LAS VEGAS — Amid the craziness of the Specialty Equipment Market Assn.'s show this year, Ward's sat down with Ellen McKoy, SEMA's senior director-dealer relations to find out secrets of dealers who successfully sell accessories.

She has helped dealers for more than 20 years improve their accessories sales. Accessories are a great way for dealers to recapture some of the declining margins on vehicle sales, says McKoy.

First, set realistic expectations. “Understand, there are several ways to use accessories,” McKoy says. “Just be aware, you won't make a killing on every vehicle.”

A dealer should designate one person to champion the program. Finding and then retaining the right person is difficult, though. Two large dealer groups headquartered in the Northeast admit they were at SEMA primarily to look for people to run their accessory programs.

Having the right level of commitment at the highest dealership levels does more than help, says McKoy. “We find it is critical for success.”

McKoy also recommends dealers be strategic in their approach. “For example, don't start with your top-of-the-line models,” she says. “Many of them already are tricked out. Adding more accessories will only price them out of the market.”

Instead, she suggests dealers accessorize lower-trim vehicles. “It is a way dealers can use accessories to create a separate and distinctive brand for their dealership,” she says.

Another secret of successful dealers is in the merchandising. “We have found the sweet spot is accessorizing two vehicles in every model line you sell,” says McKoy. “Place one on the lot and the other in the showroom. Don't eat the whole elephant in one bite — meaning, don't accessorize everything.”

Dealers also should consider partnering with credible independent installers in areas where it makes sense. It is true that using installers means less service and parts revenue for the dealership, but there are other benefits installers can bring.

“Think of the restyler as an off-site body shop,” McKoy says. “Good installers constantly are looking for high-quality products and new accessories a dealer's customers will want to buy. Also, partnering with installers means the dealer doesn't have to worry about warehousing of the accessories. Meanwhile, the administration costs and burdens aren't as cumbersome.”