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

COVID-19: How we are responding, a message from our President

 

 

To our trusted suppliers and customers:

The unprecedented effects of COVID-19 (coronavirus) are having a tremendous impact on our lives and businesses. The health, safety and wellbeing of our employees, customers and suppliers is our primary concern and we are continuing to take actions to mitigate the risks across all our facilities based upon guidance provided by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and other public health authorities and resources. We continue to expect that all employees and drivers remain vigilant in maintaining proper hygiene habits in addition to social distancing.

Our practices have been enhanced to include more frequent, regular cleaning and disinfecting of delivery vehicle surfaces such as interiors and steering wheels, remote controls on lifts, doorknobs and other areas of the vehicles that are frequently touched. We have modified travel and in-person meeting policies appropriately and expect our employees to stay home if they show symptoms or feel sick. We have instituted rigorous cleaning and sanitation practices throughout all our warehouses, vehicles, offices and facilities. Where possible, employees have been transitioned to work at home while we have established strict distancing guidelines for associates working in any of our operating facilities.

We actively monitor the fluid developments of this situation as we continue to serve our customers and support the interests of our suppliers. Many of our customers and suppliers are small and medium-sized, independent essential businesses and as a vital component of the supply chain, we are doing everything we can to service them and the communities and consumers they serve.  In the furtherance of this objective, we continue to receive and process orders and maintain deliveries where there is demand and not limited by government restrictions.

We understand the economic realities of this unprecedented situation with their impact on our industry and believe that in staying the course, we can take steps to mitigate the disruption to our business partners.  We are confident that this challenge will pass, and we will move forward together.

We wish you safety and health and thank you for your support.

Thank you,
Bill Rogers

eKey App Used by Over 1000 Jobbers
The eKey Mobile App launched early 2019. No more were Jobbers tied to a computer terminal. The app gave the flexibility to access eKeystone tools from anywhere they choose. In addition to Year/Make/Model and VIN barcode reader, Jobbers can use the Smart Search tool they are familiar with from the eKey website. It doesn’t stop there, once the parts are orders on the app, Jobbers can track the status of their delivery truck, ensuring that service schedules can be maintained. The app is available for download on the iTunes App Store and Google Play.
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.

scroll up