Bretz Sees Cup Half Full in 2010, Despite Lingering Effects of the Recession & Continuing Credit Issues
Bretz RV & Marine carries a wide variety of brands from Tiffin to Winnebago to Airstream, Newmar, Keystone and Forest River
RV sales in the Great Northwest have been picking up, with product value perception being a key market driver, according to Bretz RV & Marine in Missoula, Mont.
A well known dealership for years in industry circles originally launched as a mom-and-pop operation in 1967 by Frank and Vi Bretz, Bretz RV & Marine relocated several times as it expanded and outgrew each of its previous facilities. Located today on 50 acres, Bretz bills itself as “the largest RV dealer in Montana, Idaho, E. Washington, Wyoming & the Dakotas.”
Owner Mark Bretz, the second Bretz generation to run the store, anticipates selling more than 600 units this year. Though down from the 800 to 1,000 units the dealership had sold in earlier years, it still marks a nice upturn from 2008 and 2009 – the dog days of the recent recession.
Bretz currently employs about 60 people – down, again, from approximately 100 during recent peak years, but still what Bretz considers “pretty decent,” adding that “because of the seasonality of the business, we always hire people this time of the year.”
“Business is good and better than it has been the past couple of years,” says Bretz. “I think retail financing for expensive products continues to be a significant challenge. If you’re trying to finance $200,000-$300,000, it is still fairly difficult.” On the other hand, financing for “anything under $75,000” is considerably easier.
Bretz is using a mix of national and regional lenders for financing, including Bank of the West, U.S. Bank and Bank of America. The company carries a wide variety of towable and motorized brands from Tiffin to Winnebago to Airstream, Newmar, Keystone and Forest River.
Its key focus is on reaching out to value-driven customers in part by utilizing a “slightly heavier” mix of TV advertising this year. “RV customers are more value-driven than ever,” says Bretz, who defines value as a combination of price and features. “If a product has good value, it’s selling. If not, it isn’t.”
Keystone travel trailer lines, such as Springdale and Cougar, along with Forest River Class Cs and Tiffin Class As, have been doing particularly well for the dealership, which also offers generous discounts on top of factory values to enhance their appeal.
Looking at the big picture, Bretz thinks that the RV industry’s ability to create such value is why it is recovering from the recession much more rapidly than the marine industry. “They (the marine sector) are not as good at creating the value proposition,” he maintained. “An awful lot of your average family boats today are priced in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, whereas you can buy an RV for half that much.”
The dealership also maintains a good mix of used inventory, although that segment of the market has “kind of cooled off” from last year, when demand for used exceeded that of new recreational vehicles. “Demand for them is now about the same as it’s historically been,” says Bretz.
A past winner of various awards, such the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s prestigious “Quality Dealer of the Year” honor plus manufacturer plaudits from Winnebago Industries Inc. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., as well as Mercury Marine’s “Platinum Dealer Status,” Bretz says his operation also provides the state’s most RV-certified mechanics under one roof.
Along with extensive sales offices, Bretz RV & Marine’s facility has been custom-tailored for customer service with 26 oversize service bays under one roof, each equipped with complete electrical service, drains and hookups for testing cable TV and telephone. In addition, overnight sites are available for transient customers with power and water hookups and a dump station.