A group of eight RV industry executives met Thursday (April 12) evening with two freshmen Republican U.S. Congressmen at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Mishawaka, Ind., in what amounted to a “bridge-building” session for both sides.
The meeting was called by U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a farmer from Howe in LaGrange County just east of Elkhart whose 3rd District includes much of Elkhart County, and Congressman Larry Buchson, a heart surgeon from Newburgh in southern Indiana’s 8th District and a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) staff had a hand in pulling together the get-to-know-you session, according to Gregg Fore, current chairman of RVIA and president of Elkhart, Ind.-based Dicor Corp. “The primary goal, as I had talked to Marlin Stutzman about this some months ago, was about trying to find an opportunity to get some RV folks together to meet with him because he had not had the opportunity to do that since he had been elected to office,” said Fore.
Stutzman, who currently serves on the House Committees on Agriculture, Budget, and Veterans’ Affairs, says Buchson’s seat on the Transportation makes his role rather pivotal for Elkhart County’s RV contingent.
“Yeah, I had been working with Congressman Buchson, and the RV industry had an issue with trailer-axle weights, and he was willing to take the lead on that and actually get the issue into the transportation bill to promote the RV industry,” said Stutzman, whose own father once worked for Coachmen Industries Inc. “So last night, I thought it would be helpful both to folks in the RV industry and to Congressmen Buchson to have the opportunity to sit down and meet each other and build those bridges and work together with myself and Larry and folks in the RV industry. We had a great visit and we’re looking forward to working together in the future as well.”
Among the topics discussed: A stymied transportation bill, formaldehyde issues, energy policy, the economy, the budget — or a lack thereof — and potential standards issues affecting recreational park trailers.
Doug Gaeddert, a general manager for Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. and 1st vice-chairman of RVIA, said it was time well spent. “It was productive and they’re (the two freshmen Congressmen) far more educated than they were before we got there. All in all, it looks like both of them ran for public office for the right reasons.”
“They were very interested in learning more about the industry, getting an update on industry trends as well as any challenges and difficulties we were facing that might impede our progress,” added RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson, president of BJ Thompson Associates, Mishawaka.
Suffice to say that this probably isn’t the last the industry has heard from Stutzman, who’s unopposed in the primaries but faces re-election this fall against any one of six Democrats, as a potential political ally.
“No, absolutely not,” said Stutzman. “I have an agriculture background and also a trucking industry background, and we used to haul cargo trailers and other products for the RV industry when we were in the trucking business. So, obviously it’s a huge part of our economy in northern Indiana. And, with friends and neighbors that work in the industry, I know how important the RV industry is to our economy and also to the lives of people in our community. So this is something that I feel very passionately about, and the hard work and the values of the RV industry are the kinds of things we want to promote and support as much as we can.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The RVBusiness staff today (Aug. 17) announced selections for the 3rd Annual RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards, which are to be presented at an all-industry 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.
A volunteer panel of industry veterans concluded its review of dealer applications, based on the nominations of North American RV manufacturers, on Aug. 5 after being sequestered for two days at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
And while this year’s selections represent a relatively wide array of dealerships in terms of size and style, RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg reports that the panel’s mission once again was to keep a keen eye on dealers’ overall professionalism, best practices, consumer care, association activities, civic involvement and the general spirit and specific recommendations of the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence.
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the efforts of those six individuals on our selection committee and how pleased we are with the dealers selected for 2010,” says Goldenberg. “Our only real regret this time around, given the healthy number of applicants this year, is that there were several dealers on the cusp of making the cut this year who didn’t get in. And we hope that all of them will return for the next round in 2011 because there’s a real good chance that they’ll qualify.”
Again this year, the RVBusiness Top 50 selection process was overseen by Osceola, Ind.-based BJ Thompson Associates Inc. Consistent with the previous two years, the Top 50 dealers are not ranked, although five Blue Ribbon retailers will be singled out on Oct. 6 for special recognition. In addition, the Dave Altman Lifetime Achievement Award in RV retailing will also be presented to one of the Top 50 dealers at this year’s dinner for which the keynote speaker is conservative political columnist and author Ann Coulter
The following U.S. and Canadian retailers are the recipients of the 2010 RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards (in unranked, alphabetical order):
- Aberdeen RV Center, Aberdeen, Miss.
- Aloha RV, Albuquerque, N.M.
- Alpin Haus, Amsterdam, N.Y.
- Altmans Winnebago, Carson, Calif.
