Opinion: Spring Brings New Opportunities

A picture of NTP-Stag merchandising director Val Byrd

Typically, when I write during springtime, I mention all the trite sayings about spring: spring cleaning, spring is a time for rebirth and renewal.

Although I still subscribe to that notion, I am taking a slightly different spin this time. Let’s do a remix!

Change, Update, Level Up

As an advocate for parts and accessories operations, I have to say that the first quarter is an ideal time to review and assess all sales floor aspects, especially the product mix to identify any opportunities to enhance your current merchandise selection—and presentation. Knowing which SKUs are contributing to your bottom line and which are not worth the real estate they take up on the shelf is important.

Next, performing the same analysis at a category level to discover which categories are growing and which are declining is crucial as well. We know the product life cycle has four steps: introduction, growth, maturity and decline. Some products move through the process faster than others. You should combine your knowledge of OEM trends, industry changes and legislative concerns with empirical data to make decisions about your parts and accessories inventory.

New items’ importance in a customer-facing establishment cannot be overstated. Remember, successful retailing is dynamic in nature and constantly changing. Why? Because consumer behavior demands it. New products add interest and excitement to the customer’s shopping experience, and offering the latest items is a truly essential strategy for engaging the customer.

One of the godfathers of modern merchandising, Paco Underhill, goes to the human anthropology book to explain the phenomenon. He teaches us human shopping behavior derives from humanity’s early hunter-gatherer days. Some of us, more than others, love to browse, browse, browse…no matter how long it takes to find exactly what we need, while picking up a few “want” items along the way.

Consider the concept of thrifting, where people spend hours and hours in second-hand stores to find treasures and deals. Books, blogs, Facebook pages and offline clubs dedicated to the hobby abound.

Thrifting is a big deal.

Remember, shopping serves a different purpose for each of us on any given day. According to researchers at the University of Florida, “We shop to relieve stress, celebrate personal accomplishments, as a balm for depression and to make up for life’s little disappointments.”

So, what’s new? A quick glimpse through a distributor’s catalog will reveal an assortment of new goodies to add to your retail space. New products might include Go Power! solar products, Curt hitch and towing accessories, Stromberg Carlson leveling supplies and numerous Wi-Fi and connectivity devices from Winegard or King.

However, among the current hottest camping trends in America is overlanding.

Follow the Trend

The most commonly asked question about overlanding is, “What is it?” My first impression when I saw a Jeep with a tent attached to the top was, “Wow! People really camp up there? Hmm.” The answer is yes. Rooftop camping is a real trend, and a big, international trend, actually.

I find myself struggling to accurately define this movement, so like other writers, I sought the internet’s help. Wikipedia’s overlanding definition is “…self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal.” Now, a weekend trip to your local campground or hunting spot and sleeping in a tent does not really qualify as overlanding, but an extended, off-the-beaten trail trip to explore a remote area falls into this category.

Overlanding is a form of camping, which I like to think of as a cousin to RVing. Practitioners use Jeeps, vans, pickup trucks and SUVs outfitted with cool tents, awnings and other accessories to create compact homes on wheels. Because overlanders have to cook and take care of other daily personal tasks, a market for overlanding gear emerged.

The 2021 GO RVing RV Owner Demographic study found RV ownership has increased more than 62% in the past 20 years and identified several “RV Owner Clusters,” such as adventure seekers and escapists. The study results are proof of some overlap between traditional RVing and off-road camping. The overlanding movement has even grown to have a series of annual expos attracting campers from across the nation.

Major 2022 events are scheduled in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Virginia. Overlanding is a natural addition to your existing retail toolbox. Adding a targeted display in your showroom, along with a small selection of complementary accessories in your retail space, can attract this customer base. Consider partnering with a company like The Van Mart in Westminster, California, which specializes in customizing vehicles for overlanding. Perhaps this is a service your dealership can offer. Why would you do that? Growth.

Together We Grow

The RV industry’s prosperity during the past two years of dramatic change is no secret. New and existing RVers perceive RVing as a safe alternative to other travel types. Additionally, thousands of new participants discovered RVing as a great way to spend time with family and enjoy our beautiful country.

Outdoor enthusiasts who previously engaged in boating, tent camping, hiking and hunting realize RVing is a complementary activity. Similarly, market research published by the Overland Expo shows key activities participants enjoy include exploring (4%), photography and videography (5%), hunting and shooting (7%), fishing and fly fishing (15%), biking (22%) and hiking (26%).

We have a match. When considering the new products you will offer in your retail store in 2022, carefully consider if aligning some portion of your shelf space to this powerful consumer trend has benefits. Remember, customer behaviors demand we change and adapt.

Val Byrd is NTP-STAG’s customer merchandising manager. She has worked in the RV aftermarket for the past 20 years and is a leading RV retail expert on store layout/design and aftermarket product display. Previously, she worked in the grocery industry as a retail manager, buyer and promotions manager.

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