Maxwell: The Real Impetus for Top 50 Revival
Editor’s Note: The following is a column authored by RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg on industry pundit and journalist Gaylord Maxwell and his contributions to the industry, in particular the establishment of the Consumer Care Commission. Goldenberg credits Maxwell, who passed away in September of 2008, as the inspiration behind the revival of the RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards program.
You may not remember Gaylord Maxwell, but a lot of us do. A former high school teacher, RV dealer and industry columnist for Trailer Life magazines, Maxwell cultivated a national following as an ardent RV consumer advocate with a wry sense of humor and a genuine appreciation for RV retailers, owners and people in general.
An Idaho resident who traveled frequently with wife Margie in a Class A motorhome, Maxwell had an ironclad conscience and – like the educator he was – a tendency to speak his mind about the quality-related issues that RV consumers sometimes encountered with their recreational vehicles.
It was, for him, a delicate balance – being both a fan and critic of the industry – and is essentially what makes him today one of the industry’s most memorable characters and one of the main inspirations for RVBusiness magazine’s decision this year to resurrect after a three-year hiatus the RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards program.
The Top 50 awards, to be presented at a special reception on the evening of Nov. 12 during the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) 2014 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo at Bally’s on the Las Vegas Strip, are sponsored by Ally Financial, Inc., Blue Ox, Cummins Power Generation, Dometic Corp., Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF), Lippert Components Inc., Protective Asset Protection and Stag-Parkway Inc. (Go to the new RVBUSINESS.com home page banner for details.)
That’s just the kind of guy Gaylord was – a hard-nosed industry pundit and a friend and adviser to many of us who worked at that time for the Rouse family’s Southern California publishing house. It was that same feisty nature that led Maxwell in his later years, when some might consider retirement, to start teaching a class in “extended-time RVing” for RV owners on behalf of the University of Idaho’s summer enrichment program – an unusual program that morphed in 1996 into an elaborate national network of “Life on Wheels” educational sessions.
Anyway, the one thing that puts Gaylord Maxwell – more than anything else — on our radar today was his involvement in an interesting and relevant project called the Consumer Care Commission (CCC) that he spearheaded in the late 1980’s at the request of Bob Strawn, then executive vice president of the RVDA. The CCC, like the Committee on Excellence that succeeded it by some 20 years and expired in the recession, was one of the boldest and most thought-provoking efforts in the industry’s history aimed at bolstering its commitment to professionalism at every level.
Toward that end, Maxwell assembled a group of industry people representing disparate industry segments such as Western RV President Bill Doyle, Nu-Wa President Mike Mitchell, Dometic Vice President of Sales Darryl Searer, Reese President Charlie Miller and Outdoor Resorts President and Founder Randall Henderson to examine some of the industry’s rough edges – areas in which professionalism and finesse were lacking from a consumer standpoint — and figure out how to fix them.
Unfortunately, the CCC’s successes were short-lived – as were those of the Committee on Excellence. But it was in both cases, in our opinion, the thought and the relentless drive to raise the bar of professionalism in peoples’ minds — that counted most.
“As I recall,” wrote Maxwell in a 2008 RVBusiness column, “we had four whole commission meetings that year and the various sub-committees representing segments held in–between meetings. Every member brought something to the table at each meeting. Although members of some segments were ‘natural enemies’ on some issues (e.g. dealers and manufacturers regarding warranties), there was much serious discussion and no rancor. As a consumer representative on the board with an extensive background as an RVer (I arrived at meetings in Florida, Illinois, Nevada and Kentucky in a motorhome), I made sure that we kept the discussion focused on consumer realities. Fortunately, our members were serious and did not offer the excuses traditionally offered for poor quality and poor service that are so upsetting to consumers.
“Despite our efforts to define problems and offer solutions,” added Maxwell, who passed away in September of 2008, “we were much more successful with the first part and not very successful with the second.”
That said, the CCC issued a concise overview of the areas it deemed worthy of review for a presentation to RVDA and the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc. prior to the 1988 Louisville Show and issued a booklet of conclusions for distribution throughout the industry.
The CCC, in Maxwell’s view, succeeded in scoring some cogent points within the industry with regard to the need for retail MSRP pricing and improved dealer warranty compensation, among other things.
At that, reported Maxwell, the CCC dissolved.
“Otherwise, to quote Hamlet, this ‘enterprise of great pith and moment… went awry and lost the name of action,’” wrote Maxwell, sounding much like the former high school history teacher he was. “In short, despite a very worthwhile purpose, a lot of work by a bunch of good people and a moment of glory, like so many commissions or committees with splendidly stated purposes, that public report at Louisville was essentially its funeral service.”
In the final analysis, Maxwell’s biggest takeaway from that whole process was a recommendation from the 1988 CCC report: “Dealers should accept the responsibility of educating the consumer about the RV equipment and lifestyle.”
So, here’s hoping, based on the feedback we’ll receive from the nominated dealers through the 2014 RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards process, that this one singular statement today is still viewed as a universal truth.