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Previewing 2010’s RVB Top 50 Dealer Awards

September 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RVBTop50Logo-smallThe RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards have rather quickly gained acceptance in the RV arena as yet another cogent means of promoting professionalism and best practices among the ranks of North America’s RV retailers.

Indeed, these awards are quickly becoming an industry tradition – one that’s about to be renewed at the 3rd Annual RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards reception and dinner on the evening of Wed., Oct. 6, at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association’s (RVDA) annual RV Dealers International Convention/Expo, which takes place Oct. 4-8 at the same hotel.

To shed some light on the whole program on the eve of this year’s dinner, tickets for which are currently on sale through RVBUSINESS.com, RVB Senior Editor Bob Ashley interviewed those directly responsible for the program under the umbrella of parent company Affinity Group Inc. (AGI) — RVB Publisher Sherman Goldenberg, AGI Event Coordinator and Sales Director Chuck Lasley and B.J. Thompson, president of northern Indiana public relations agency of BJ Thompson Associates Inc.

Here’s the crux of that interview:

Q: Now in your third year with the RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards, what are your thoughts about this whole endeavor and how it’s developed?

Goldenberg: We really couldn’t be more pleased with the progress we’ve made, especially taking into account the times — the roller coaster economy and the political headwinds we’ve experienced. That said, it’s gained in prestige, finesse and depth. We’re better at this than we were two years ago and are happy to be doing it again.

Lasley: And I think it’s also important to recognize the fact that we’re accomplishing what we set out to do – helping to elevate the best practices of the dealers. We are receiving more applications than we ever have.

Thompson: The program has gained in integrity, and we as coordinators and purveyors of the program have indeed, as Sherm said, gotten better at what we set out to do. That is, we’ve refined the applications so that they’re easier to fill out and still have pertinent information for the judges to judge. And the dealers in general have recognized the program as supportive of excellence, especially in the area of customer satisfaction.

Sherman Goldenberg

Sherman Goldenberg

Q: Why is it important, in your view, to recognize dealers?

Goldenberg: It’s at the very core of what a trade journal should be doing — in this case recognizing dealers for doing well in all aspects of their businesses. In these times, again, I feel that persevering and keeping one’s eye on the ball with regard to professionalism is even more imperative.

Thompson: As more of an industry generalist and industry promoter, I’m thrilled to see anyone or any organization support the industry in making it better. RVBusiness has stepped up to that in a major way.

Q: What should one glean from the dealers who were selected?

Thompson: That they are highly professional and provide excellent customer service, which is recognized by high consumer satisfaction.

Goldenberg: If they’re not doing that – if they’re not taking care of customers – then they may as well get into another business.

Thompson: For the industry to have a good reputation among those we hope to attract, we need to showcase the good dealers, the great dealers who take care of their customers. In any business, there are those who focus only on the sales. This particular program draws attention to excellent customer service practices.

Q: And how does this all correlate with RVDA and its convention?

Goldenberg: It completely overlaps with what the individual members of RVDA are likely to be doing every day in their businesses. The mission of the Top 50 dealer awards is to focus on the daily practices of good retailers. Good practices equal good dealers. It’s that simple. Let me add, we feel our associating the program with RVDA’s Con/Expo is a mutually beneficial arrangement that we hope continues through the years.

Thompson: There is a great synergism here. The RV Business Top 50 awards and dinner is better by being associated and timed with the RVDA Con/Expo, and we’ve talked with a number of dealers who are receiving the award who said that that they will be attending the Con/Expo because they’re receiving a Top 50 Award. So, RVDA in my view is enhanced by the timing of the dinner and awards program. Besides the logistics of tying in the RVDA Con/Expo, the program itself ties into what RVDA is all about: That is, to help its members become better dealers.

Q: What is the Leadership Alliance we see referenced so often in Top 50 promotions, and how does one become a Leadership Alliance member?

Lasley: The Leaderhip Alliance members are part of an elite group of suppliers. Each LA member has decided to be part of a movement helping to promote the best practices we are trying to promote here at RVBusiness. These companies underwrite and sponsor the program, but it’s more than that. They want to be part of a program whose entire purpose is to uplift, promote, enhance and strengthen RV dealers from all over North America. Our hope is that each LA member can be recognized for their contribution to the Top 50 which has had nothing but a positive impact on our industry.

Q: Is this program a big moneymaker for Affinity Group, RVB’s parent company?

Lasley: No, on the contrary, our goal for the RVBusiness Top 50 program is for it to pay for itself. It is our hope that Affinity can play a role in helping this industry grow. When that happens, the entire industry benefits, even if the Top 50 program is only at a break-even point in terms of revenue.

