Florida RV dealer Gigi Stetler and her company, RV Sales of Broward, have filed a third amended complaint in their 2010 lawsuit against a major equestrian show, claiming an attempt to put her company out of business in conjunction with Camping World, and also claiming intentional interference with adventitious business relationships, civil theft, conversion, tortious interference and many other claims.
According to a release issued by RV Sales of Broward, Stetler accuses Camping World and its celebrity CEO, Marcus Lemonis, the star of CNBC’s primetime show THE PROFIT, whom she had earlier rebuffed when he tried to buy her business in 2008, of conspiring with Bellissimo Entities to force RV Sales of Broward out of business, when Stetler “politely but firmly rejected all of Lemonis’s offers to buy her business.”
A hearing is scheduled to take place on Oct. 27 over evidence in this civil case. Already more than 500 documents have been discovered so far but Stetler’s lawyers, Ticktin Law Group, want the court to compel Bellissimo’s entities to release their records.
In the suit, Stetler claims that when she attempted to negotiate terms for her 2010 contract, which had been in place since 2000, Bellissimo entities persuaded Stetler and RV Sales of Broward to turn over her confidential client list, trade secrets and her business model. Stetler alleges they requested this information as the condition for a new agreement with her, while Bellissimo and Lemonis had a deal already in place that was contingent upon Bellissimo forwarding Stetler’s confidential client list over to Camping World, to facilitate the malicious destruction of RV Sales of Broward’s business.
Stetler also alleges that in furtherance of the plan for Camping World to acquire the customers of RV Sales of Broward, Bellissimo and Lemonis improperly and wrongfully had Stetler barred from the competition at the equestrian event. “They believed that her presence at the event, even just as a competitor, would cause competition between RV Sales of Broward, and Camping World,” the release stated.
Stetler’s suit alleges that this scheme by Bellisimo and Lemonis was not only an attempt to obtain the business and customers that RV Sales of Broward had established over the years but, according to the complaint, was also “a malicious reaction by Lemonis, Camping World’s CEO, who could not tolerate the fact that Gigi Stetler stood up to him, by refusing to sell RV Sales of Broward to Camping World in 2008.”
Editor’s Note: Author Gigi Stetler appeared over the weekend at the Miami Book Fair International to sign copies of her book, “Unstoppable! Surviving Is Just The Beginning.” Following is a review of her book provided by JAS Literary Publishing.
“Gigi’s story is about a girl who wouldn’t give up. It reads like a best seller, replete with plot twists, shady characters and a heroine with many layers. A father figure mentor who gave her a chance later stabbed her in the back, an attacker who literally stabbed her 21 times and left her for dead and success in an industry that conspired to keep her out. In every instance, where Gigi was knocked down, she got up, brushed herself off, and came back stronger than ever”, says Richard Angulo. Gigi says, “I kept my sights on my goal even when it seemed like a never-ending nightmare. No one and nothing was going to stop me from that goal.”
“A single mom that didn’t finish the 10th grade, Gigi became a queen of the male-dominated recreation vehicles industry, presiding over the $18 million-a-year RV Sales of Broward as the first female owner of an RV dealership in the country. She redefined the climate of the RV industry and became an inspiration to women everywhere,” says Richard Angulo
. Gigi says, “My road to success has been more of a motocross obstacle course – full of peaks and valleys, dips and hurdles – rather than a paved highway to triumph. Every inch of success took fortitude and massive perseverance.”
Nothing has changed for this tough-as-nails businesswoman. After exposing an industry-wide lending scam, was pressured and bullied, but refused to sell out. Lenders retaliated and RV Sales of Broward was pronounced financially dead in September 2008. Gigi says, “I won’t stay down. I’ve been crawling and scratching my way back, never giving up, and always staying true to who I am.”
Asked what makes a person unstoppable? Gigi says, “I’m sure it’s different for each individual, but in my case I simply don’t look back at some of the most unconscionable, ruthless things that have happened to me, and I don’t waste time feeling sorry for myself. The word victim is not in my consciousness. If anything, I use those contemptible events to strengthen my future.”
In addition to pulling RV Sales of Broward out of the ashes, and becoming a business consultant, motivational speaker, Gigi is launching her line of all natural supplements under the brand My Perfect Bones. Gigi says, “I am set on bringing my “unstoppable” message of hope and survival to anyone who is facing hard times.” Her message is simple yet powerful: only you direct your own present and your own future – “Greet life as a warrior, not a victim.” (Published by JAS Literary Publishing, ISBN 978-0-615-40507-0, 215 pp, pb, $24.95)
Broward County, Fla., RV dealer GiGi Stetler has drawn inquiries from hundreds of distressed RV dealers and appears to be making some progress with her lawsuits against financial institutions, claiming overcharges on the interest dealers have had to pay for floorplanning.
