North America’s finest RV dealers were recognized and celebrated during the 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards program Wednesday night (Oct. 6) during a reception and dinner at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Hosted by Affinity Group Inc. President and CEO Mike Schneider, the event — held during the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association’s (RVDA) 2010 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo — also featured conservative political commentator and author Ann Coulter as keynote speaker.
The well-attended program also was a celebration of sorts for companies that survived the economic downturn of the past few years. “I’d like to remind everyone of this year’s dinner theme, ‘Leading the Country Out of the Recession,’ because, looking at the latest shipment reports and listening to our industry friends, North America’s RV business has obviously come a long way back from the depths of the Great Recession,” Schneider said in welcoming the audience of RV dealers, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and industry executives and their families.
This year’s program included for the first time recreational park model dealers for award eligibility and, indicative of the event’s growing acceptance in the RV arena, featured as presenters Debbie Brunaforte, chairman of RVDA, and Gregg Fore, chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
“When we set out three years ago to develop the RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards, our mission was pretty clear,” RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg told the audience. “To help provide benchmarks for retailers with regard to overall professionalism, customer service, civic involvement and the general spirit and specific recommendations of the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence.
“And I must say, sitting here tonight at the 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards dinner, we seem to have made progress on all fronts. More important, we’ve gained credibility, thanks in no small part to the Top 50 panel of experts. We’ve progressively added Canadian dealers and, this year, included North American park model builders to the mix.”
The Top 50 Award recipients were selected after an extensive process beginning with the dealer’s nomination by a North American RV manufacturer. Dealerships were evaluated by an independent panel that sequestered itself for two days at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., while winnowing through the applications. In addition to the selection of the Top 50 dealers, five from the group were chosen as Blue Ribbon dealerships by the panel in recognition of performance in one or more categories which exceeded substantially the already high standards of the group as a whole.
During this year’s program, for example, a video was shown detailing the charitable work of the Lazydays Employee Foundation. For 2010, Seffner, Fla.-based Lazydays RV Supercenter was joined as a Blue Ribbon dealership by Altmans Winnebago, Carson, Calif.; ArrKann Trailer & RV Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Bill Plemmons RV World, Rural Hall, N.C.; and Campers Inn, Kingston, N.H.
The highlight of the presentations was the awarding of the Altman Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the late Dave Altman, a longtime RV dealer and industry leader. While the Top 50 awards recognize dealership excellence, the Altman Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to an individual. In presenting the Altman Award to Crosby Forrest, owner of Dixie RV Superstore, Newport News, Va., (a Top 50 winner), Schneider briefly touched on Forrest’s 41-year career in the RV industry.
“The Altman Lifetime Achievement Award is given to someone who, like Dave Altman, embodies the spirit of giving in the industry — from working to make the business better to building long-lasting personal relationships with each and every customer,” Schneider said. “This year, that someone is Crosby Forrest.
“When Dixie Trailer Sales was a fledgling company in 1971, its owner, Crosby Forrest, would have to drive to a factory and pick up one unit at a time to bring it home to the dealership,” Schneider noted. “Over time, he got some help and the dealership evolved into Dixie RV Superstore — but it’s still a family-owned-and-operated business, and is the oldest RV dealership in Virginia. Crosby was a key member of RVDA for 34 years, including its past chairman, vice president and treasurer, and is a current board member. In 2000, he received the James B. Summers Award, which recognizes individuals who make a consistent and outstanding contribution to the association and its members, and was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in 2006.”
Long before the awards were presented, however, Ann Coulter had galvanized the largely conservative crowd with a sometimes humorous and oftentimes pointed overview of the changing political landscape. As noted by B.J. Thompson in his introduction of the author and commentator, “While RVBusiness is not in the business of endorsing any one political viewpoint, the trade journal’s staff is presenting here tonight a guest speaker who, like the RVB Top 50 Dealer Program itself, is relevant, stimulating and thought-provoking.” Coulter, he said, “is not afraid to speak her mind and is here to spark conversation, invigorate minds and spawn lively debate on the doorstep of the mid-term elections.”
Following her speech, Coulter also gave her assessment on a number of topics in questions posed by the audience. Attendees offered up possible queries on index cards placed on each table and collected prior to Coulter’s introduction, with Thompson taking on the role of moderator.
Along with the naming of the Top 50 dealers, the program also recognized the efforts of the Leadership Alliance, a group of companies who helped underwrite the event. Leadership Alliance Platinum members include ADP Lightspeed, Salt Lake City, Utah; Bank of the West, Walnut Creek, Calif.; Blue Ox, Pender, Neb.; Cummins Onan, Minneapolis, Minn.; Freightliner Custom Chassis Co., Gaffney, S.C.; RV America Insurance, Simi Valley, Calif.; RV Trader, Norfolk, Va.; and Gold member Protective Insurance, Chesterfield, Mo. Additionally, Mannheim Auctions, Atlanta, Ga., co-sponsored the reception, while GE Capital, Tempe, Ariz., was a co-sponser of the keynote speaker.
“I want to extend a personal thanks to the firms that stepped up this year at a time — coming out of the recession — when they could have just as easily taken the low road and not bothered to back a program that helps set the bar for retail professionalism by showcasing dealers who believe that a business, large or small, is more than a cash register, and that a consumer, in the big picture, is more than a simple cash transaction,” Goldenberg noted. “In doing so, these companies have made an overt decision to help upgrade the entire industry beyond the dealer ranks.”
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.
