The economy may not be what it used to be, but some companies can adapt. Such is the case with the sale of large-ticket items from Country Roads RV Center and Sunset Marine in Lexington, N.C.
As reported by the Lexington Dispatch, the economy is changing business, the two owners would tell anyone. Sales are not what they used to be, and a typical sale four years ago now might be a rarity. But Jeff Zimmerman of Country Roads RV Center and Sammie Bray of Sunset Marine didn’t fight the change, but embraced it, and now both companies are expanding.
Country Roads RV Center officially began in 2007 after separating from the family automotive business. After recreational vehicle sales overtook their vehicle sales at Enterprise Auto Sales, the RV center was located in a small section of the old country store building on Enterprise Road. The building was originally built in the 1940s.
The RV Center has grown three times since the opening, and the Independence Day holiday brought the fourth expansion when the company completed a new 10-bay service facility. This expansion was five times the room they had previously.
“We are now a 10-bay service facility with full retail parts as well. We are the only business to carry a full line of retail parts in the county as well as the only service facility in the county,” Zimmerman said.
But the hardest part for the Zimmerman family is managing the facility’s growth, he said. They started constructing the new facility over a year and a half ago. Zimmerman knew that if the economy ever straightened out, he would be covered up with service work having only a two-bay service garage.
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Launched just before the recession hit, Country Roads RV Center, a sales and service business based in a former old country store in North Carolina’s Davidson County, has been using the latest technology to drive their sales for the past three years, according to The Dispatch, Lexington.
Jeff and Cindy Zimmerman, owners of the business south of Winston-Salem, have also used the old-fashioned work ethic learned from family members whose farmland surrounds the RV dealership to beat the odds of succeeding in a tough economy.
So when Jeff and Cindy launched Country Roads RV Center in June 2007, after RV sales overtook their auto sales at Enterprise Auto Sales, it was located in a small section of the old country store building. As retail leases lapsed for the remainder of the building and their new business grew, the couple decided to completely renovate the old country store building, which was just a block structure when first constructed. But with a new exterior, all new windows and refinished cherry hardwood floors, Jeff Zimmerman said his family would marvel that he now has a thriving RV business amid cornfields.
“It’s been quite overwhelming for my mom to see how it’s changed,” he said, “I guess it could be considered as a ‘green’ alternative to constructing a new facility. It’s really working out great for us.”
But there’s nothing old-fashioned about how the thriving business, which has recently expanded its sales lot space for the third time in as many years, is run. The company has its own website, www.CRRVC.com, and it’s also on the www.rvtrader.com and www.rvt.com websites. Plus, it’s linked through RV manufacturers’ websites.
“We get a lot of traffic that way,” Zimmerman said, noting the majority of their customers find them online but do come to the dealership to make their purchase.
Zimmerman noted their son, Ryan, has recently joined the business full time and is responsible for taking product photographs and posting updates to their website.
Cindy’s mother, Pat Wilkins, also works in sales at the RV center. The staff has grown from just Jeff and Cindy in sales and three technicians in the service department to one part-time and six full-time technicians and three full-time and three part-time sales staffers.
Zimmerman said Country Roads RV Center is a high-volume, low-price dealership carrying many Forest River Inc. product lines. Zimmerman also tries to keep a broad selection of lines on the sales lot, which has between 100 and 130 units, which he noted is actually down from where he’d like to be for the busy summer season.
“We can’t get them in soon enough as fast as we sell them,” he said, noting it can take anywhere from six to 10 weeks to get the RVs once ordered.
While most customers are from within a 100-mile radius, he said the company also lands customers from the Raleigh area, where they participate in an annual sales show at the state fairgrounds. He said license plates from Virginia and South Carolina are also commonly seen in their parking lot. He noted they have had some customers come from as far away as Canada, depending on the exchange rate.
In addition to pricing, wide selection and quality, Zimmerman said service “is a big piece of this puzzle.” He said some RV dealerships simply sell RVs and don’t even have a service department.
The members of the service department give all buyers an orientation session and explain how features work.
“We don’t just hand you the keys and say have a nice life, we’ll see you when you want another one,” he added.
“Consumers want to know that if they buy something they can get it serviced,” he said. “Sales is one thing, but how we take care of our customers is another.”
In fact, the company recently received zoning approval to build a new 10-bay service garage, which is double what the dealership has now. The new building, which he hopes to complete within the next year or so, will also have retail space to display parts and accessories, which they already sell online but don’t have much space to display now.
Zimmerman said increasing sales will bring an increase in demand for service, so he wants to be ready to meet the demand but would like to see more encouraging economic developments.
“We’ve done well, even in a downturn, but we want to make sure this is not a hiccup, make sure the economy really is picking up before we pull the triggger,” he said.
Zimmerman said there are some social and demographics factors that favor increased RV business. It’s an affordable second home for many people who don’t travel around but simply park an RV at resort-like campgrounds, for one thing.
“And I think there’s also a big push for back to basics,” he said, noting that many parents are trying to move away from desk jobs and cell phones, and get children away from televisions and computers, to return to nature and enjoy outdoor activities together such as hiking, biking and other activities.
“We’ve actually had people take TVs out of units,” he said.
Also, a lot of Baby Boomers are starting to retire, which means they can travel further and for longer periods of time so they are looking for accommodations for weeks on end, not just long weekends.
“And you’d be surprised how many people want to take their pets with them,” he said, noting it can be difficult to find pet-friendly accommodations and expensive to board pets or pay sitters. “That’s very important for some people.”