In its many years in business, Woody’s RV World in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, has served a long list of satisfied customers, and received many industry awards along the way.
Woody’s was recently named one of the Top 50 RV Dealers in North America by RVBusiness magazine, and is also the Gold winner in the RV Dealer category of the 2010 Calgary Herald Readers’ Choice Awards, the Herald reported.
Darren Paylor, president of Woody’s RV World, says the company is very proud of the awards — including winning the prestigious Top 50 award for the second year in a row.
“It affirms our commitment to being a leader in innovation by providing cutting-edge products, supported by a team of professionals committed to exceed the demands and requirements of today’s RV enthusiast,” says Paylor.
Dealerships are nominated by RV manufacturers for the RVBusiness award, and the Top 50 are chosen based not on sales but on customer service and satisfaction, employee training and education, and sound planning and initiatives.
“The RV industry has a responsibility to provide the most enjoyable experience for the RVer. Being included with this group of winning companies devoted to providing a professional RV experience is a great achievement,” says Paylor.
“Woody’s RV World is not here to just sell a product, but here to provide a great recreational adventure in which lifelong memories are created. It’s this end result that we are most proud of.”
The recognition for Woody’s comes at an exciting time in the RV industry, as innovation is at an all-time high, and prices are more affordable.
“It’s a great time to buy an RV,” says Woody’s RV World general manager Don Pettit.
The RV industry has become increasingly competitive in recent years, and vehicle design includes many innovative features, Pettit says.
Additional storage is a big trend in the latest RVs, with features like under-platform storage, stowaway bins and flatscreen TVs that pivot out of sight when not being used.
There are even bunk beds hidden in the roof that lower with the push of a button.
Pettit says if houses were built as efficiently as today’s RVs, people could live quite comfortably in smaller homes.
Woody’s RV World has always been known for its wide range of products from some of the best known brands in the business, such as Winnebago, Fleetwood, Coachmen and many others.
Woody’s carries everything from trailers for beginning RVers right up to the most luxurious diesel pusher motorhomes,
The dealership also carries many of the new lighter-weight trailers designed for the smaller vehicles many people are driving today. Downsizing in the automotive industry has created more fuel-efficient vehicles, and there are travel trailers that weigh as little as 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) and are easily towed by a minivan, Pettit says.
In addition to offering more features, more efficiency, and more choices than ever, today’s RVs are also more competitively priced.
Pettit says manufacturers are providing excellent value these days, and the strong Canadian dollar is also an advantage.
So, too, is the buying power that Woody’s RV World enjoys because of its three huge Alberta dealerships.
One thing that hasn’t changed is Woody’s RV World’s famous customer service.
Pettit says the customer has always been the company’s focus, and Woody’s is now serving multiple generations of buyers.
“We’re seeing second and third generations of a family that are purchasing from us,” he says, adding many people come back again and again when they decide to upgrade to a larger or more luxurious RV.
In addition to an excellent sales experience, Woody’s has become known for its service and parts departments. Pettit says it’s a truly well-rounded dealership, with a large service facility for maintenance and repairs, as well as a reconditioning facility that brings pre-owned RVs back to top-notch shape.
The parts department has an extensive selection of all the latest in RV accessories, from high-tech items like solar panels, satellite TV systems, and even portable ice makers, to traditional items like RV mats.
Again, the buying power of Woody’s three locations means it can negotiate the best deals available from accessory manufacturers, and pass the savings along to customers — just another advantage enjoyed by Woody’s RV World customers.
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.
The RV Dealers International Convention/Expo, scheduled for Oct. 4-8 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., comes at a crucial time for the U.S. economy in general and the RV industry in particular as both work their way out of the tough recession of 2008/2009.
On one hand, the industry’s rebound has exceeded expectations in many ways, especially for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers aligned with the right towable recreational vehicle brands. On the other hand, however, the aftershocks of the Great Recession are obviously still with us in terms of unemployment, stock market fluctuations and a general discomfort among many Americans with regard to the general state of the economy.
And while most Americans assume that the worst is over, many of the nation’s durable good manufacturers – including RV builders — are still looking to bridge their way to the next year and the next level of recovery and to find a comfort zone in this new post-recessionary age.