- American RV Sales & Service, Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Apache Village RV Center, Hazelwood, Mo.
- ArrKann RV, Edmonton, Alberta.
- Beckley’s Camping Center, Thurmont, Md.
- Big Country RV, Bend, Ore.
- Bill Plemmons RV World, Rural Hall, N.C.
- Boat N RV Superstores, West Coxsackie, N.Y.
- Bucars RV Centre, Balzac, Alberta.
- Campers Inn, Kingston, N.H.
- Capital RV Center, Bismarck, N.D.
- Carolina Coach & Camper, Claremont, N.C.
- Coachlight RV Sales, Carthage, Mo.
- Coates RV Center, Columbus, Minn.
- Colonial Airstream & Itasca, Lakewood, N.J.
- Curtis Trailers, Portland, Ore.
- Dixie RV Superstore, Newport News, Va.
- Dodd RV, Portsmouth, Va.
- Driftwood RV Centers, Clermont, N.J.
- Dusty’s Camper World, Bartow, Fla.
- ExploreUSA RV Supercenter, Plano, Texas.
- Greeneway RV Sales & Service, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
- Guaranty RV Supercenters, Junction City, Ore.
- Hilltop Trailer Sales, Fridley, Minn.
- Kings Campers, Wausau, Wis.
- Lazydays, Seffner, Fla.
- Little Dealer Little Prices, Phoenix, Ariz.
- Mike Thompson’s RV Super Stores, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
- Modern Trailer Sales, Anderson, Ind.
- Mount Comfort RV, Greenfield, Ind.
- Parkview RV Center, Smyrna, Del.
- PleasureLand RV Center, St. Cloud, Minn.
- Pontiac RV, Pontiac, Ill.
- Poulsbo RV, Kent, Wash.
- Richardson’s RV Centers, Riverside, Calif.
- Rick’s RV Center, Joliet, Ill.
- Roy Robinson Motorhome & RV Center, Marysville, Wash.
- Safford RV, Thornburg, Va.
- Steinbring Motorcoach, Garfield, Minn.
- Tennessee RV Sales & Service, Knoxville, Tenn.
- Terrell Camping Center, Terrell, N.C.
- Tom Johnson Camping Center, Marion, N.C.
- Topper’s Camping Center, Waller, Texas
- Veurinks’ RV Center, Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Wilkins Recreational Vehicles, Bath, N.Y.
- Windish RV Center, Lakewood, Colo.
- Woody’s RV World, Red Deer, Alberta
RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Award honorees will be promoted in the national press, in dealers’ hometown newspapers and in the pages and websites of Affinity’s trade and consumer magazines, including RVBusiness, Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life.
Underwriting this year’s RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards program are “Leadership Alliance” members ADP Lightspeed, Bank of the West, Blue Ox, Cummins Onan RV Generators, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., RV America Insurance, RV Trader Online and Protective.
Tickets for the dinner are available through RVBUSINESS.com.
RV Business today (Aug. 31) has announced selections for the 2nd Annual RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards, which are based on the nominations of North American RV manufacturers and are to be presented on the evening of Wed., Oct. 7, at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during the annual RV Dealers International Convention/Expo.
A volunteer panel of industry veterans concluded its review of dealer applications on Aug. 21 at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., keeping a keen eye on dealers’ overall focus on professionalism, association activities, civic involvement, best practices and consumer care.
Above all, RVB Publisher Sherman Goldenberg maintains, the mission of the Top 50 program is to continue to remind individual dealers – and the industry at large – of the intent and specific recommendations of the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence and, beyond that, to give attendees at the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association’s (RVDA) Con/Expo a chance to relax and reflect on a year that was trying at best.
“We had an overwhelming response from our manufacturer nominees this year,” said Goldenberg. “The number of applicants received was about 40% more than what we had in 2008. Before judging even started, we considered this year’s program a success, and that was largely due to the many quality dealerships submitting applications. Because there were so many worthy RV dealers who applied, it was a much more difficult selection process this time around, and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to include everyone who applied.”
“The judges did take a very good look at all the application materials dealers sent in, and it was a very close race,” adds BJ Thompson, president of BJ Thompson Associates Inc., whose Mishawaka, Ind.-based agency oversees the application process for RVB. “We encourage all participating dealers, whether they were selected or not, to reapply next year.”
RVB Top 50 dealers are not ranked, although 10 Blue Ribbon retailers are singled out for special recognition. In addition, a Dave Altman Award for lifetime achievement in RV retailing and exceptional corporate citizenship will also be presented to one of the Blue Ribbon dealers at this year’s RVBT50 dinner at which Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee, the former — and possibly future — Republican presidential candidate will be keynote speaker.
