These days, if you want to find someone who is likely worse off than you are, make friends with an RV dealer. The industry that we once looked on with envy as flying high with its Go RVing campaign, and after which we patterned much of our industrys national Discover Boating campaign, is taking its lumps now.
But if you drop in at the nations largest (126 acres) single-site RV dealership, Lazydays RV Center between Tampa and Orlando, you might never realize that sales for the RV industry are running down 45 percent. There, the schedule of fun and games seems to be endless. If line dancing isnt your shtick, try bean bag baseball or a seminar on interior decorating after breakfast. Oh, yes, theres always free breakfast waiting in the Café (more than 250,000 served last year!)
The market is down, weve seen dealers go out of business; weve seen manufacturers go out of business, Lazydays CEO John Horton recently told Jeff Harrington at the St. Petersburg Times. But the last thing Lazydays wants to do is slash anything that affects customer interaction.
The level of customer service we provide has to be better than its ever been, Horton added. This is all about the experience. He contends that is how to capitalize on a diminished customer base. And signs of good experiences seem to be everywhere at Lazydays, from the 170 golf carts that whisk customers to parties in Rally Park or to shop in the Camping World store. Customers who purchase an RV of $250,000 plus get a three-year membership in the Crown Club with its lounge bar, dining room, pool, library and complimentary hors doeuvres, among other amenities.
According to RV expert Mark Polk (www.rveducation101.com), RV dealers reportedly faring the best are solidly focused on customer service. Moreover, these dealers are taking more units on consignment, renting more of them and pushing more used RVs. In Lazydays case, for example, it reportedly sold more used than new RVs last year. Three of Lazydays major suppliers Fleetwood, Country Coach and Monaco are in bankruptcy. But a positive-thinking Horton points out they represent less than 25 percent of Lazydays business. Last year, Lazydays sales of Class A diesel RVs accounted for more than 10 percent of all those sold nationwide.
Bloggers who watch the RV industry have speculated that the fuel-thirsty homes on wheels simply wont survive the recession. But Horton disagrees, with a prediction just like the one I make for our boating industry. Horton says RV customers may be holding on to their vehicles longer than in the past, but theyre still RVing. As long as we treat them right, we know theyll be back, he says.
Treating them right in entertaining and accommodating ways is clearly the current Lazydays business model, and its a worthy reminder for us.