By Eric Peterson | Dec 05, 2022
Tonneau covers and truck bed covers
A decade ago, Potter took his family on a camping trip to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Long before the campfire crackled, the first problem arose before they even left home.
"We had loaded up all the gear in the back of our truck," he says. "There was so much camping gear with five people -- and all the other things you want to take with you -- that all the gear sticks out above the bed rails of the truck. So you can't use the traditional tonneau cover. In fact, all of the tonneau cover manufacturers will void their warranty if any cargo touches their tonneau."
Back home, Potter started looking for something that would snugly stretch over the contents of his truck bed. "Nothing existed," he recalls.
That sparked Potter's attempt to disrupt the truck bed cover industry with Sawtooth Tonneau. He describes "a universal problem with the tonneau industry": The $1.2 billion U.S. market is dominated by a few brands, and most of them are owned by Truck Hero. "They're all making the same product to compete against itself," says Potter. "I'm the real outlier in this."
As such, Sawtooth created a new category of tonneau cover: the expandable tonneau. "It's a tonneau that will actually secure loads that stick above the bed rails of a truck," he explains. "And it's the only tonneau on the market that allows cargo to make contact with it. It's partly stretchy, but it has enough tautness in it that it will hold things down and not flap in the wind."
He adds, "There's a reason people bought pickup trucks. They wanted the versatility and utility of owning a pickup truck, right? With the tonneau cover by another manufacturer, it reduces the utility of that pickup truck. With our product, we're giving that utility back to the consumer. In fact, we're improving that utility."
After two years of R&D, Sawtooth launched its first product and quickly won accolades at the 2021 SEMA Show. "We keep on selling out," says Potter. "We finally got our supply chain in order so we don't have to do these fits and starts like we have in the past."
The tonneau cover now has "multiple patents in multiple countries," including the U.S., he adds. Sawtooth manufactures it at a 6,000-square-foot space in Heber City, handling the cut-and-sew processes, light metal fabrication, and final assembly in-house. Custom aluminum profiles are sourced from suppliers in Oregon.
Potter has set lofty goals for his manufacturer: He forecasts hitting $40 million in annual sales in the next five years.
Challenges: Supply chain, especially for aluminum profiles, has been thorny, stalling manufacturing for a spell in late 2022. "We basically had to stop production because we ran out of materials," says Potter. "Our original supplier was quoting us a 52-week lead time for aluminum, so we had to find another aluminum extruder."
The ambitious growth target is another challenge. "We're going to have to scale up for that," says Potter. "Our distributors and retailers, they want to make sure that they're not going to run into supply issues."
Opportunities: Potter says that about 40 percent of Sawtooth's sales currently go to the work market, but the recreational potential is considerably larger. He forecasts a big growth spurt in 2023 with newly inked deals with national distributors and online retailers.
New products are also in the works: Sawtooth will release a car-top carrier with similar attributes to its tonneau in 2023 or 2024.
Needs: More production space and employees, as well as growth capital. "We're looking at all of our options right now," says Potter. "If the terms are good, we'll talk to anybody."