“Given the current national political climate and the ongoing debate between the two political parties — and the ways in which these debates directly impact the recreational vehicle industry — we consider Mr. Huckabee an excellent and thought-provoking choice for an enjoyable evening in Las Vegas,” said Goldenberg. “And that goes for industry people of all political persuasions.”
The following U.S. and Canadian retailers are the recipients of the 2009 RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards (in unranked, alphabetical order):
- Aberdeen RV Center, Aberdeen, MS
- Aloha RV, Albuquerque, NM
- Altman’s Winnebago, Carson, CA
- American RV, Grand Rapids, MI
- Apache Village RV Center, Hazelwood, MO
- ArrKann Trailer & RV Centre, Edmonton, AB
- Beckley’s Camping Center, Thurmont, MD
- Big Country RV, Bend, OR
- Bill Plemmons RV World, Rural Hall, NC
- Boat N RV Superstores, Rockwood, Tenn.
- Can-Am RV Centre, London, ON
- Carolina Coach & Camper, Claremont, NC
- Coachlight RV, Carthage, MO
- Coates Trailer Sales, Columbus, MN
- Colonial Airstream, Lakewood, NJ
- Crown RV, Conyers, GA
- Curtis Trailers, Portland, OR
- Dandy RV Superstore, Anniston, AL
- Dixie RV Superstore, Newport News, VA
- Dodd RV, Yorktown, VA
- General RV, Wixom, MI
- Giant RV, Montclair, CA
- Greeneway Campers, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
- Guaranty RV, Junction City, OR
- Hilltop Trailer Sales, Fridley, MN
- Ketelsen Campers of Colorado, Wheat Ridge, CO
- Kings Campers, Wausaw, WI
- Lazydays RV Supercenter, Seffner, FL
- Little Dealer Little Prices, Phoenix, AZ
- Mike Thompson’s RV Super Stores, Santa Fe Springs, CA
- Modern Trailer Sales, Anderson, IN
- Mount Comfort RV, Greenfield, IN
- Parkview RV, Smyrna, DE
- PleasureLand RV Centers, St. Cloud, MN
- Poulsbo RV, Kent, WA
- Quality RV, Draper, UT
- Reines RV Center, Manassas, VA
- Richardson’s RV, Sun City, CA
- Rick’s RV Center, Joliet, IL
- Roy Robinson RV, Marysville, WA
- RV America Inc., Johnstown, CO
- Steinbring Motorcoach, Garfield, MN
- Tennessee RV Sales & Service, Knoxville, TN
- Terrell Camping Center, Terrell, NC
- Thompson Family RV, Davenport, IA
- Tom Johnson’s Camping Center, Marion, NC
- Topper’s Camping Center, Waller, TX
- Trafford’s RV, Center Conway, NH
- Veurinks’ RV Center, Grand Rapids, MI
- Woody’s RV World, Red Deer, AB
Building on last year’s format, which appears to have worked rather well for those involved, RV Business Top 50 Dealer Award honorees will be promoted in the national press, in dealers’ hometown newspapers and in the pages and websites — of Affinity’s trade and consumer magazines: RV Business, Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life.
Underwriting this year’s program are Platinum co-sponsors ADP Lightspeed, Salt Lake City, UT; Blue Ox, Pender, NE; Coach-Net, Lake Havasu, AZ; Cummins Onan, Minneapolis, MN.; Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., Gaffney, SC, RV Trader and RVTraderOnline.com, Norfolk, VA, and Ultra-Fab Products, Elkhart, IN, while Protective Asset Protection Division, Chesterfield, MO, is a Gold sponsor.
Tickets for the $120-a-plate dinner ($99 for RVDA members, Con/Expo exhibitors and Top 50 dealer guests) are available through RVBUSINESS.com’s registration link (http://www.rvbusiness.com/top-50-dealer-awards/2009-registration-form/).
“All in all, we can’t imagine that anyone attending the RVDA Con/Expo wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to mix with Mr. Huckabee and their industry peers at the cocktail party prior to our dinner and to hear Mr. Huckabee speak on the hot topics of the day at the dinner itself, regardless of their political persuasion,” said Goldenberg. “And, of course, we’ll honor our dealers, one by one, at the dinner as well, giving everyone a chance to reflect on the professionalism for which we’re trying to help raise the bar in this industry.”