Improving the RV Purchase and Repurchase Experience

How RV dealers can foster lasting relationships

In an earlier post I discussed the results of a recent survey of 3,000 consumers engaged in the recreational vehicle buying process from 2017-2018. Conducted by AVALA, a Rollick Company these results are included in their whitepaper, “The Recreation Shopping Experience: Why Customers Buy and How to Ensure They Buy From You.”

The study concluded with suggestions on how RV dealers can improve both the purchase and repurchase experience.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Distant Drums RV Resort in Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For dealers to set themselves apart from the rest of the RV industry, it is imperative they optimize consumer engagement with their brand.

Areas of focus that will move the needle in their favor include pricing clarity.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Gila Bend KOA in Gila Bend, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

According to a study by Paul W. Farris, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70 percent while the probability of selling to a new prospect is only 5-20 percent. And according to Bain and Company, returning customers spend an average of 67 percent more than first-time customers.

All the new customers in the world don’t matter if dealers don’t retain the ones they already have. To keep customers coming back RV dealers should follow up with them. Thank them, provide them with great service and continue to grow the relationship. Use a post-purchase/delivery satisfaction survey.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Casa Grande RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A proper delivery process makes for happy customers and is a key for developing a lasting relationship. This requires having in place qualified technicians to complete a walk through with the purchasing customers and full-service guest spots to allow an appropriate amount of time to learn about their new RV. Some highly technical units can take a few days of training.

With some RV dealers, you’re unlikely to speak with anyone unless you’re contacting them with a complaint. This is not the way lasting relationships are fostered.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Vista del Sol RV Resort in Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There is opportunity to sell the same consumer multiple products, and the goal is to make sure it is your products they repurchase, which is a joint effort between the dealer and the manufacturer. In fact, the data indicates that if a consumer leaves a dealer because of dissatisfaction with their service, they may also leave the brand.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort in Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It’s an oft-quoted statistic that acquiring new customers costs six to seven times more than retaining existing ones. The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that 68 percent of customers leave because they’re upset with the treatment they’ve received. That’s why offering fast, helpful customer service is critical to retaining customers. Not to mention that happy customers and word of mouth can also be some of the most effective drivers for new business.

Often the key to growing your company isn’t just getting new customers, but keeping the older ones.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Las Vegas RV Resort in Las Vegas, Nevad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Most recreation products are discretionary, or not a “need” product. Any friction the consumer may experience reduces the opportunity of a sale. Both the manufacturer and the dealer do better when they focus on great customer service and working together. 

An RV is no small purchase, and the best dealers and manufacturers are run by those who understand what it takes to create a lifelong customer. A connection like this is the result of a total dedication to transparency, integrity, and responsiveness.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Ambassador RV Resort in Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you have a problem, those involved in the manufacturing and sales process have a problem that must be handled with honesty and an emphasis on making things right, right away. If you get the feeling that one of dealers and/or manufacturers you’re considering might not react this way, move on.

And remember that not all manufacturers are created equal and not all dealers are created equal. Before you sign on the dotted line you owe it to yourself to get the facts and become an educated buyer.

Moving from the old to the new at Midtown RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In the interests of full disclosure, we currently own a 2019 Dutch Star diesel pusher. This is our fifth Newmar motorhome and Midtown RV in Penticton, British Columbia, is our trusted dealer.

In a recent conversation with Kalvin Stayberg of Midtown RV, he indicated that repeat customers account for about 60 percent of their total Newmar sales. Yes, great customer service matters.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than they expect to get.

—Nelson Boswell

Forest River Workplace Safety Violations Top $250,000

The RV industry is booming. Production is high and sales are good, but is it coming at the cost of worker safety?

Between September 2017 and November 2018, ten of Forest River’s 26 plants in Elkhart County were hit with a total of 55 violations, 44 of them serious. The initial fines totaled $254,975, according to an ABC57 report.

Forest River showed up in a 2017 annual state occupational safety report as a “significant case” due to “excessive injuries.” According to the report, in the first nine months of 2017 alone there were nine fingers amputated, a fractured pelvis, and multiple foot fractures.

Polomino Solaire travel trailer, a Forest River product, camped at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The ABC57 Investigates team spent almost a year going over stacks of IOSHA (Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspection reports and talking to several current and former employees at Elkhart-based Forest River. What they found paints a picture of a fast-paced work culture filled with alleged drug use and lax safety practices—all proving to be a dangerous combination.

In the last few years the Elkhart RV industry has soared back to life after sinking deep into the depths of the 2008 recession. Demand is so high many RV manufacturers are offering highly competitive packages to potential employees to help increase production. But in that rush to meet demand worker safety seems to be falling through the cracks at Forest River—one of America’s largest manufacturers of recreational vehicles.

A Class A motorhome camped at White Tank Mountains Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

ABC57 spoke to several current and former employees who shared those concerns. Many declined to speak on camera out of fears of retaliation. One former employee did agree to speak on camera—if we hid his identity out of fears he would be frozen out of the industry for speaking up. His employment was confirmed through an old Forest River pay stub. He described the work environment inside the plant as fast-paced.

The company has a 3.2 rating out of 5 on indeed.com, a website that allows current and former employees to review their employers.

