendees and exhibitors. “The show is a great platform to create some excitement for the project. We have a clear vision about the features we want to build into the truck and look forward to flushing out the finer details over the next 30 days as we sift through the proposals we received from suppliers that want to be part of the project,” says Larry. “Suffice it to say, the TerraRAM will embody the spirit of travel wherever the road leads.”

 

Plans for the TerraRAM include featuring the latest in solar and satellite technology to improve off-grid connectivity. Additionally, extensive suspension improvements, exterior and interior upgrades, performance enhancements and a few surprises from Keystone’s RV supplier partners will help make the vehicle a home on the road. The company’s goal is to deliver a comfortable, self-sustained earth traveler that can thrive in the most remote locations and harshest conditions. 

 

The truck will be equipped for boondocking, rock-hopping and interstate travel (but only as a last resort) and have an extensive array of technology and performance products provided by the distributor’s supplier partners. “Through terraRAM we hope to illustrate the value aftermarket products have in helping enthusiasts realize their vision for how they want their vehicles to look and be used,” commented Harneet Kaur, Directory of Marketing at Keystone.

 

According to Kaur, this TerraRAM is more than a typical truck build project. “While our intention is to create a vehicle capable of far reaching journeys, we also intend to follow the journey that makes it capable,” she says.  By documenting the build and following the vehicle across the country as it goes from stock to the TerraRAM, the company hopes the product and installer profiles they produce and promote on social media and other select media outlets, creates awareness and interest for the sponsors’ products and the vehicle itself.

 

Keystone invites the industry and enthusiasts everywhere to take part in the TerraRAM’s journey in 2019 by following the project on Keystone Social Media Channels, TheEngineBlock.com and selected media outlets.  

 

Keystone is the leading distributor and marketer of automotive aftermarket products and services, uniquely positioned to offer customers and suppliers substantial scale, the most comprehensive inventory selection in the industry, high levels of customer service, and innovative marketing support. Keystone is committed to expanding its offerings to meet the ever-growing needs of its customer base, providing them what they need, when they need it.


70 New Suppliers to Exhibit at BIG Show

EXETER, PA – Keystone Automotive Operations’ BIG Show is adding a lot of new features… and exhibitors to its event March 8-9 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas.  In addition to a Warn sponsored keynote by Ken Schmidt, a double-header concert featuring Tim Montana and Karen Waldrup and casino night presented by WeatherGard, the BIG show is attracting new suppliers as exhibitors like never before.

“We have more than 70 suppliers exhibiting this year that weren’t at our 2018 event,” says John Spaulding, Director of Events for Keystone Automotive Operations. “The interest in BIG Show as a way for suppliers to connect with jobbers, dealers, installers and retailers continues to grow. Our show platform is becoming the premier destination for introducing new products, selling to new customers and engaging with the market in ways that most of us can’t in our day-to-day roles. It’s a vital part of our business and we know our customers and suppliers look forward to it every year.”

New items are essential to the aftermarket and its more than just model year changeover that’s driving new product development. Innovative solutions for improving vehicle performance, whether it’s suspension, exhaust, engine, tires and wheels or accessories that enhance the overall functionality, are creating sales opportunities for aftermarket product resellers and installers. Events like BIG Show play a pivotal role in showcasing these opportunities and connecting all the supply chain players in an effort to grow sales for everyone.

“The show experience has been designed to focus on new products,” says Spaulding. “We have a New Products Showcase with more than 180 new items on display. In addition, 36 companies are exhibiting new Point-of-Purchase tools that give our attendees ideas about how to merchandise and sell new products in their stores.” New suppliers will be highlighted on the BIG Show floor map and will be prominently featured throughout the event.

Brand new suppliers to Keystone will be showcased in a special sales promotion at BIG Show. Golden tickets representing extra bonus discounts will be given to every attendee. The tickets can be used for purchases from the 40 exhibitors at the event that are new to Keystone.

“Our sales initiatives and on-the-floor activity are all about helping our customers grow their business,” states Vice President of Sales for Keystone Automotive Operations, Fred Petrivelli. “We know that these new product and new lines can have an incredible impact on their sales and profits and want to make sure they are aware of the opportunities so they can make informed decisions about the best way to serve their customers and their businesses in the future,” he adds.

The Keystone BIG Show is the industry’s largest distributor event in North America drawing thousands of attendees from Canada and the United States. Host to more than 200 exhibiting companies, nearly 100 show vehicles and an agenda packed with special events and networking opportunities, the BIG Show is the place to be March 8-9 in Grapevine, TX.

Keystone is the leading distributor and marketer of automotive aftermarket products and services, uniquely positioned to offer customers and suppliers substantial scale, the most comprehensive inventory selection in the industry, high levels of customer service, and innovative marketing support. Keystone is committed to expanding its offerings to meet the ever-growing needs of its customer base, providing them what they need, when they need it most.