“There is a consensus we have to recalibrate our definition of what is a good business environment,” said Mike Molino, president of the Fairfax, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), lead sponsor of October’s annual Con/Expo. “We’re not going to get back to the 400,000-unit years any time soon. We’ll probably never return to that. The next couple of years will be tough, but doable. If dealers stay within the cash structure they have, they will survive. The consumer will come back — slowly. We won’t see a significant increase (in sales) until there is more certainty (about the state of the economy). I’m not so sure the election of 2010 will bring more certainty. That might just bring more confusion.”
But Molino, generally a realist, does tend to see the cup half full.
“The dealers who are still in business, for the most part, are the ones who will survive,” he maintained. “The dealers coming to the convention are in good shape. The shakeout is well on its way to being complete. But it’s not totally over. Dealers are telling me they have inventory but are paying more finance charges on the inventory they have than they used to, and retail financiers are very stringent on who they are lending money to, so the ability to buy a recreational vehicle, the threshold for buying, is higher and the ability to buy is a lot lower.
“Another dynamic is that there is uncertainty among businesses, both large and small, and that drives employment, and employment drives the mentality of the economy,” Molino continued. “When a consumer is hearing levels of unemployment we currently have (around 10%), it’s still not conducive to them going out and buying an RV, even if they can afford to get a loan for an RV. Until unemployment goes down and employment rises, we will have some issues.”
A New Era for the Industry As Well as RVDA’s Con/Expo
The RVDA is tackling this new era head-on with a refreshing revision of the annual convention, which is co-sponsored by RVDA of Canada and the RV Learning Center.
A crowd of between 475 and 550 U.S. and Canadian dealers, with total registrations of about 1,100 attendees, is anticipated for the five-day event.
“I think it’s going to be the best convention ever,” adds Molino. “We’ve got a very, very active committee under (Convention Chairman) Peter Albano. Between him and my staff and the volunteers on the committee, I think they have put together the most pertinent program for dealers and the management level of staff I’ve ever seen.”
As ever, of course, there will be an aggressive educational component including workshops on everything from wholesale and retail financing options to new inventory management strategies and how to reach new customers through innovative marketing communications. And the 2010 convention will again feature an exhibit hall filled with the RV industry’s leading OEM and supplier companies offering products and services to help dealers improve profitability.
But attendees will notice significant changes, starting with the brand committee meetings, closed door sessions in which dealers meet as a group with representatives of the recreational vehicle brands they carry. RVDA’s “Partners in Progress” brand committees, among other things, will work on important dealer-manufacturer issues and address results of RVDA’s Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI).
“We’ve restructured the brand committees meetings, so they come early in the session,” Molino explained. “We tried to make it so there is no conflict between the committee meetings and anything else they want to do. I think it will enhance the experience for the dealers, especially the manufacturers.”
Before he took on the assignment of chairing this year’s convention committee, Albano confides, he talked with many dealers and asked them what they wanted with regard to the convention. “They said that we need to change and get some new blood into the system and see how we’re running the sessions, break it up and make it new,” Albano, owner of American RV in the Memphis suburb of Olive Branch, Miss., told RVBusiness. “We’ve worked very, very hard at doing that.”
Former Interior Secretary Kempthorne Will Keynote
Albano predicts that convention attendees will especially enjoy the remarks of former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who will serve as keynote speaker at the first general session on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
“Secretary Kempthorne has a track record of developing innovative approaches to meet the outdoor recreation needs of RV travelers and other outdoor enthusiasts,” Albano said. “As a long-time motorhome owner, he is enthusiastic about the future prospects for our industry. He will provide an inspiring message for everyone who makes their living in the RV business.”
Kempthorne continues to champion outdoor recreation and is an active RV traveler and motorcyclist. As Secretary of the Interior during the George W. Bush administration, he brought fundamental relational changes in the environmental, conservation and outdoor recreation arenas.
During his service in the U.S. Senate, Kempthorne led successful efforts to create a sustainable funding source for building and maintaining trails and to promote balance between resource protection and outdoor fun – which is among the reasons he received the 20th Sheldon Coleman Great Outdoors Award in 2008 from the American Recreation Coalition (ARC).