Stetler is the owner of RV Sales Broward in West Palm Beach and Davie. Her lawsuits against major RV lenders claim that they’ve unfairly charged dealers interest on inventory, long before dealers’ inventory arrived on their lot. Stettler is not mentioning the lenders’ names.
Like many other RV dealers, Stetler says, “I was getting invoiced for units 10, 20 and 30 days before I ever received them. And, very often, when you get the unit, it needs extra work before you can sell it. So you’re also forced to pay interest until it’s even ready to sell.”
Stetler cited one motorhome “that came in leaking. I was stuck with it, and paid $32,000 in interest before it was finally returned to the factory. The factory sent somebody down here three times to fix it. They finally agreed to take it back, but never reimbursed me the $32,000 in interest.”
Time lags between ordering and receiving units are normal. A manufacturer typically requires several days to complete a unit and turn it over to a delivery company that, depending on how busy it is, may require up to 30 days to deliver that unit to the dealer’s lot.
Stetler says dealers are fully aware of the time lags in getting units, but that the ambiguity of key contract language makes it impossible for dealers to accurately account for such delays in calculating interest. According to dealer security agreements, interest begins on the invoice date. “But nobody has been able to define ‘invoice date,'” Stetler says. “Nobody knows whether it’s shipping date, ordering date, building date. It’s whatever they feel like putting on invoice. That’s the problem.”
One dealer, who requested anonymity, said it was up to the dealership to reconcile the monthly bank statement to its inventory. “If you’re hit with an interest statement on a unit that you never got until 30 days later, you have to be proactive and tell the lender ‘you can’t bill us until this hits the ground,'” he points out, while noting the variances in dealer and lender practices in the industry.
But Stetler says she did catch it on the very first statement. She says she started protesting unfair floorplanning practices, beginning in August 2005 and continually got the runaround when seeking reimbursement, with manufacturers and lenders each telling her to talk to the other.
Stetler adds that, in 2007, when she finally threatened to switch lenders, a representative of her financing institution agreed to change her plan. “What we agreed on saved me $25,000 a month in interest. Over a period of two years, it (the previous plan) had cost me $600,000 in overcharges. They told me to chalk it up to the cost of doing business, and said I was one of only four dealers they’d made these concessions to.”
Currently, Stetler is operating without benefit of floorplanning, having lost her two lenders. She operates by paying cash for units at auctions, a few at a time, and from consignments and rentals. Floorplanning normal inventory would be self-defeating, anyway, she adds: “When my floorplanning was pulled, I was losing deals like crazy because the very financial institutions I was doing business with were selling $90 million worth of inventory through the auctions, which they were buying back (from distressed or failed dealers) for $50,000 and $60,000 less than I could sell them for.”
Stetler says discussions are taking place with lenders in her suits. She’s seeking a refund of all the interest overcharges to every dealer, and says whatever concessions she obtains will apply to even those dealers who have gone out of business. She adds that she’s fully aware of – and prepared for – a long, drawn-out legal battle due to the enormity of the stakes, potentially billions of dollars.
Based on dealer responses, many others share her views. Stetler says she’s gotten 480 e-mails and over 100 phone calls from dealers since initiating her lawsuits, “97% of them in the same boat I’m in. They’ve had time floor checkers doing inventory and found units they were being charged for before they arrived from the factory.”
The issue of when dealers begin paying floorplan interest has been ongoing, as Phil Ingrassia, vice president of communications for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), Fairfax, Va., points out. So too, have “a number of issues with regard to the contracts that dealers have with lenders.”
RVDA Legal Council Brock Landry recently reviewed several dealer financing agreements and also noted several RV dealers who said they had negotiated acceptable agreements with their lenders
Overall, says Landry, dealer agreements “run the gamut from extremely one-sided, unreasonable agreements putting all of the risk with the dealer to those that are somewhat more reasonable (although as with most financing agreements, the balance is usually in favor of the finance company). I would urge all RV dealers to have these agreements reviewed carefully by their counsel.”
There are a number of provisions found in these agreements which could have “harsh and unfair results for the dealer,” he adds, citing the following examples:
- Some of the agreements permit the finance company to sign the dealer’s name on any document it deems necessary to fulfill the objectives of the agreement.
- Another agreement allows the financing to be placed back with the dealer if the manufacturer does not perform its obligations.
- Some agreements require the dealer to warrant that the purchaser is of legal age and has other qualifications rather than using its best efforts to determine this.
- Some provisions regarding dealers repossessing the units are also very harsh.
“I hope these examples will highlight the need for careful review of the contracts and a full assessment of the contractual obligations that the dealers are undertaking when they enter into these arrangements. The fine print can lead to some real problems,” Landry concludes.