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New Industry Market Trends Prove to Be Game Changers for Fleet

Change is often as unpredictable as it is inevitable. Business models either adapt to emerging market trends and consumer demand or become crippled by stagnant business practices. Leaders across the professional fleet market segment have found successful ways to navigate the challenges of an ever- evolving commercial industry that is heavily influenced by a variety of dynamic factors, from pioneering vehicle platforms, remarkable technological advancements and innovative aftermarket potential to more intangible variables, such as fluctuating fuel costs, uncertain economic stability and broadening emissions regulations.

Yet commercial industry innovators, such as OEM and aftermarket manufacturers, continue to advance the automotive sector. Why? Because they embrace change, evolve and grow with the market, continuously reinventing themselves, thus achieving sustainable growth through effective R&D, strategic planning, proper forecasting and appropriate diversification.

Eric Fairchild, Director of Northeast Sales and US Customer Support, is a veteran Keystone employee for nearly two decades. He’s seen the professional fleet market segment evolve masterfully throughout the years, always finding innovative ways to remain relevant even during challenging economic times. New commercial vehicle models have given the industry a facelift, making both form and function important factors in the decision-making process for end users. “The industry continues to be resilient while diversifying. The ability of our customer base and the manufacturers to react to trends efficiently is somewhat remarkable and really is the core of why they stay relevant,” said Fairchild. Aftermarket manufacturers and distributors like Keystone have a significant role to play in the growth of the commercial industry.

As the leading and largest wholesale distributor of specialty automotive parts in North America, Keystone is well versed in the opportunities that change provides. Its business strategy has flexed over the years to embrace change where change brought growth, including logistics expansion, brand and inventory diversification, as well as market segment specialization.

Keystone category management and sales leadership recently teamed up with WEATHER GUARD® and some valued customers to educate retailers and restylers about the current state of commercial business, emerging market trends in the industry, new and improved vehicle platforms and the significant aftermarket potential for professional upfitters. The takeaway? It’s a growing and changing segment, so don’t leave any money on the table!

State of the Business

Business continues to grow, as US auto sales remain strong in 2016 with a forecast of 17.6-17.8 million vehicles sold by year end, an increase over a record-breaking 2015. “We now have greater confidence that record sales in 2015 will lead to yet another volume record in 2016,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive, a leading provider of automotive production, sales and powertrain forecasts and automotive industry market intelligence.

Commercial vehicle sales are part of the upward trend. According to the February 2016 edition of the NTEA OEM Monthly Chassis Report, “Commercial truck chassis sales rose 19.5 percent in the U.S./Mexico market in November 2015 as compared to the same month the previous year, with cumulative sales up about 9 percent. Canadian sales rose 25.5 percent in November and were up almost 15 percent for the year.”

The “Looking Ahead” section of the report paints a positive global growth outlook with projections at 3.4 percent in 2016 and 3.6 percent in 2017, corresponding with forecasts of 7.5 percent for India, 2.6 percent for the United States and about 1.8 percent for the European Union.

Scott Percival, Category Manager at Keystone, echoes that sentiment and adds there are a number of factors contributing to the growth potential of fleet business in 2016, including a rebounding US economy that finished strong at the end of 2015, as well as a decrease in fuel costs and low financing rates, which have supported the increase of new truck sales.

Mike Antich, Contributor, Editor and Associate Publisher of Automotive Fleet, reminds us that “fuel represents approximately 60 percent of a fleet’s total operating costs. Consequently, the stability of fuel pricing over the past 36 months has been the No. 1 factor contributing to keeping fleet operating costs flat.” Low fuel costs certainly enable businesses to further invest in their fleet and more vehicles on the road create additional professional upfitting opportunities for you!

Impressive year-over-year commercial growth last year will prove challenging to surpass in 2016. Antich, who authored 2016 Buying Forecast for Commercial Fleet, states fleet ordering for the 2016 model- year is forecast to be flat compared to the prior model-year, but “as the economy has improved in some economic sectors, these companies will in, crease their fleet buy due to growth in their businesses.”

