With the value of industry networking and problem-sharing escalating on the heels of the Great Recession, recreational vehicle retailers have an added incentive to attend this year’s RV Dealers International Convention/Expo, Oct. 6-9 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas: RVDA’s Brand committees.
Created in late 2007 by the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) board of directors, the committees first convened at the 2008 Con/Expo to bring together dealers who carry the same manufacturers’ brand in an effort to improve dealer-manufacturer business relationships. Ten of the 13 committees are scheduled to gather during the upcoming four-day program.
“Brand committee face-to-face meetings and telephone conference calls provide opportunities for discussing topics in a candid and confidential manner with the goal of finding all-win, cost-effective solutions to industry-wide problems,” noted RVDA Director of Industry Relations Jeff Kurowski in the September issue of RV Executive Today. This has proven especially true during the past year, as manufacturer and dealer closings and an influx of new OEMs has altered the industry’s landscape.
His remarks were echoed by Jeff Hirsh of Campers Inn of Kingston, Kingston, N.H., chairman of the KZ Brand Committee, which conducted a telephone conference in July following the 2010 KZ RV product introduction at the company’s Shipshewana, Ind., headquarters. “Brand committees are a true partnership that will allow us, dealers and manufacturers, to mature together,” he said.
Among the brand committees that have scheduled meetings at the Rio during the upcoming Con/Expo:
Tuesday, Oct. 6:
- Heartland: 2:30 to 3:45 p.m., Tango Room
- Damon: 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. Lambada Room
Wednesday, Oct. 7:
- Jayco: 9 to 10:15 a.m., Tango Room
- Winnebago/Itasca: 9 to 10:15 a.m., Conga Room
- Dutchmen: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m., Tango Room
- Starcraft: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. Conga Room
- KZ RV: 2:30 to 3:45 p.m., Tango Room
- Monaco/Holiday Rambler/R Vision: 2:30 to 3:45 p.m., Conga Room
- Keystone: 4 to 5:15 p.m., Tango Room
- Fleetwood Motorized: 4 to 5:15 p.m., Conga Room
An array of seminars have also be scheduled for the 2009 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo in addition to open and proprietary workshops interspersed throughout the event. Among them is a workshop focused on helping dealers learn the ins and outs of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Dealer Floor Plan Pilot program and a two-part “Compliance Super Session” intended to provide up-to-date information on safety and compliance issues faced by dealerships.
On the evening of Oct. 7, morever, the Rio will be the site of the 2nd Annual RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards cocktail party and dinner, honoring the best RV dealerships across North America. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and an apparent front runner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, will serve as the event’s keynote speaker. Huckabee, 53, a star in conservative circles and host of the No. 1-rated weekend program on the Fox News Channel, served as Arkansas’ chief administrator from 1996 to 2007 and earned a number of accolades during that time, including being named as one of Governing Magazine’s “Public Officials of the Year” for 2005. Time Magazine also honored him as one of the five best governors in America. In 2008, he ran for president and, while unsuccessful, established a national following in the process for his soft delivery, muscial bent and populist style.
The winning Top 50 dealerships, previously announced in RV Business magazine and on RVBUSINESS.COM, were selected based upon the dealers’ overall focus on professionalism, association activities, civic involvement, best practices and consumer care. During the awards presentation, 10 of those 50 will be further recognized as Blue Ribbon retailers — and one of those 10 will be chosen as the 2009 Dave Altman Award honoree for lifetime achievement in RV retailing and exceptional corporate citizenship.
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.”