Keystone’s Parts Via Program to add Broader e-Commerce Reach and Loyalty Benefits for Its Members

Exeter, PA - In 2017, Keystone Automotive Operations launched Parts Via, an innovative sales network that linked organic site traffic at its brand  partner’s websites to local brick and mortar business via a “Buy Now” button. The profits from the online transactions are shared among the participating supplier partners and dealers while the free, ship-to-store delivery option served as a catalyst for driving consumer traffic to the local business. This new, incremental business stimulated add-on sales, installation revenue and service opportunities, furthering the value of the Parts Via Program to its membership.

The company announced that it is launching Phase II of Parts Via to the automotive aftermarket during its annual BIG Show March 8-9, 2019 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, TX. This phase includes program enhancements that expand e-commerce reach through a consumer facing website and marketplace store. In addition, Parts Via members will be part of a new customer Parts Via loyalty program.

“Our development roadmap for Parts Via has always included growing the network though enhanced tools and participation,” stated Bill Rogers, President of Keystone. “We recognized early on that a consumer’s path to purchase is one with many forks and the decisions made by them along their journey impact where the final purchase is made. We wanted to build a program that put our partners in the best competitive position to capture the sale regardless of where and when a consumer chooses to buy something, whether it is in a store or online.” He concludes.

Keystone will be previewing its new consumer website www.partsvia.com during the BIG Show as part of the Phase II rollout. The site will complement the “Buy Now” functionality on partner sites and have the added benefit of hosting all the Parts Via partner products in one location. The new site will include a robust parts look-up tool, fresh content and ship-to-store / ship-to-home options. “This will further expand the opportunity for our brick and mortar Network Dealers to participate in an on-line sale that may have otherwise gone around them.”  Also, a new appointment scheduling feature that will allow Parts Via Network Dealers to promote available installation times will be added soon.

Understanding the sheer volume of business generated through online marketplaces that brick and mortar businesses are not participating in, prompted the company to look for a solution that allows their customers to claw back some of that lost revenue. Keystone has launched its Parts Via Amazon Marketplace store. This storefront will sell products under the Parts Via banner and generate similar benefits for the member Network Dealers. The storefront’s current 2,661 SKUS are made up of high-volume MAP brands that help maintain margins throughout the supply chain.

“As we thought about the introduction of Parts Via Phase II, we wanted to leverage some of the unique capabilities we are providing our customers and wrap them into a loyalty program,” said Larry Montante, VP Category Management. “We are introducing the Parts Via Loyalty program in conjunction with the Phase II launch.” The new loyalty program employs a tiered approach to participation that makes getting involved easy and scalable for future growth regardless of a business’s size, focus or markets served. As a Parts Via Network Dealer’s participation and engagement with Keystone grows so to do the benefits of being in the Parts Via Loyalty Program.

The dealer’s benefits will be determined by their status within the Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of the program. Some examples of the benefits include dealer web locator placement and positioning, Parts Via profit share, installation network inclusion, marketing support, BIG Show benefits, preferred product access, exclusive promotional opportunities, unique travel and event incentives, and Keystone services incentives.

“Just like airline mileage programs, we intend to award points and member benefits based on sales and other goals,” says Montante. He adds, “We will be using an online rewards tracking program that will allow our customers to monitor their status in real time and redeem their points on a variety of member rewards.” The availability of these new tools and services will allow Keystone to expand the Parts Via value proposition to its Brand Partners and Network Dealers driving more business back into local businesses.   

Keystone is the leading distributor and marketer of automotive aftermarket products and services, uniquely positioned to offer customers and suppliers substantial scale, the most comprehensive inventory selection in the industry, high levels of customer service, and innovative marketing support. Keystone is committed to expanding its offerings to meet the ever-growing needs of its customer base, providing them what they need, when they need it.

Keystone Now Offers Black Horse Off Road

Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. has added Black Horse Off Road to its stable of truck and off-road product offerings.

Long Island-based Black Horse Off Road has grown from a small wholesaler of accessories to a nationally-recognized brand during the past 15 years, according to Keystone. The company offers grille guards, bull bars, brush guards, safari bars, hard tonneau covers, no-drill side step systems and running boards, bumper guards, lighting solutions, and electric winches.

The company’s latest offering, the Black Horse Armour Bull Bar, is constructed of heavy-duty stainless steel in an aggressive and modern angular design, available for a variety of makes and models.

Black Horse Off Road recently announced a partnership with American Luxury Coach (ALC), which debuted a limited-edition Black Horse Series 2019 Chevy Silverado 1500 at SEMA 2018.

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