But projections of a “flat” year still yield an impressive number of bid opportunities for professional upfitters...

John Brassfield is the owner of two Trucksmart retail locations, one in Rocklin, CA, and the other in Aurburn, CA. Truck accessory sales have been the driving force of Brassfield’s business model the past 29 years and there’s no slowing down in sight. Sales are booming and the professional upfitting contracts keep rolling in. “We have reliable and consistent professional bids with the municipality and railroad, fire protection, security and pest control companies, landscapers and builders and electrical contractors,” said Brassfield. “We (retailers and restylers) thought that when the economy collapsed, this Bedslidewas going to be the new state of normal. But it’s come back even better, at least regionally. I see a lot of contractors investing in brand new vehicles and equipment.” Commercial professionals + New Vehicles + A Need for New Equipment = $ for Retailers and Restylers

Market Trends and Products

Jeff Kotz, Senior Product Manager for commercial vehicles at WEATHER GUARD®, says there has been a shift to lighter weight, more fuel efficient models that deliver what a user needs in a more economical way. But, he notes, “While many businesses are investing in upgraded vehicles with enhanced features, the average life of a commercial vehicle remains 10-11 years in comparison to the historic 7-8 years, so we still see a lot of replacement product sales.” WEATHER GUARD® top sellers continue to be the 127 series toolboxes, the 184 series side boxes and the 300 series headache racks. There remains a huge and positive response to matte, textured black finishes on aftermarket products, added Kotz.

What’s selling BIG at Keystone? “Brands like WEATHER GUARD®, Kargo Master, Cross Tread, Dee Zee, Bedslide and Fill-Rite continue to drive the trend with their toolboxes, tanks, van packages, racking systems, window screens, cargo slides and bulkheads. Jotto or RAM Mounting System laptop mounts and various track systems, hitches, wiring and tie downs are asked for frequently as well,” said Thomas Sabetta, a sales associate in the Exeter, PA, Keystone call center. WEATHER GUARD®, BackRack, Rigid LED Lighting, Samlex, Air Lift, Firestone, Bedslide and the Cequent family are some of the most popular brands Brassfield purchases from Keystone to service his professional customers.

While many new trends are impacting the professional market segment, three are revolutionizing the industry:

• The increase of light-duty trucks as vehicles of choice: The Wall Street Journal reported a 6.5 percent increase versus prior year in light duty truck sales during January 2016 and based on February 2016 sales data, the Ford F-series, Chevrolet Silverado, RAM and GMC Sierra all land in the Top 20 of overall vehicle sales, sending a very strong message that these pickup trucks are not only desirable everyday drivers, but also strong contenders in the professional space. “The ½-ton market has made so many strides in horsepower, fuel efficiency, towing capacity and overall price tag that these vehicles have become serious contenders for fleet bids. The Ford F-150, Chevy and RAM are some of the top vehicles being upfitted,” said Kelli Kenyon, a sales associate at the Greensboro, NC, Keystone call center. Brassfield agrees, “I’m used to seeing bids for ¾-ton trucks, but the ½-ton vehicles have improved in every single area.” Practicality is dominating the decision making of end users, added Brassfield.

Strong light-duty sales provide a positive outlook for truck accessory shops and professional upfitters alike, especially since the light-duty market has made enormous strides in quality performance, features and affordability.

• The form, function and rise in sales of commercial vans: According to the February 2016 edition of the NTEA OEM Monthly Chassis Report, “Through November (2015), total (US/Mexico commercial van) sales were up 21.8 percent, and shipments were just behind with a 21.4-percent growth rate.”

Kotz communicated a possible trend in work truck versus van, as data supports commercial work truck registrations have declined, while van registrations continue to increase. Could it be the start of a shift? Time will tell.Weather Guard Toolbox

Kenyon says aftermarket product sales for commercial van models continue to do very well at Keystone, stating the company has gone even deeper and broader on application coverage to accommodate the growing business. Form, function and an array of innovative aftermarket upgrades to choose from, such as the new WEATHER GUARD® EZGLIDE2 ladder rack system, continue to make commercial vans an attractive, affordable option.

