However, the accessories business can be a lot like the clothing industry, with styles and fads going in and out of fashion. It's tough enough getting failure rates right for "regular" automotive products; correctly determining the whims of motorists' tastes in automotive accessories is another story. The changing nature of the accessories market can make figuring out what to stock or manufacture a tough one indeed. That's often easier said than done from the perspectives of WDs, stores and manufacturers.
Manufacturers are in an even tougher position because they need to know what's going to be "hot" not only now, but in the future as well, so they can prepare tooling and design enough in advance so stocks can be ready to ship when demand starts to spike.
"We get information from industry sources on vehicle sales by different categories," said Nathan Espinosa, director of Channel Marketing for Lund International. "We look at pickups, SUVs, vans and CUVs (crossover utility vehicles). We plan out what we're going to build two or three years ahead of time, keeping those things in mind and trying to keep up with the trends."
With trends changing as much as they do, keeping up with them can be a challenge.
"Originally, appearance accessories really hit in the '80s with full-size Fords, Chevys and Dodge pickups," continued Espinosa. "We had bug shields, toolboxes and running boards. And then over time, those vehicles became more aesthetic - they weren't just farm or utility-type vehicles. We've come out with more products that are more custom. So the problem is that you've got so much proliferation in your SKU counts, that it's hard for the retailers to [stock] effectively."
For stores and WDs, getting advance intel from manufacturers is important since it helps these businesses know what to stock.
"Typically we provide (to our distributors) the top-selling SKUs based on our history. And with our sales reps, we tell them, 'here are the ones we think you should be carrying.' It may be a dozen or so part numbers within each product line. And then a lot of times, they'll special order the C and D movers that they need from us."
A Growing Market
Just how big is the accessory market? According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), sales of accessories have greatly increased over the last seven years, from $8.3 billion in 1995, nearly doubling to $15.5 billion (at retail) in 2002.
The climb in the accessories market has been steady, with year-to-year gains hovering around 10.4 percent. This is, of course, no secret to the car manufacturers, which have been adding accessories to their line up of products available for installation right at the dealership or from the factory. Just walk the SEMA Show in Las Vegas and you'll see that the OEs are dead serious about attacking this important, growing market.
According to SEMA, market share among accessory retailing has undergone a subtle shift over the past four years. As you might imagining, specialty installation outlets have historically garnered the greatest share of market. But their market share has eroded, thanks in large part to the efforts of mail order and automotive parts chains.
Espinoza said that a growing number of accessories are not for the DIY crowd and require professional installation, which is good news for those parts stores that deal mostly with mechanical and body shops.
"A lot of the more popular parts are DIY, but we have so many parts that have to be painted and professionally installed," he said. "A lot of our products don't lend themselves to retail because it requires a level of professional installation."