A second general session, on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 7, will feature an “RV Outlook Panel Discussion” for which panelists will include Ron Fenech, president of Thor Industries Inc.’s RV Group; Craig Kennison, analyst with Robert W. Baird, Inc.; and Pete Lannon, GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance.
Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., will chair the discussion, which will focus on minimizing risk factors with RV floorplan loans, a manufacturing outlook on the future of RV product development and distribution, financial markets and the impact the issues will have on the dealers’ bottom lines.
“This session is sure to be extremely informative for everyone attending the upcoming convention,” said Albano. “It will provide some important steps that dealers can take to reduce their risk and successfully meet the financial challenges we are all facing today. The Convention/Expo Committee secured an outstanding group of RV industry experts to participate in this event.
RVBusiness HostsTop 50 Dealer Awards Festivities
RVBusiness magazine (and RVBUSINESS.com) will host its 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards during a Wednesday, Oct. 6, reception and dinner at the Rio hosted by Affinity Group Inc. President & CEO Mike Schneider and keynoted by conservative political commentator and author Ann Coulter.
While the award eligibility has been expanded this year to include recreational park model dealers – just as it was expanded last year to include Canadian retailers — the awards format will include five Blue Ribbon retailers and one individual receiving the Altman Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Go RVing Coalition Convenes at Con/Expo
Concurrent with RVDA’s convention agenda, the pan-industry Go RVing Coalition will convene 8-11 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 6, in the Rio’s Tango Room to continue discussions of topics raised during the coalition’s last meeting June 8 during RVIA Committee Week in South Bend, Ind. This will likely include campaign planning, 2011 funding levels and development of the Go RVing consumer leads prioritization system approved by the coalition in June.
Along with recent shipment and retail data, the coalition will rely on a new University of Michigan RV market forecast and new ad tracking research. “Go RVing’s 2010 ad tracking research will be complete, giving us a better handle on the impact of our media mix and the Ambassadors of Affordability creative,” reports Gary LaBella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the coalition’s staff liaison.
Additionally, LaBella says results of the new study of Go RVing leads over the past three years will be reported by The Richards Group, the coalition’s Dallas-based agency. “This study will enable us to better prioritize leads, to provide more information to users about the specific products and price ranges consumer are considering, the lifestyle attributes of our leads and which media are most effective in delivering them,” he said. “All of this information will be helpful to future Go RVing media and creative planning as well as industry marketing efforts.”
The RVBusiness staff today (Aug. 17) announced selections for the 3rd Annual RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards, which are to be presented at an all-industry 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.
A volunteer panel of industry veterans concluded its review of dealer applications, based on the nominations of North American RV manufacturers, on Aug. 5 after being sequestered for two days at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
And while this year’s selections represent a relatively wide array of dealerships in terms of size and style, RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg reports that the panel’s mission once again was to keep a keen eye on dealers’ overall professionalism, best practices, consumer care, association activities, civic involvement and the general spirit and specific recommendations of the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence.
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the efforts of those six individuals on our selection committee and how pleased we are with the dealers selected for 2010,” says Goldenberg. “Our only real regret this time around, given the healthy number of applicants this year, is that there were several dealers on the cusp of making the cut this year who didn’t get in. And we hope that all of them will return for the next round in 2011 because there’s a real good chance that they’ll qualify.”
Again this year, the RVBusiness Top 50 selection process was overseen by Osceola, Ind.-based BJ Thompson Associates Inc. Consistent with the previous two years, the Top 50 dealers are not ranked, although five Blue Ribbon retailers will be singled out on Oct. 6 for special recognition. In addition, the Dave Altman Lifetime Achievement Award in RV retailing will also be presented to one of the Top 50 dealers at this year’s dinner for which the keynote speaker is conservative political columnist and author Ann Coulter
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.
Underwriting this year’s RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards program are “Leadership Alliance” members ADP Lightspeed, Bank of the West, Blue Ox, Cummins Onan RV Generators, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., RV America Insurance, RV Trader Online and Protective.
Tickets for the dinner are available through RVBUSINESS.com.