• The groundbreaking Ford aluminum-alloy body: Simply put, “It’s a game changer. No doubt about it,” said Kenyon. The introduction of Ford’s groundbreaking aluminum-alloy body is not merely a phase, rather a new standard in the automotive industry. Ford encourages its brand loyalists to Go Further, and the aluminum-alloy body allows just that. “Class-exclusive* military-grade, aluminum alloy body— this is the same 5,000/6,000-series high-strength grade of aluminum that’s used in industries such as aerospace, commercial transportation and energy. Our objective: reduce weight while increasing strength. What’s more, aluminum-alloy is resistant to dents and corrosion.”

Kotz believes, “Making the decision to venture into aluminum has completely changed the industry and its impact is just starting. Other makers are following suit and the truck equipment industry must be ready for it, all the way down to the aluminum and steel plants.”

Erich Ross, Regional Sales Manager at Keystone, adds, “As the truck market continues to evolve, fuel economy will always be a major factor. Engine design technology has always played a huge role in that, but Ford has taken it a step further with its aluminum body. This has allowed it to reduce the F-150 by 700 pounds. That directly affects fuel economy and puts money back into the pocket of the business owner who relies on a fleet of trucks out on the road daily.”

Popular Vehicle Platforms

Impressive horsepower, torque and towing capabilities in combination with upgraded features, improved fuel economy and top rated safety features are now standard at a value price… allowing some extra wiggle room in the budget for upgraded LED lighting, towing accessories, cargo securement, toolboxes and racking systems. There is no shortage of quality choices in the work truck area, all of which have prime upfitting potential. Here are a few of the top models recognized as contenders in the professional fleet market segment:

• 2016 Ford F-150 named Kelley Blue Book’s Truck Best Buy
• 2016 Chevy Colorado was named Motor Trend’s 2016 Truck of the Year
• 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 Named the Texas Truck Showdown Towing Champion
• RAM 1500 named 2015 Fleet Truck of the Year
• 2015 Vincentric Best Fleet Value in America™ awards went to Toyota Tacoma Base Dbl Cab 2WD for mid-size pickup; the RAM 1500 Tradesman Reg Cab 2WD for full-size ½-ton pickup; the RAM 2500 Tradesman Reg Cab 2WD for Full-Size 3/4-ton heavy duty pickup; and the RAM 3500 Tradesman 6.4L V8 Reg Cab 2Wd for full-size 1- ton heavy duty pickup.
• Ford named Best Overall Truck Brand in 2015 Kelley Blue Book Brand Image Awards
• Ford F-150 named 2016 Green Truck of the Year Award

How Can You Get a BIGGER Piece of the Action?

As a retailer, if you’re interested in exploring the professional fleet market segment then strive to foster productive connections with local municipalities, reach out to vocational businesses and partner with a trusted name like Keystone to get you started with effective display programs, merchandising, stocking and spec’ing guidance, as well as product education.

Keystone offers its customers product from more than 800 suppliers and access to 165,000 unique SKUs. The sophisticated logistics system operates through a highly reliable and route-based fulfillment network. The eight warehouses and 47 non-inventory stocking cross dock locations are strategically positioned throughout the country to best meet the delivery demands of customers in North America.

Steve Hesson, owner of Steve’s Vans and Accessories in Marietta, Ohio, says, “Ninety-nine percent of the product we’re selling or upfitting comes from Keystone. The large offering of brands and products makes it possible for me to diversify and grow.” Brassfield adds, “A KAO truck is in both my stores every single day. I can order right now at 7 pm and have it here in the morning. It’s impressive.” That kind of service gives you a significant competitive advantage during any bidding process.

