Sept. 22, 2008 – A change of marketing strategy

by Steve Bauer
Managing Editor
Despite continued sluggish sales for ATVs, trailer sales continue to hold steady, as manufacturers anxiously await a turnaround in the sluggish economy. But many manufacturers are taking a more aggressive approach to promote their trailers for use that extends beyond the traditional powersports segment.
It’s a two-sided coin for many manufacturers, as trailers are typically high on a consumers’ accessories list so they can transport their new unit from one location to the next and the trailers can be used for hauling more than ATVs. The flip-side, however, is that as ATV sales continue to lag, more trailers are left collecting dust in dealers’ lots.
“We have really been trying to market the versatility of our trailers, because they can be used for so much more than just hauling recreational vehicles,” said Mark Timms of Four-Wheel Inc., a trailer manufacturer based in Galveston, Texas. “We’ve heard from a majority of our dealers that a lot of customers will buy the ATV, but decide to wait on the trailer because they don’t have the extra funds. A lot of guys are just putting them in the back of their trucks and using that as their trailer.”
According to several manufacturers that Powersports Business interviewed, 2008 trailer sales have been flat or slightly up compared to 2007, with the biggest sellers being enclosed trailers or those that can transport a side-by-side unit or have side entries.
Nicole Ausdemore, public relations and advertising specialist for Featherlite Trailers, says the company’s gross sales of recreational/utility trailers for the first 6 months of 2008 vs. 2007 have been essentially even in what’s been a down ATV market.
“The decrease is less than half of 1 percent,” she said. “The average net revenue per trailer is up slightly.”
She adds that Featherlite has also been heavily promoting the multi-use functionality of its trailers in an attempt to try and offset the ATV market’s lagging sales.
“In addition to ATVs, people use them to haul motorcycles, dirt bikes and dune buggies in addition to general hauling for personal or business needs,” she said. “The same trailer that can be outfitted to haul ATVs can also be configured so that a contractor could use it, for example. So because our trailers are versatile, we don’t expect the decrease in ATV sales to have a large effect on our overall bottom line.”

Dealer participation
One area that Timms says his company has been focused on is getting dealers to promote the company’s trailers to customers as a long-term investment beyond powersports vehicles. He adds that he’s had troubles with dealers not wanting to push a customer too hard for fear of scaring them away from purchasing an ATV as well.
“I’ve had dealers tell me that the profit margin on selling a trailer isn’t worth the risk of losing the profit gained from selling an ATV or UTV,” he said. “They would rather let the trailer sit on their property than lose a customer because of added cost.”
Timms says he’s visited a few dealerships and watched how the salespeople approach a customer regarding a trailer purchase, and he believes although they do a solid job of promoting trailer products, more can be done to promote the benefits of a trailer.
“I think the most important thing that we can help dealers work on is to show them the damage that can be done to machines that are improperly hauled in the back of a truck or other non-safe unit,” he said. “ If you can educate customers about the benefits of using a trailer to haul your ATV or other vehicles, I believe it will make a big difference when it comes to closing the sale.”
Danielle Thomson, public relations specialist with Triton Trailers, says that dealer cooperation has been key to their positive sales numbers this year.
“Having dealers knowledgeable about your product and really sell its features to consumers is key,” she said. “We’re really doing well with our ATV Series trailers, and dealers are hammering home the benefits of having a ramp that is dual-purpose for side and rear loading, along with the fact that the trailer’s width can support other machinery. That has been a big selling point for a lot of customers.”
Brian Abbey, owner of Abbey Recreation and Trailers outside Scottsdale, Ariz., says that although there is clearly decreased demand for trailers, dealers can’t automatically assume a customer wouldn’t be interested in purchasing one if its use could be justified.
“I tell my sales staff every day that if a customer hedges on looking at a trailer because they think it only serves a single purpose, be prepared to rattle off a list of things they could use it for,” he said. “The trailers are so versatile now that you could use them for practically anything, from hauling wood to machinery, and everything in between.”
Corey Parker, sales manager at Custom Motorsports in Raleigh, N.C., adds that his dealership strategically places ATV/trailer combos in the showroom to provide customers a look at the added safety features and convenience a trailer can provide.
“If they don’t actually see the ATV or UTV on the trailer, sometimes it gets lost in the excitement of buying that new vehicle,” he said. “We make it a point to show them how much more convenient and safer it is for them having a trailer carrying their vehicle rather than sticking it in the back of a truck. It’s a good investment from many perspectives.”

Enclosures, customization
One trend that many manufacturers noted was that consumers are leaning more toward enclosed trailers, both for their protection from the elements and the fact that they can be customized as living quarters for trips into more remote locations.
“People continue to choose more enclosed ATV trailers over open trailers due in part to their versatility and because they protect ATVs or other cargo from inclement weather,” Ausdemore said. “And we’ve really have seen an upswing in people requesting more options on their trailers, including workshops and cabinetry as well as more living quarters.”
Timms adds that the fact that people are looking for more versatility out of their trailers means that trailer companies have to start building added value into the product, such as work centers or living quarters that aren’t very costly. He says that the more options available to consumers, the wider audience you’ll be able to attract in the long run.
“I believe that during this downturn in the ATV market, you have to adjust quickly to current market demands, so we’re now manufacturing several different enclosed and open models that vary in length and amenities,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot of revenue potential in that area.”
Triton’s Thomson says the company also has created a side saddle kit that converts the ramp that already comes with an ATV trailer to widen it for the growing number of UTV enthusiasts in the market.
“Currently we’re seeing that there is a lot of interest in that product in the Western United States,” she said. “But we believe that it will really catch on for us on a national level in the next year or so.”

2009 Expectations
Even with market conditions still down, trailer manufacturers remain optimistic that 2009 will feature modest growth.
“Featherlite expects the market to continue to be a bit rocky, but we expect recreational/utility trailer sales to increase by about 3 percent in 2009,” Ausdemore said.
She says the company expects the sales increase to come from the introduction of some product enhancements, including its new “Mod Pod” trailer, new dual exterior colors on recreation trailers and new options such as LED strip lighting in enclosed trailers and RV-style accessories.
Timms and Thomson both believe the market will still have a significant impact on how trailer sales fare in 2009, but that there are several growth areas they will pursue.
“We’re expecting sales growth in the 5-7 percent range, and that is with the expectation that ATV sales will continue to be near the levels that they’ve been at the past two years,” Timms said. “We have big expectations for the custom trailer segment, and I know we’ll be working very hard to communicate through our dealers the versatility our products can provide.”
Ausdemore says regardless of market conditions, she believes trailer manufacturers will continue to be proactive so they do not have to rely solely on ATV or UTV sales numbers to gauge their success. With that said, however, she believes that the demand for both is still there and will continue to play a vital role in the success of trailer sales.
“We think the future looks good for ATV/UTV trailer sales,” she said. “Again, they are so versatile and people are using them for multiple purposes. We think people still have a great desire to travel with their ATVs, whether that’s a trip with the family to enjoy the trails or hunters bringing an ATV along on a hunting trip. We feel the demand is still high, especially as people travel further to enjoy the sport of riding.”

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