Fifty North American RV retailers were honored Wednesday (Oct. 7) for their professionalism and dedication to consumer care as part of the 2nd Annual RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards reception and dinner. The dinner, at which 380 dinner guests honored dealers and heard remarks from keynote speaker Mike Huckabee, was held during the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) annual RV Dealers International Convention at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
In this, the first year including Canadian dealers, the response was significant given the general economic atmosphere.
“Our goals are two-fold and really very simple,” Mike Schneider, CEO of Affinity Group Inc., publisher of RV Business, told attendees prior to the presentation of the 2009 awards. “We want to showcase some of the finest examples of top-notch dealers in this country and at the same time help raise the bar for the entire industry. And we do so at a time when – as you are well aware – the RV industry has been hit hard by what is arguably the worst economic time in the last 30 years.”
But Schneider pointed out that recent indicators have indicated to an upswing in the market that may again lead the nation out of a downturn. And this resurgence in the case of the RV arena, he maintained, is being accompanied by an accelerated pace of product development on the part of a number of companies that may put the industry on a more competitive footing in the years ahead.
“Add all these positive signs to perhaps the most important factor – that RVers continue to be out there in droves using and enjoying their RVs – and the future does indeed look good for the RV marketplace,” noted Schneider, who was joined at the podium during the program by RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon, RVIA Public Relations Chairman BJ Thompson and RV Business Publisher Sherman Goldenberg. “Certainly, we may not be looking at a meteoric ramp up out of The Great Recession — and there are still soft geographic pockets of the country — but it’s clear to many of us that it is happening and, to use the old cliché, ‘the ship is turning.’
“That said,” he added, “we’re convinced more than ever that celebrating excellence and highlighting professionalism is always the right thing to do, regardless of the times — perhaps now more than ever as we emerge into what could be a new era of growth for the RV industry in 2010 and beyond.”
As for the Top 50 selection process, Schneider in his pre-dinner comments explained that an independent panel of industry veterans coordinated by RVB had selected the top 50 dealers based on applications submitted by dealers who had been nominated by North American RV builders. Winners were deemed to be among North America’s best in terms of F&I, technician training, aftermarket stores, civic involvement and – more than anything else – consumer care.
“What really makes this story amazing is that even with the headwinds of 2009, we received about 40% more applicants than in 2008,” said Goldenberg. “The competition was a lot tougher this year, which tells us that those who applied — and especially those who were selected by the judges — are truly exceptional. You know they have to be doing something right to not only withstand the down economy, but to exemplify best business practices at the same time.”
The 50 finalists collectively generated approximately $1.6 billion in sales last year and have received hundreds of awards from manufacturers and their local communities.
Here (in alphabetical order) are the ten North American “Blue Ribbon” dealers recognized in Las Vegas as being over and above the rest:
* ArrKann Trailer & RV Centre, Edmonton, Alberta
* General RV Center, Wixom, Mich.
* Guaranty RV, Junction City, Ore.
* Ketelsen Campers of Colorado, Wheat Ridge, Col.
* Lazydays RV SuperCenter, Seffner, Fla.
* Mike Thompson’s RV Superstores, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
* Parkview RV Center, Smyrna, Del.
* Poulsbo RV, Kent, Wash.
* Tom Johnson Camping Center, Marion, N.C.
* Topper’s Camping Center, Waller, Texas
The following (in alphabetical order) are the other Top 50 retailers, all of whom 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, RV Business, Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life:
* Aberdeen RV Center: Aberdeen, Miss.
* Aloha RV: Albuquerque, N.M.
* Altmans Winnebago: Carson, Calif.
* American RV Sales & Service: Grand Rapids, Mich.
* Apache Village RV Center: Hazelwood, Mo.
* Beckley’s Camping Center: Thurmont, Md.
* Big Country RV: Bend, Ore.
* Bill Plemmons RV World: Rural Hall, N.C.
* Boat N RV Superstores: Rockwood, Tenn.
* Can-Am RV Centre: London, Ontario
* Carolina Coach & Camper: Claremont, N.C.
* Coachlight RV Sales: Carthage, Mo.
* Coates RV Center: Columbus, Minn.
* Colonial Airstream & Itasca: Lakewood, N.J.
* Crown RV: Conyers, Ga.
* Curtis Trailers Portland, Ore.