Q: Does the work of the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence still play a role in all this?

Thompson: Yes, it does. The Go RVing Committee on Excellence spent a lot of time and effort developing some specific practices. We were able to use the committee report to develop certain questions in the Top 50 application. Thus, there’s a direct correlation from the Committee on Excellence to the application to what the judging panel reviews for the selection of the awards.

BJ Thompson

B.J. Thompson

Q: How does RVIA, if at all, fit into this?

Goldenberg: While this clearly is a dealer-driven event, it’s part of a bigger universe, and it remains our conviction that the manufacturers, through RVIA, should at least have a seat at the table. Therefore, at this year’s dinner, we plan, for a time, to have the chairmen of both trade associations at the podium.

Lasley: It’s important that we have those organizations and their support of this program because, as we mentioned earlier, this isn’t just a dealer event. It’s an industry event. Everybody benefits when dealers utilize best practices.

Thompson: Manufacturers play a very key role in providing nominations because of their day-to-day contact with dealers. Manufacturers know which dealers are trying hard to do the right things to elevate the satisfaction of customers. So, we have asked them to provide us with the names of their better dealers. The size of the dealership doesn’t matter in those nominations. What we are looking at is quality. If a dealer has just a few employees and their sales are minimal in a smaller market, if they are doing a great job in customer satisfaction, the program is designed to promote that dealer.

Chuck Lasley

Chuck Lasley

Q: What is the purpose of using a third-party format to administer the application process?

Goldenberg: We realized since Day One that we needed to build a firewall of sorts between the industry – ourselves included — and the selection process. Therefore, we have created an independent body, which we call the panel of experts — which is overseen by BJ Thompson Associates — to coordinate the actual selections. As a result, we as a trade journal staff never even take possession of the applications. They remain on the other side of the firewall with BJ Thompson Associates.

Thompson: The process is not perfect, but it’s good and it’s credible. I’m pleased to be associated with a program that genuinely wants to raise the bar of professionalism of the industry for the entire good of the industry.

Q: Who is on the panel?

Goldenberg: They are well known industry people. We don’t publicize their names, but we will tell anyone who really wants to know. Just give me a call at (574) 457-3370 and I’ll tell you who they are. That’s how upfront we are.

Q: You’ve chosen a rather controversial personality for your keynote speaker this year, haven’t you?

Goldenberg: Controversial? Yes, I guess I’d agree with that description. You know, when we talk each winter about what we want in a keynote speaker, our goal more than anything else is to be relevant — to provide food for thought to an intelligent crowd of business people, not just light-weight jokes and dinner chatter. So, on the brink of the national mid-term elections, we thought that bringing to the table a high profile national political commentator — of any political persuasion — would be the thing to do.

Having said that, we can promise you that RVBusiness or its parent company are not in the business of endorsing any one political viewpoint or any named candidates, and that’s even more the case in the upcoming mid-term elections.

With the Tea Partiers and the current liberal administration, with those in favor of more austere spending and those supporting more stimulus expenditures, with issues like immigration and the mosque at Ground Zero, these are indeed wild and crazy times. And we trust that those who join us for dinner on the evening on Oct. 6 will come away invigorated — whether they agree with Ann Coulter or not. As quick and provocative as she is, we can assure you that Ann Coulter’s not going to change anyone’s mind. So, the experience should be fun and worthwhile – like a New England town hall meeting.

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RVBusiness Launches 3rd Top 50 Dealer Awards

June 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RVBTop50Logo-smallRVBusiness magazine is launching the Third Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards — a quality-focused program that sets the bar for best business practices in the RV industry. A gala reception and dinner at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas will announce the winners Oct. 6 during the annual RV Dealers International Convention/Expo.

This year, RVBusiness expanded the awards to include recreational park model manufacturers, reflecting how significant their contributions have become in a rapidly changing marketplace. The awards name 10 Blue Ribbon retailers, and one organization receives the Dave Altman Award, the equivalent of RVBusiness’ “Lifetime Achievement Award.”

RV manufacturers nominate the best and most professional dealers for aftermarket parts stores, sales lots, service work, F&I departments and personnel matters in addition to civic and charitable contributions. Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the parent company of RVBusiness and the nation’s largest provider of outdoor clubs, services, media and events to the North American RV and outdoor enthusiast market, then invites nominated dealers to submit applications. Applications are independently reviewed by a panel of industry experts, none of whom are directly associated with RVBusiness or Affinity.

RVBusiness recognizes the Top 50 award winners in the October edition, on RVBUSINESS.com, and in dealers’ local and regional newspapers. Winners also receive RVBT50 window decals, rights to use the RVBT50 logo in their advertising, plus exposure to millions of active RV enthusiasts in the pages — and on the websites — of Affinity’s RV-focused consumer magazines, including Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life.

