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.
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.
Despite the headwinds of 2009, RVBusiness is turning the corner on the second annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards after having gone to manufacturers earlier this year for nominations of their best dealers in terms of consumer care, civic involvement and general professionalism.
A number of applications are in hand and a host of nominated retailers, as has been the case for so many business people this year, are currently scrambling to submit theirs. “I can report at this point that things are going well,” says RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg, who is overseeing the second annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards program on behalf of the industry’s flagship trade journal. “And we’ll continue to flex with the times and bend that deadline to get as many of those last-minute applications as we can before turning them over later this month for review by our panel of experts.”
The Top 50, like last year, will be not be ranked in any sort of order, says Goldenberg, but will be presented as a group in alphabetical order at a reception and dinner at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 7, during the annual RV Dealers International Convention/Expo, sponsored by the Fairfax, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). But five of the Top 50 will receive special recognition as Blue Ribbon dealers and one above the rest receives the Dave Altman Award, which goes to an exceptional corporate citizen.
Appearing as keynote speaker at this year’s dinner is former – and possibly future – Republican presidential candidate and Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee, who will more than likely have a few things to say about the current economic and political landscape.
“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.”
The bottom line of the Top 50 program, he maintained, 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.
“I don’t think there is ever a bad time to be talking about excellence and customer service and treating people right, especially customers,” said BJ Thompson, president of BJ Thompson Associates, the Mishawaka, Ind., agency that is again working with RVBusiness on the Top 50. “So, whether it’s a good economy or a bad economy, this is a good program and helpful to the industry.”
Underwriting this year’s program are RVB’s “Leadership Alliance” sponsors for 2009, including “Platinum” co-sponsors ADP Lightspeed, Salt Lake City, Utah; Blue Ox, Pender, Neb.; Coach-Net, Lake Havasu, Ariz.; Cummins Onan, Minneapolis, Minn.; Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., Gaffney, S.C., RV Trader and RVTraderOnline.com, Norfolk, Va., and Ultra-Fab Products, Elkhart, Ind., while Protective Asset Protection Division, Chesterfield, Mo., is a “Gold” sponsor.
Tickets for the $120-a-plate dinner ($99 for RVDA members and Con/Expo exhibitors) are available through RVBUSINESS.com’s registration link (http://www.rvbusiness.com/top-50-dealer-awards/2009-registration-form/).
Online versions of the applications can be downloaded by linking directly to http://www.rvbusiness.com/top-50-dealer-awards/2009-top-50-dealer-application/
Building on last year’s format, which appears to have worked rather well for those involved, RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Award honorees will be promoted in the national press, in dealers’ hometown newspapers and in the pages – and on the websites — of Affinity’s trade and consumer magazines, RVBusiness, Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life.
However, publicity is only part of the incentive for participating in this bar-raising national promotion, says Thompson. “In talking with different size dealers last year, whether they be small, medium or large-size dealers,” said Thompson, “we did get some distinctly different responses. The smaller dealers were surprised that they were genuinely in the running to be recognized for their attention to customer satisfaction. They appreciated having the opportunity to be recognized for their hard work and their investment in customer service.
“The medium and larger dealers seemed to have their own unique set of issues in assuring good customer service and excellence in their operations,” added Thompson, who will be joined in hosting the event by Jim Sheldon, a Monaco RV LLC executive and current chairman of Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). “Because they were larger, they weren’t able to have that one-on-one experience as principals because of their size. It was a unique challenge to them to drive down their values to the people in their dealer operations who were working with customers, whether it was sales or service or otherwise. It would take a lot of work and investment on their part to have that personalized service on a larger scale. So, to be recognized for actually accomplishing excellence on a larger scale for them was also satisfying.”
Leveling the playing field again this year is the fact that larger multi-store retailers, regardless of how many locations they have, can have only one store recognized in the RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Award program.
“It was satisfying for those of us who were involved in the development of the program to see that most dealers were genuinely appreciative of having the spotlight put on them,” added Thompson, current chairman of RVIA’s Public Relations Committee. “I think it’s always a good thing to put a spotlight on people who are doing things right and doing them well. Recognizing outstanding achievement in customer service and dealer operations not only lifts the dealership, but when they are spotlighted and shown off to the world, it lifts up the entire industry.”