* Dandy RV Superstore: Anniston, Ala.
* Dixie RV Superstore: Newport News, Va.
* Dodd RV, Yorktown, Va.
* Giant RV: Montclair, Calif.
* Greenway RV Sales & Service: Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
* Hilltop Trailer & Sales: Fridley, Minn.
* Kings Campers: Wausau, Wis.
* Little Dealer Little Prices: Phoenix, Ariz.
* Modern Trailer Sales: Anderson, Ind.
* Mount Comfort RV: Greenfield, Ind.
* Pleasureland RV Center: St. Cloud, Minn.
* Quality RV Center: Draper, Utah
* Reines RV Center: Manassas, Va.
* Richardson’s RV Centers: Riverside, Calif.
* Rick’s RV Center: Joliet, Ill.
* Roy Robinson Motorhome & RV Center: Marysville, Wash.
* RV America Inc.: Johnstown, Col.
* Steinbring Motorcoach: Garfield, Minn.
* Tennessee RV Sales & Service: Knoxville, Tenn.
* Terrell Camping Center: Terrell, N.C.
* Thompson Family RV: Davenport, Iowa
* Trafford’s RV: Center Conway, N.H.
* Veurinks’ RV Center: Grand Rapids, Mich.
* Woody’s RV World: Red Deer, Alberta
Meanwhile, two U.S. dealer principals received an individual honor named after the late Dave Altman, a popular southern California dealer and association activist who passed away last year. “The Dave Altman award is a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ honor for individual Top 50 dealers who have displayed throughout their careers the kind of style, grit, honesty, leadership, consumer care and business acumen with their employees and customers that has set them apart from the pack and made them role models to all of us,” said Schneider.
The 2009 Altman Award recipients, the first of whom was honored posthumously:
Veteran Iowa towable dealer John R. “Johnny” Ketelsen, who passed away in August, started selling pickup campers from the front yard of his farm and founded Ketelsen RV in Marion, Iowa, in 1962. He gained fame as a Country & Western musician entertainer and as the most aggressive and successful Coleman folding camping trailer dealer in the U.S. His legacy today stretches from Ketelsen RV, now owned and operated by son Gary in Hiawatha, Iowa, to Ketelsen Campers of Colorado in Wheatridge, owned and operated by son Randy.
Ketelsen traveled extensively with his own western dance band, the Johnny Ketelsen Band, which broadcast daily for 20 years on WMT Radio in Cedar Rapids, and was known for adhering to old-fashioned values, as he treated his customers as friends for life. He was instrumental in the formation of the Iowa RV Dealers Association, serving as its president, and was a founding member of the national RVDA in the late 1970’s, having served on its board of directors into the early ‘80s. In the process, he mentored countless dealers and was later inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
“His commitment to RVDA and the RV industry was unwavering,” son Randy Ketelsen said upon his father’s Aug. 17 passing. “ He understood the importance of a strong dealer organization from the beginning and did all he could to support it.”
High profile motorized and automotive retailer Herb Nill, the veteran head of Guaranty RV in Junction City, Ore., who stepped up to the podium with son Shannon last week to accept the award. Herb Nill founded one of the largest and most well-known dealerships in America, Guaranty RV, in Junction City, Ore. Having put himself through college selling cars, Herb saved $5,000 and borrowed another $5,000 from his father in law in 1966 to buy a Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealership, Guaranty Chevrolet, which later split into side-by-side businesses when he added Guaranty RV Center.
Herb and Sally Nill believe strongly in the RV lifestyle and enjoyed many RV adventures in raising their family.
Like Ketelsen, Herb — still quite active in the business — has taken great pride in treating everyone in his life – employees, vendors, and customers alike – with respect and honesty. He’s also proud of being a salesman and always believed that good customer and industry relationships were keys to success. Anyone who has had the good fortune of being around Herb in any capacity knows how strongly he believes in those attributes.
And also like Johnny Ketelsen, Herb got his family involved in the business so that today the second-generation of Nills — sons Shannon, Marty & Eric — are building upon the successful foundation that their father set for them.