Outback travel trailer by Keystone RV, a Thor Industries Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserv

Some call it a great place to work, while others say there are problems. One thing almost every worker agreed on was the fast pace. That pace inspired by the “piece rate” one former manager told us about. It means the more pieces completed the more you get paid.

“They try to enforce safety as much as possible, but of course there are slips within the system you would say,” the former worker said.

Those slips eventually drew the attention of the Indiana Department of Labor with the company showing up in a 2017 Annual State Occupational report as a “significant case” due to “excessive injuries”. According to the report, in the first nine months of 2017 alone there were nine fingers amputated, a fractured pelvis, and multiple foot fractures.

Alpha Founder diesel pusher. One of the casualties of the recession, Alpha is no longer manufacturing RVs

IOSHA then sent a team of six people to Forest River plants in Goshen and Middlebury and eventually several others. Between September 2017 and November of 2018, ten of Forest River’s 26 plants in Elkhart County were hit with a total of 55 violations, 44 of them serious. The initial fines totaled $254,975.

To compare, during that same time period only four other local RV companies were hit with safety violations. The most was Lippert Components with 10 violations and initial fines totaling $45,000.

Golden Palms RV Park in Hemet, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Among Forest River’s violations inspectors cited risks of amputation, falling, and electric shock. In some cases, inspectors found Forest River employees were not properly trained and wearing the proper protective gear was not mandatory.

The violations and injury reports continued to come in through most of 2018. Paramedics were called twice to the company’s Starcraft division in Goshen, one of the locations hit with repeat violations. ABC57 obtained all dispatch calls to the Goshen plant. One from January 2018 was for a 50-year-old man who fell 12 feet hitting his head. Then in May a man in his 50s had two deep lacerations to two of his fingers.

2019 Newmar Dutch Star at Vista del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Warren Buffet, are you listening?

And remember that not all RV manufacturers are created equal.

Worth Pondering…

It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.

—Martin Van Buren

The RV Purchase Experience

How RV dealers can better engage the consumer

If you are a first time RV shopper, you might be surprised—and a little overwhelmed—at the vast number of options available.

Once you have decided on the type of recreational vehicle (travel trailer, fifth wheel, motorhome), you’ll need to consider the length and floor plan that best suits your needs.

Moving from the old to the new motorhome. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There is something for everyone out there and dealers to sell you the RV that is the best fit for your needs.

AVALA, a Rollick Company, recently released the results of their recent survey of 3,000 consumers engaged in the recreational vehicle buying process from 2017-2018.

These results are included in their whitepaper, “The Recreation Shopping Experience: Why Customers Buy and How to Ensure They Buy From You.”

The old and the new at our RV dealer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Four major themes were explored in the survey: Brand consideration and switching, dealer follow-up, satisfaction drivers, and why people leave the market.

While the results of the survey are intended to assist dealers in their sales process, it also holds interest for the RV consumer.

According to the study, 81.2 percent of respondents seriously consider purchasing other brands, 43.1 percent of dealers suggested other brands, and 67.6 percent of respondents purchased the brand they originally inquired about. 

It was an easy decision not to change brands when we decided to upgrade to a new model. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Somewhere along the purchase process, consumers are being persuaded to switch brands. One reason for this is the dealers’ goal to sell the consumer the product that best fits their needs, not necessarily the brand they initially inquired about.

According to the data, the RV buyer took an average of 198 days to make a purchase. This is a long purchase cycle that begins with the initial contact at a dealership. There are many nurture opportunities within that time span.

However, only 57.5 percent of dealers continued to follow up after their initial contact with a potential buyer. And, on average dealers only followed up once with RV consumers following the initial contact.

Inside the new coach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The survey showed that consumers were mostly satisfied with their RV dealer experience in all areas except for price. Price is a challenging topic because it can change over time and due to customization can be difficult to determine a final cost to the consumer.

The survey results suggested that dealers can do a better job of communicating an accurate price early in the relationship so that consumers begin the purchase process with reasonable expectations. Providing an accurate price at the beginning of the process helps the consumer build trust in the dealer and have reasonable expectations. This trust creates brand and customer loyalty.

At Las Vegas RV Resort out new coach is clean again © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Areas where customers reported satisfaction included facility cleanliness, product knowledge, staff timeliness and communication, availability to answer questions, and product availability.

The survey found the number one reason consumers decide to no longer purchase a recreational vehicle or to purchase a different brand is because of price. The second most common reason is because they found another brand that better meets their needs.

The snowbird lifestyle at Gila Bend KOA © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

On a scale of 1 to 5,  5 being the highest, consumers reported that when purchasing a recreational vehicle, the experience ranked a 3.2—about the same as their experience shopping in similar industries (like automotive). This still leaves plenty of room for improvement.

An RV is no small purchase, and the best dealers and manufacturers are run by those who understand what it takes to create a lifelong customer. A connection like this is the result of a total dedication to transparency, integrity, and responsiveness.

You are only as good as you make your customers feel. If you make your customers feel special you will stand out above the crowd.

The snowbird lifestyle at Vista del Sol RV Resort in Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In the interests of full disclosure, we currently own a 2019 Dutch Star diesel pusher. This is our fifth Newmar motorhome and Midtown RV in Penticton, British Columbia, is our trusted dealer. Yes, great customer service matters.

Worth Pondering…

Without a customer, you don’t have a business—all you have is a hobby.

—Don Peppers