Auto dealerships are all about utility these days. Much of the appeal of crossovers is that they retain the "U" from sport utility vehicles. But it's still not enough for many buyers.
After purchasing crossovers, SUVs and sedans from dealers, about 90 percent of customers buy accessories for their vehicles, according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association. But few buy those products at dealerships, often due to a lack of availability or halfhearted sales efforts by dealership staffers.
In April, Toyota Motor North America teamed up with accessory maker Yakima to bring more of those products into dealerships. The venture helps dealers sell Yakima products by creating a standardized process and extending vehicle financing to an assortment of roof racks, bike carriers, boat mounts, cargo boxes and other equipment.
"Toyota customers have long been adventurous, with active lifestyles, which makes them the perfect fit for Yakima products," said Paul Holdridge, vice president of guest experience and retention for Toyota Motor North America. "This partnership expands the locations our customers can purchase and install Yakima products."
The program goes well beyond shipping boxes with installation manuals. Jason McGibbon, vice president of sales at Yakima Products, of Portland, Ore., told Automotive News that the partners have developed a comprehensive sales and training program to treat customers right.
"They're obviously a very captive audience who are looking not just to purchase a vehicle that's going to take them from point A to point B, but purchase a vehicle that's going to support their lifestyle," McGibbon said. Having dealership-installed accessories "gives them the chance to purchase their vehicle and get out on the road immediately," he said.
Yakima starts with products suited to regional interests, be they surfing, snowboarding or golf. A broader range of products can be shipped in a day or so, McGibbon said. The goal "is that there is always going to be just the right amount [of inventory]. And that's where the art comes into our partnership in working with the dealers."
Yakima provides retailers with pop-up banners and supporting material for the parts and service department. The goal is to help customers visualize how the products will look and function on different vehicles, McGibbon said. "We're providing dealers with really a startup kit that allows them to bring some products straight onto the dealers' showroom floor."
Yakima also has an online platform for sales training and installation practices, and a direct line of communication with Yakima representatives.
Toyota, citing SEMA data, said less than 5 percent of vehicle buyers purchase their vehicle accessories from dealerships, even though many would like to. That could rise as Toyota dealers sign up for the partnership with Yakima.
"The response has been tremendous," said McGibbon, "and we're scrambling to keep up with the volume."