Dealers profit by helping Jeep owners go topless
For a fee, dealerships swap and store Wrangler hard shells and soft tops
Published in Automotive News July 9, 2012
For Jeep Wrangler owners, going topless in the summer -- swapping the Wrangler's hard shell for a canvas soft top -- can be a pain in the neck, back and legs.
The hard tops, which are standard on most Jeeps and optional on others, can weigh as much as 143 pounds.
But Jeep dealers have found that removing the Wrangler hard tops and storing them for customers over the summer is a great way to boost profits, improve customer satisfaction and ensure at least two dealership visits a year.
Storms Motors, a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram dealership in the posh Long Island vacation town of Southampton, N.Y., has been removing, storing and reattaching Jeep hard tops for 20 years, says General Manager Stuart Schoener.
The small, 4-acre dealership has a hand-built outdoor rack nearly 100 yards long where its service techs store about 150 Wrangler hard tops for customers each year.
The service has become so popular that Storms has expanded the rack twice.
"Like most things that turn out to be a good idea for your customers, we had customers asking us for it, and so we started doing it," Schoener says.
In the spring or early summer, Wrangler owners will drive in for a service appointment.
Two techs will take the vehicle out back to the rack, remove the hard top and secure it with industrial-strength zipper ties, then move the vehicle back into service to install the soft top and perform other services, Schoener said.
As cold weather returns, the process is reversed.
Storms Motors charges its customers $725 a season for a two-door Wrangler and $825 a season to handle the hard top for a larger four-door Wrangler Unlimited.
Removing a Wrangler's hard top is "a fair amount of work," Schoener says.
"The storage fee itself is less than $200. But that $825 on an average Wrangler turns into a couple $1,500 service orders when they come in. The wealthiest clients we deal with are Wrangler clients," Schoener says.
The price for removing, storing and reinstalling Wrangler hard tops varies greatly from dealer to dealer and can depend on whether a dealer has room to store the hard tops.
Some dealers offer the service for free or for a nominal fee of $50 and store the tops in semitrailers parked at their dealerships.
About 60 miles down the Long Island coast, Gabe Vigorito, owner of Security Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in Amityville, N.Y., offers to store the hard tops of his Wrangler customers for free during their first year.
Though he has had a Jeep franchise for only two years, Vigorito says he has found value in providing the service, for which he charges a $200 fee in subsequent seasons.
"It's a way to get the customer back in," Vigorito says. "But you have to have lots of room."
But Storms Motors' Schoener says the biggest advantage is providing a service that his customers clearly want.
"I think it's a huge advantage. Whenever you can respond in a way that can fill a customer's request, that helps" customer service scores, Schoener says. "It's an excellent way to get to see your clients twice a year."
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at firstname.lastname@example.org.