While it puts plenty of Americans to the financial test, the Great Recession should enhance the profitability of RV industry survivors, maintains Crosby Lane Forrest, vice president and managing partner of Dixie RV Superstore in Newport News, Va.
“The downturn has made the industry leaner and will make it a more profitable center for everybody (survivors) from manufacturers down to dealers and service centers,” said Forrest, whose dealership is mapping expansion plans. “They’ve all tightened their belts and looked and clawed and searched for ways to stretch a dollar and produce income, and those lessons will not be easily forgotten.”
With the recession having trimmed down the industry’s “fat,” Forrest now sees RVs in an up trend and, consequently, is planning to add new satellite parts and service locations to bolster the service operations, which have been a mainstay of its business during the downturn.
Dixie, currently a single-site operation, offers a full line of new Class A and C motorhomes plus travel trailers, fifth-wheels, toy haulers and tent trailers, as well as utility and cargo trailers and rental units. Its new-unit sales are currently running about 13% to 14% ahead of last year, a pace that should put the Virginia retailer on track for at least a 350-unit total for the year.
Overall, Dixie is projected to do about $15 million in sales in 2010, close to pre-recessionary levels, with service revenues having offset lower new-unit demand over the past two years.
“Toward the end of 2007,” said Forrest, “we felt that we were heading into a sales downturn, and we took the approach that we could find entities within our dealership to take up the slack. We found it in service, taking the stance that service is ‘the new front end,’ and we increased our service numbers 100% in 2008 and another 100% in 2009.”
The hiring of additional service technicians and paint and body work professionals has also offset a reduction in sales personnel, enabling the dealership to maintain a staff of 30-32 employees.
Dixie RV’s enviable location in a high tourist area and its proximity to more than eight, largely recession-resistant military-related businesses and installations provides some unique advantages to its successful operations.
In pursuing more parts and service business, however, it also turned to heavy advertising and to developing more extensive relationships with insurance carriers and other vital links in the service chain to position itself as “the place for major (RV) repairs.
“Whatever anybody needs, we do it,” said Forrest, adding that the dealership also expanded its service staff to ensure that “when the work started coming in, we could handle it.”
A big proponent of Internet website advertising, Forrest is fond of saying, “We don’t know of any other form of marketing that makes you money while you’re closed. We can’t remember the last time we sold an air conditioner at 2 a.m. from a newspaper ad.”
Consider that the dealership several years ago was paying more than $20,000 a month in Yellow Pages ads and more recently has reduced that to less than $1,000. “Everything else is devoted to the Internet,” said Forrest, whose dealership is currently getting ready to sign a contract with a national provider to step up from an “organic” form of Internet advertising to an optimum level in which it pays for its name to pop up when prospective customers start doing an RV search.
“We’re contracting for a top spot, and are very excited about that,” said Forrest, hoping to quadruple the 20,000 monthly hits the dealership’s website is currently getting with the upgrade.
Having tapped out the full potential of its service capabilities in Newport News, Dixie is now scouting a satellite service and parts location in Williamsburg and Virginia Beach, Va., the latter being a more likely location because it’s closer to the RV parks and the parade of campers utilizing those parks.
On the sales side, travel trailers, with their attractiveness as an economical entry into the RV arena, continue to be the dealership’s bread and butter. But after adding some Coachmen and Monaco motorized lines, Forrest said Dixie has also been seeing “more excitement in Class A traffic in the last 30 days.”
Meanwhile, the dealership’s rental business has picked up considerably.
“When the economy took a downturn,” said Forrest, “our fleet was already getting a little more mileage than I liked. Because of market conditions, we were not able to turn it, and that hurt us.”
After finally being able to turn the aged inventory in 2008, the 12-unit rental fleet has stayed consistently booked.
Previously confining its rental fleet to Class As and Cs, Dixie’s management plans to add travel trailers — most notably Jayco’s Jay Feather hybrid — within the next 30-60 days. “Doing hybrids will give our customers a feeling that we’re open to providing various things,” said Forrest.
Forrest added that Dixie RV has seen a decided change in financing trends over the past year. While the dealership last year actually secured its own bank credit in order to finance creditworthy customers who couldn’t get their own financing, it was subsequently able to sell that debt back to the bank.
Now, during the past few months, Dixie RV has seen a “tremendous increase” in cash buyers in a wide variety of unit purchases, which, in itself, is a good thing. On the other hand, that’s made it difficult for Forrest’s finance and insurance people to upsell extra profit items like extended warranties and tire and paint protection programs.
Forrest views Bank of the West as the only national bank still aggressive in the RV financing field. “They’ve been tremendous,” he added. “Otherwise, it’s all local financial institutions — small banks and credit unions” accounting for most of Dixie’s financing.
Monaco RV LLC announced today (May 7) its partnership with Dixie RV Superstore of Newport News, Va.
Dixie RV Superstore, serving greater Virginia and North Carolina, will be carrying the Monaco brand of motorhomes.
“After 45 years of operation, we have learned not to dwell on the past, but to look to the future,” according to Dennis Dalheim, manager at Dixie RV Superstores. “With Monaco RV and Navistar, we see a bright future.”
Dixie RV Superstore offers a full-service dealership. Available at Dixie RV is a service department along with collision repair, extensive parts and accessories store and rental services.
“We are extremely honored and pleased to partner with such a tremendous organization as Dixie RV Superstore” said Mike Snell, senior vice president of sales and product development of Monaco RV. “Crosby Forrest, his family and associates operate a first-class dealership that is nationally respected and provides unequalled customer service. We are excited about the future ahead and joining forces with Dixie RV to bring the best recreational vehicles to our mutual customers.”