Supporting the RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards this year are the following “Leadership Alliance” sponsors: ADP Lightspeed, Bank of the West, Blue Ox, Cummins Onan RV Generators, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., RV America Insurance, RV Trader Online and Protective.

“We felt that the pursuit of professionalism and top-notch consumer care finds an even more receptive ear this year than it did during the dregs of the recession, and the Dealer Awards sets the bar for best business practices,” said RVBusiness magazine Publisher Sherman Goldenberg. “Looking around at the state of the industry, we realize just how much we have to be thankful for. The current upbeat atmosphere within the commercial sector beats the heck out of where we all were at this time last year.”

RVBusiness previously announced special celebrity guest, conservative Republican columnist and bestselling author, Ann Coulter, as the keynote speaker during the award ceremony. Coulter will talk about a variety of hot political topics including the “Tea Party” movement and related conservative themes.

The Con/Expo is sponsored by the U.S. Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association (RVDA) and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada (RVDA Canada). Tickets for the dinner are $139 ($119 for RVDA members, Con/Expo exhibitors and Top 50 dealer guests), and are available at the convention or at RVBusiness.com.

About the Top 50 RV Dealers Program:

The program’s purpose is to showcase credible role models and establish best business practices benchmarks at the retail level of the RV industry in terms of staff training, performing warranty and service work, managing aftermarket stores, superior consumer care and being good citizens of their respective communities. The dealerships were selected among those nominated as the best by the nation’s RV manufacturers. The program was founded and coordinated by RVBusiness magazine with additional support provided by the Leadership Alliance.

About Affinity:

Affinity, www.affinitygroup.com, is the nation’s largest provider of outdoor clubs, services, media and events that service the safety, security, comfort and convenience needs of the North American recreational vehicle (RV) and outdoor enthusiast market. By providing information, insights, and resources, the company champions the fun, freedom, and adventure of recreation in motion. The company works to enhance its customers’ recreational experiences and build the communities that share and promote their fun and adventurous lifestyles.

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Coulter Headlines Annual RVB Dealer Awards

May 19, 2010 by · 21 Comments 

Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter

On the premise that the pursuit of professionalism and top-notch consumer care may find an even more receptive ear as the recession lifts, RVBusiness magazine is moving ahead with its 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards — a quality-focused program culminating Oct. 6 at an upbeat reception and dinner at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during the annual RV Dealers International Convention/Expo.

“While we realize that recognizing 50 U.S. and Canadian recreational vehicle dealerships above all the rest is a tough and highly subjective matter,” says RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg, “we feel that the process of nominating, selecting, honoring and promoting those who generally do the best they can throughout North America is in itself a worthy exercise that brings to the forefront the quality themes outlined by the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence.”

North American RV manufacturers have already completed their nominations for this year’s awards by forwarding the names of their best and most professional dealers with regard to aftermarket parts stores, sales lots, service work, F&I departments and personnel matters in addition to civic and charitable aspects.

“One key change for 2010,” said Goldenberg, “is that RVBusiness is expanding its program to include recreational park model manufacturers, realizing just how significant their contributions have become in a rapidly changing marketplace. Although their businesses haven’t fully recovered from the recession yet, the accommodations sector of the RV park and campground arena has been shifting somewhat to more destination-style cabins and lodges at parks throughout the U.S. and Canada. So, we thought it was time to include them.”

Nominated dealers are invited to submit applications by mid-July to BJ Thompson Associates, a northern Indiana agency that oversees an independent review of those applications by a panel of industry “experts,” none of whom are directly associated with RV Business or its parent company, Affinity Group Inc. (AGI).

Multi-store operations are again limited to one award, regardless of how many outlets they have, and the Top 50 dealers will not be ranked, although ten Blue Ribbon retailers will be named and one individual will be singled out for the Dave Altman Award, the equivalent of RVB’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.”

In addition to the recognition offered at the October dinner during this year’s RV Dealers International Con/Expo, sponsored by the U.S. Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association (RVDA) and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada (RVDA Canada), those selections ultimately will be announced in the pages of RVBusiness and on RVBUSINESS.com, both of which are owned by Affinity Group Inc.

Again this year, RVBusiness has invited a special celebrity guest to dinner to provide some thought-provoking table talk: Conservative Republican columnist Ann Coulter. An author of seven New York Times bestsellers, including “Guilty: Liberal Victims and Their Assault on America” (January 2009) and “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans” (October, 2007), Coulter more than likely will focus in her remarks on the nation’s anticipated, off-year electoral shift to the political right, including the “Tea Party” movement and related conservative themes.