What’s Kenyon’s advice to professional upfitters? “Let us work with you to tap into the bidding potential for local municipalities. I encourage my customers to diversify the right way, through proper product education, so their business can become a viable option in the fleet bid process,” she said.

Enter 2016 with a fresh perspective—the professional fleet market segment continues to embrace change as a springboard for opportunity and so should you! Get a bigger piece of the action by optimizing the many resources available to you through your Keystone salesperson.

 

Recent Articles

Keystone Automotive Launches Exclusive Interactive Garage Integration
Keystone Automotive Operations, distributor and marketer of automotive aftermarket products and services, has now exclusively integrated Interactive Garage, a virtual custom vehicle build visualizer, into its dealer transactional portal, eKeystone.com.

This new tool allows Trial and Premium subscribers to the eKeystone.com platform a visual sales tool to demonstrate to their customers exactly how their selected parts and accessories will appear on their vehicles prior to purchase and installation.

“It is important to us that we continue to develop enhancements to the eKeystone user experience for our jobbers while providing them with tools designed to assist the sales process and help them grow their businesses,” says Keystone vice president, category management, Larry Montante. “We believe that high-quality services such as Keystone Interactive Garage add significant value to our eKeystone Premium users with an easy-to-use tool that their customers will appreciate.”

Accessed via eKeystone.com, the Keystone Interactive Garage features 38 base vehicles sorted by year make and model, along with their corresponding color options and at launch, features more than 10,000 individual part variations from nearly 90 participating suppliers. Customized builds can be provided to in-store customers as a printout while the parts themselves can be added to the eKeystone cart with a single click.

“We developed Interactive Garage to be the perfect complimentary sales tool for jobbers, dealerships, and accessory manufacturers to provide the best user experience for the ultimate customer: the end consumer,” states Interactive Garage CEO and founder, Ryan Hagel. “Teaming up with Keystone provides our platform significant access into the marketplace that will aid in the acceleration of aftermarket product sales through visual vehicle personalization for users across the U.S. and Canada.”

This addition to the platform is now available and included with eKeystone Premium subscriptions. A customized version is also offered that delivers jobbers the ability to manage their retail pricing, customize the look and feel of the user interface, and incorporate the tool into their own websites.

“We’re receiving a tremendous response to Keystone Interactive Garage from our jobbers as well as our supplier partners,” added Montante. “With new parts being added daily, we will continue to expand the product offerings and with it, the variety of custom build options.”

2019 SEMA Show attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about the Keystone Interactive Garage when they visit the Keystone Booth #21249, while those who will not be attending the show are encouraged to speak to their Keystone representative for more information or visit: http://wwwsc.ekeystone.com/KIG.
Cap-it International partners with Keystone Automotive

EXETER, PA (September 10, 2019) - Today, Andrew Funk, President of Cap-it International, announces a partnership with Keystone Automotive Operations, Inc. as a Designated Supplier of Automotive parts and accessories to its 29 Cap-it Genuine Truckware locations across Canada and the United States.

Previously, Cap-it locations were serviced by Western Warehouse, a Wholesale Distributor of light truck accessories based in Western Canada owned by the Funk family.

“Since our beginning in 1977, Cap-it has been focused on providing an exceptional retail experience to our customers with a selection of light truck, adventure, and power sports accessories that is second to none. We believe this partnership will allow us to accelerate our efforts expanding the Cap-it Brand across North America. With Keystone’s exceptional service and inventory, they are the perfect partner to allow us to focus on growth while at the same time ensuring our franchisees and customers receive the best service possible.”

“We are excited to partner with the Cap-it team. Our mission and values match up nicely with theirs. Hank and Andrew have built an impressive business model focused on providing the best possible customer experience.” said Bill Rogers, President of Keystone Automotive Operations, “We have been servicing the Cap-it locations for many years and we are excited about the opportunity to significantly expand the partnership and enable their growth plans.”