Serving in this year’s Leadership Alliance in support of the RV Business Top 50 are Platinum co-sponsors ADP Lightspeed, Salt Lake City, UT; Blue Ox, Pender, NE; Coach-Net, Lake Havasu, AZ; Cummins Onan, Minneapolis, MN.; Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., Gaffney, SC, RV Trader and RVTraderOnline.com, Norfolk, VA, and Ultra-Fab Products, Elkhart, IN, while Protective Asset Protection Division, Chesterfield, MO, is a Gold sponsor.
To view the complete list of the Top 50 dealers and to learn more about members of the Leadership Alliance, visit www.RVBusiness.com.
With the recreational vehicle industry often leading the nation in and out of economic downturns, economists are watching closely a recent upsurge in wholesale RV shipments as a good sign that the U.S. economy is on the path to recovery. That’s the positive atmosphere in which this year’s 2nd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards dinner and reception will be held Wednesday evening (Oct. 7) during the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) annual RV Dealers International Convention at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
The awards are presented by RVBusiness, a leading trade journal published by Affinity Media, not only for the demonstrated survival skills of these 50 dealerships during one of the deepest U.S. economic downturns in memory, but also for the continuing commitment of these U.S. and Canadian retailers to professionalism, civic involvement, association activities, best practices and, more than anything else, consumer care.
The RVBusiness staff in August first announced the selections for the second annual Top 50 awards, based on nominations from North American RV manufacturers. A volunteer panel of industry veterans in August then concluded its review of dealer applications in the RV-building center of Elkhart, Ind.
“We had an overwhelming response from our manufacturer nominees this year,” said RVB Publisher Sherman Goldenberg. “The number of applicants received was about 40% more than what we had in 2008. So, before judging even started, we considered this year’s program a success, and that was largely due to the many quality dealerships submitting applications. Because there were so many worthy RV dealers who applied, it was a much more difficult selection process this time around.”
RVBusiness Top 50 dealers are not ranked, although 10 Blue Ribbon retailers are singled out for special recognition and a Dave Altman Award for lifetime achievement in RV retailing and exceptional corporate citizenship will also be presented to one of the Top 50 dealers at the awards dinner.
Former – and possibly future – Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is slated as the keynote speaker at this year’s event. In his current role as a Fox News talk show host, Huckabee in March taped an episode of his “Save Our Town” series in Elkhart, Ind., a northern Indiana city where the U.S. RV business is centered that has garnered more than its share of national media attention this year for the recession’s impact on its businesses and residents.
“Given the current national political climate and the ongoing debate between the two political parties – and the ways in which these debates directly impact the recreational vehicle industry, we consider Mr. Huckabee an excellent and thought-provoking choice for an enjoyable evening in Las Vegas,” said Goldenberg. “And that goes for industry people of all political persuasions – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or otherwise.”
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.; and “Gold” sponsor Protective Asset Protection Division, Chesterfield, Mo.
Tickets for the $120-a-plate dinner ($99 for RVDA members, Con/Expo exhibitors and Top 50 dealer guests) are available at the convention or through the following registration link (http://www.rvbusiness.com/top-50-dealer-awards/2009-registration-form/).
To view the complete list of the Top 50 dealers and to learn more about members of the Leadership Alliance, visit www.RVBusiness.com.
About the Top 50 RV Dealers Program:
The program’s purpose is to showcase credible role models and establish best business practices benchmarks at the retail level of the RV industry in terms of staff training, performing warranty and service work, managing aftermarket stores, superior consumer care and being good citizens of their respective communities. The dealerships were selected among those nominated as the best by the nation’s RV manufacturers. The program was founded and coordinated by RVBusiness magazine with additional support provided by the Leadership Alliance.
Affinity is the nation’s largest provider of outdoor clubs, services, media and events that service the safety, security, comfort and convenience needs of the North American recreational vehicle and outdoor enthusiast market. By providing information, insights, and resources, the company champions the fun, freedom, and adventure of recreation in motion. The company works to enhance its customers’ recreational experiences and build the communities that share and promote their fun and adventurous lifestyles.
Affinity is organized into four different business units – Affinity Media, Affinity Clubs, Affinity Events and Affinity Ventures. Their corporate headquarters is located in Ventura, Calif. Subsidiary operations and divisions can be found at multiple locations throughout the United States.