A lawyer and frequent guest on ”Hannity” and ”The O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News cable channel, Coulter will field audience questions after her remarks. Meanwhile, her appearance, along with that of former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, keynote speaker at RVDA’s Tuesday (Oct. 5) general session, should lend a crowd-inducing national spotlight to this year’s Con/Expo.

RVBTop50Logo-small“We chose Ann Coulter not because we endorse any one political viewpoint, “ said Mike Schneider, AGI president and CEO, “but because we wanted to bring a thought-provoking speaker to the podium in Las Vegas who might give us all – left, center or right – a chance to think and an opportunity again this year to enjoy a dinner with friends and industry peers along with a high-profile national celebrity.”

After the Con/Expo, RVB will promote the Top 50 award winners within the industry and in dealers’ local and regional newspapers. They’ll get RVBT50 window decals, rights to use the RVBT50 logo in their advertising plus exposure to millions of active RV enthusiasts in the pages – and on the websites – of AGI’s RV-related consumer magazines – Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life.“

Supporting the RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards this year are the following “Leadership Alliance” sponsors:

ADP Lightspeed : With ADP Lightspeed, dealers can steer their businesses with more precision than ever before. The integrated modules in the Salt Lake City, Utah, company’s LightspeedEVO RV dealer management system include comprehensive sales and F&I tools, real-time accounting functions, service tracking, automated parts inventory management and rental unit management. For more information, visit http://www.adplighspeed.com/rv/index.phpwww.adplighspeed.com/rv/index.php.

Bank of the West: Bank of the West, with more than $60 billion in assets and community bank roots dating back more than 135 years, has more than 700 commercial and retail banking locations throughout 19 Western and Midwestern states. Headquartered in San Francisco, Bank of the West originates commercial, small business and consumer loans and leases and provides a range of other individual and commercial deposit, cash management, trust, and investment products. For more information contact a Bank of the West account manager or look on the web at www.bankofthewest.com.

Blue Ox: Blue Ox, a leading manufacturer of towing and hitching products, attributes its success to its dealer partners and the vital interest this Nebraska company takes in their success by providing education, innovative new products and support that’s invested in serving dealers’ needs long after the sale. This approach has been paramount in developing the strong partnerships that have made the company’s dealers “True Blue.” For more information, visit www.blueox.us.

Cummins Onan RV Generators: Cummins Onan RV Generators are built by Cummins Power Generation, Minneapolis, Minn., the global leader in generator design and construction. For nearly 80 years, Onan generators have been providing reliable stationary and portable power for cities, hospitals, shopping centers, military vehicles and fire engines around the world, as well as for the U.S. RV industry. For more information, visit www.cumminsonan.com.

Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.: Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. (FCCC) manufactures diesel chassis for walk-in vans, motorhomes, school buses, and commercial buses and enjoys market share leadership in all addressable industries. Established in 1995 in Gaffney, S.C., FCCC chassis provide customers with exceptional performance and reliability. More than 400 dealers in the U.S. and Canada provide sales and service, and FCCC offers 24/7 customer support at 800-FTL-HELP.

RV America Insurance: RV America, headquartered in Simi Valley, Calif., has provided some of the lowest rates for specialized recreational vehicle insurance for more than two decades, and each of its companies is rated “A, Excellent” or higher by A.M. Best Company. The company works hard to find clients the best rate and coverage for their travel trailer and motorhome insurance needs. For more information, visit www.RVAinsurance.com.

RV Trader Online: Available at RVTraderOnline.com is an extensive selection of classified ads, with more than 60,000 recreational vehicles to choose from and more than 800 dealership listings. More than 640,000 serious buyers visit RVTraderOnline.com — more than any other source – each month, company officials state. RVTraderOnline.com, Norfolk, Va., also offers video advertising, web services, lead management, mobile search and several new tools and lead-generating opportunities. Whether you are looking to buy, sell or research recreational vehicles, RVTraderOnline.com is the No. 1 resource for all RV enthusiasts, manufacturers and dealers.

Protective: Chesterfield, Mo.-based Protective offers XtraRide RV extended protection programs exclusively endorsed by RVDA and designed to meet recreational vehicle dealership needs. Building customer loyalty, increasing repeat business and generating customer referrals are among the added benefits XtraRide brings to its dealership partners. For more information, visit www.protective.com.

For more information, contact BJ Thompson Associates Account Executive Barb Riley by phone at (574) 674-6300 or by email at briley@bjta.com. Goldenberg can be reached at (574) 457-3370 or at goldenberg@kconline.com.

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