Few Americans are as picky about how they use their space as pickup-truck owners who scheme relentlessly about the best ways to take up the roughly 90 to 120 cubic feet of air provided by the bed of their vehicle. If they’re in the trades, or have a hobby that demands a lot of equipment, sensible subdivision of that space is a top priority.
Thus the birth and growth of the multi-billion-dollar aftermarket truck-accessories industry, which just keeps burgeoning as more Americans buy and hold on to their pickup trucks for a variety of reasons.
That’s why Jake Peters decided to develop his Decked drawer systems, founding a company nine years ago that has reached the level of nine-digit annual revenues with a goal of becoming much bigger in such a huge category.
In fact, Decked is in the process of building a plant in Defiance, Ohio, for making its drawer systems and related truck accessories, the same city where its contract plastic molder is located. “We have to be close to our molder, or it isn’t practical otherwise to manufacture,” Peters, who is founder, chairman and former CEO of Decked, told Chief Executive.
Decked systems retail for around $1,500 and are made out of 100%-recycled, tough plastic and recycled steel, in a category where it occupies a rather vacant middle between extremes of cheaply priced drawer sets and much more expensive ones.
“Customers say they see good value for the money and a product-market fit, and it’s recycled material, and built in America,” Peters said. “The first part of the equation is that it’s got to be a good product-market fit, and does it fulfill the needs of the consumer. Once you check those boxes, then you think about other parts of the decision tree.”
Peters’ career decision tree took him from a Wall Street tech-banking career to a short-term retirement in Idaho and then about a decade of entrepreneurial involvement in automated driving. Then he ping-ponged into developing a prototype for a Decked-type system as he tinkered with his vocational future.
“There are 100 ways to make a drawer system for a pickup truck, from steel, or wood, and hundreds of YouTube videos on how to do that,” Peters said. “But I found a thing called low-pressure injection molding, which is used for things like pallets and underground storage vessels. It doesn’t look as nice. It doesn’t have what in automotive they call a Class A finish, a high level of consistency for anything on a vehicle that’s visible to the consumer.”
Peters found that low-pressure injection molding could make things that were very durable, however, and that it could be done out of recycled and regrinded plastic, giving the material a sustainability halo. He added recycled steel “and now you’ve got a 200-pound thing that you can put 2,000 pounds on top of.”
Bain Capital owns 15% of the company, whose CEO now is Bill Banta.
Here are some lessons for other consumer-product manufacturers in the approach taken by Decked and Peters:
• There’s always white space. Peters saw how vast the market for truck-bed accessories was even a decade ago and determined that correct pricing would be key to penetrating it. “What we were trying to make was a really useful, super-durable thing with these drawers,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to start a company unless I could reach about a price point of $999,” a medium tier between inexpensive and poor-quality accessories and much pricier existing systems.
Decked was able to launch for under $1,000 at retail, but Peters quickly found that buyers were willing to pay more “if we included a bunch of extra accessories that otherwise we would make you buy a la cart.” So Decked was able to ratchet up its retail price by adding more value, and today its systems typically sell for $1,500.
• Customization is crucial. The Decked product line comes in lots of configurations, with 110 different SKUs. “Each product fits your truck perfectly and is engineered such that it will attach to tie-downs in your truck,” Peters said. The approach is similar to that successfully pursued by WeatherTech in making plastic automotive floormats that are digitally customized to each car model.
That level of customization has helped Decked so far escape significant competition in its segment. “I’m pretty sure we’re doing fine against our direct competitors,” Peters said. “Our real competitors are people who make tonneau covers, and traditional tool boxes in pickup trucks.”
• Green is good — to a point. One of the features Decked markets is the fact that it is made completely out of recycled materials. “We’ve been using regrind [plastic] since day one, not just because it’s cheaper but also because it’s the right thing to do,” Peters said. “The customer appreciates that it’s made of that.”
But environmental considerations only go so far when it comes to manufacturing. Decked is building its plant in Ohio and relying on electricity from Toledo Edison, not constructing an array of solar panels on adjacent land or erecting windmills to power processes that must heat plastic to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Everyone who works here gives a darn about [climate change]; no one wants to live on an overheated planet,” Peters said. “But is that the first thing we think about? We’re building a new factory and need electricity to power three presses.”
• Understand how to market. Peters said that, “when we’re doing marketing, we’re trying to boil the ocean, because we make a product that fits in a vehicle that’s driven by one out of every two and a half men in America, so isn’t that everybody?”
Therefore, he says, “we stick with broad utility in our marketing” rather than trying to make the case for Decked equipment in “use cases” such as fly-fishing hobbyists or construction contractors. “Does a plumber read Plumbing News magazine? No, but he reads about fishing. It’s a really broad market and we’re a tiny company so far. Plus, we would be competing with $6 billion dollars of advertising by the truck manufacturers for share of voice. And they’ve been doing it for 50 years.”