Since 1990, Cap-it® Genuine TruckwareTM has established itself as a world-class retailer of quality truck accessories and camping products. Because Life’s an Adventure®, Cap-it’s 29 stores across North America provide customers and their vehicles lifestyle solutions for both work and recreation.

About Keystone Automotive Operations:

Keystone Automotive Operations 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.

Are You Tripping Up Your Customers on Their Path to Purchase?

It is no secret that a consumer’s journey to making a purchase is convoluted. The advent of online shopping, social networking and the availability of more information than ever before has created better informed and somewhat hard to predict buyers. In an October 2016 Thinking with Google article—titled 7 ways to win consumers on their path to purchase—the author states that the path to purchase is rarely linear and more akin to a scavenger hunt. To be successful today, a business must find ways to make sure they are found and captured in that hunt.

To get into the game you have to be ready to play and there are hundreds of books, articles, blog entries and white papers that provide insight into content, page design, search engine optimization, customer engagement, advertising and transaction management strategies that can help lay a foundation for your ecommerce initiatives. Not getting these things right will definitely hamper your success rate.

Oddly enough, however, those fundamentals are not what trips up consumers when they are making purchases online. Steven Noble, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, stated that a consumer passes through four lifecycle phases on their path to purchase: Discover, Explore, Buy and Engage. Historically, online and instore experiences—Discover and Explore—are positive and helpful in steering consumers to a buying decision.

It is at the Buy phase that eCommerce and instore purchases stall. In-store a consumer may fail to pull the trigger on a purchase because of price, experience with sales person, product availability and host of other reasons. Online that failure to commit is recorded as an abandoned cart and it is a significant problem for ecommerce stores. In his January 2019 article on Barilliance.com, Stephan Serrano states that the average online store loses over 75 percent of their sales to cart abandonment.

Why are we able to get them to the gate but trip them up at the finish?

The reasons are plenty but center on transparency. Research by Statista and Baymard cite shipping and other unexpected costs along with the need to set up a user account as the primary motivators for not completing transactions. In the Barymard study of 1,799 U.S. adults in 2017, 60 percent of the respondents said they abandoned a cart because the extra costs associated with shipping, tax and fees were too high.

Imagine if you could claw back some of that 60 percent, not to mention the other 22 percent we leave at the alter because we want them to set up user accounts. Seamless, painless and easy to execute transactions can close more business. Buy-as-a-guest is a popular solution and offering free shipping can certainly help. However, tight profit margins can make free shipping services unaffordable for some businesses.

Keystone Automotive’s Parts Via sales network provides an innovative solution that tackles these issues head on. Parts Via connects brick and mortar retailers to supplier sites and the consumers looking to buy online. A simple Buy Now button inserted on the supplier’s site allows the consumer to purchase at the peak of their exploration process and choose to have their product shipped-to-home or shipped-to-store. Whatever shipping option is selected the retailer and the supplier benefit from the transaction.

The simplicity of the transaction process—no user account required—keeps consumers engaged and the free shipping, ship-to-store option delivers two distinct benefits. It gives the consumer what they are looking for (free shipping) and it provides traffic to the brick and mortar business allowing them to add to the original purchase and offer installation and other services. The Parts Via Network currently supports multiple supplier partners and 2,000-plus dealer members and many additional partners and dealers are coming online daily.

Keystone recently previewed its new consumer website partsvia.com during its annual BIG show in Dallas, as part of the program’s Phase II rollout. The site will complement the Buy Now functionality on supplier sites and have the added benefit of hosting all the Parts Via supplier’s products in one location. The new site will include a robust parts look-up tool, fresh content and ship-to-store and ship-to-home options. A new appointment scheduling feature, allowing Parts Via dealers to promote available installation times, will be added soon.

Keystone has also 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, where every transaction, a portion of the sale is shared with a Parts Via Network Dealer. The storefront’s current 2,661 SKUS are made up of high-volume MAP brands that help maintain margins throughout the supply chain.

A new loyalty program is also available to Parts Via network members. 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.

 

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.


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