Plemmons: RV Builders Should Limit Internet Sales
Steve Plemmons has been seeing a pretty consistent uptick in business like many North American recreational vehicle dealers lately, particularly in his case in towable RVs. However, Plemmons, an outspoken businessman who’s been a regular presence at the dealership since he was eight years old, sees a couple of interesting and potentially disturbing trends afoot.
“One of the things we’re seeing is that our trade-ins are way down,” Plemmons told RVBusiness. “More and more people are using Craig’s List and other things on the Internet to sell their units themselves. So, trade-ins in my region are down significantly to a point that we are going to have to begin buying units because we don’t have the used vehicles to sell that we’ve had in the past.”
Plemmons, by the same token, sees some of the same market trends that his fellow dealers point out with regard to dealers (re)entering the market right now.
“There seems to be, at least in my area, some new dealers popping up that don’t seem to see things like seasoned dealers do as far as understanding the industry and the whole dealership — how things work,” said Plemmons. “That’s not bad. Everybody’s got to start somewhere. But the significance of it is, just like the Internet shopper or dealer, there are some local people now that are selling for much lower prices, much lower gross profits. That’s the American free enterprise system, which can make it kind of interesting. But we’re doing well because we’re in the game, too.”
And while he doesn’t see Internet sales as quite the threat that they once were, Plemmons generally doesn’t have much use for RV sales through the World Wide Web, and he’s not timid about saying it.
“We have free enterprise,” he noted, “but in a perfect world, I disapprove of it highly. It’s a huge disservice to the customer. I see a lot of customers who will buy from an Internet dealer and then they come back home to find out that they aren’t really getting serviced. Some of these Internet people are setting up some service centers to take care of that customer. But they (consumers) are not getting taken care of by certified RV technicians in many cases.
“We are big into service and we have a lot of them (customers) come to us after they’ve been to one of these other (Internet) dealers asking for some service help,” he added. “That’s always been a big concern about the Internet sales situation — the customer not being taken care of, which can hurt the industry.
“I don’t think it’s a huge thing right now, but it could be,” added Plemmons. “I’d like to see some manufacturers get stronger in (controlling) that, and I do believe that some of them are trying to get stronger. They need to hold Internet sales companies in check. It’s not an easy situation. I’ve spoken to many of the manufacturers and I’ve been in the business 41 years – we’ve been in business as a dealership for 62 years – and the strength of our company is that we service like nobody’s business. We have more equipment, lifts, paint booths, our own mixing station. We’ve also had our technical school for 15 years that I was able to get started at the local college. Most everyone in my shop is certified or master certified. We also have a large parts and accessories department.”
So, if an RVer comes in with a unit purchased from someone else on the Internet and he’s got problems, how does Plemmons’ staff handle it?
“We help them,” he explained. “They may not be at the top of the priority list; we will take care of them as best we can. We will do what needs to be done by the factory warranty. If he didn’t buy from us, a lot of those little freebies you’re not going to do because he’s not your customer. Rather than disgrace him, though, we try to love him into the family and show him why the next time he needs to buy from us.”