It’s been just three weeks since the new Campers Inn RV dealership opened on Cassopolis Street in Elkhart, Ind., but already Tom Dewalt, location manager, likes what he sees.
“I am happy with the traffic we’ve been getting. (Even) In great years, this would have been good,” he told RVBUSINESS.com.
The store, owned by East Coast dealer Jeff Hirsch, exclusively carries Forest River Inc. products — both Forest River and Coachmen RV towables and motorized brands. New inventory is arriving daily.
Dewalt also is selling a decent number of FEMA trailers Hirsch picked up at auction, some of them, especially the early units sold directly through RV dealers in 2005, in pretty good condition, he said.
The property is located on Cassopolis Street on the north side of Elkhart, the main point of entry into Elkhart from the Indiana Toll Road (Interstate 80/90) and was formerly occupied by Michiana RV, a former Coachmen company store. It covers seven acres and features a 15,000-square-foot enclosed showroom and 16 service bays.
Dewalt concedes that he is starting slowly, having rehired some of the former Michiana RV employees, including certified service techs who were laid off when the dealership closed.
“We already have most of our lines settled,” said Dewalt. “It will be business as usual for the most part. Right now our focus is on getting our processes and systems in place, people trained and Internet up and running. I’m looking to actively buy some used.”
He expects to do a significant amount of business over the Internet.
Hirsch is leasing the site from Forest River, which obtained the former Michiana RV dealership property when it bought the RV segment of Coachmen Industries Inc. late in 2008.
The property sat idle for the past year and a half until Hirsch and Forest River hooked up. Hirsch also owns stores in Kingston and Merrimack, N.H., Leesburg, Fla., Raynham, Mass., and Macon, Ga.
“We’re not standing alone in this,” Dewalt stressed. “We’re part of the Campers Inn operation.”
Like Hirsch, Dewalt grew up in the RV business. His parents started Dewalt’s RV in Easton, Pa., in 1966, the same year Hirsch’s father started his first dealership in New Hampshire.
Dewalt and the younger Hirsch participated in the same Spader 20 Group and became good friends after Dewalt left the family business, which subsequently closed, and joined Coachmen. Dewalt was working on a special project for Coachmen when the RV segment was sold to Forest River.
That job went away, but Dewalt took on a Coachmen territory in the Southeast selling Catalina travel trailers. With retail selling in his blood, however, Dewalt welcomed the opportunity to join Hirsch when the Elkhart store post opened up. “Jeff and I share a lot of the same philosophies in business. It’s a nice fit for me,” he said. “For me, retail is what I know and wanted to get back into that.”
Hirsch is the third out-of-state dealer to try the Elkhart County market in the past five years. Two earlier attempts, by Florida-based Suncoast RV and Pleasanton, Calif.-based DeMartini RV, both failed during the recent recession.
Why will this be any different?
“The market here is difficult but there has been a terrific amount of attrition.,” said Dewalt. “There used to be 15 dealerships in Elkhart. Now, counting us, there are five. This is a tremendous opportunity. We have low overhead, despite this facility. We don’t need a lot of business to make this work.”
And in Dewalt’s view, there’s still magic to selling RVs in Elkhart, Ind. “A tremendous amount of people come through here from out of the area who want to see if they can make a deal in the ‘RV Capital of the World,’ so that’s driving some traffic,” he said.
RV Care Group, a Canadian dealership buying cooperative spawned 10 years ago by a Spader 20 Group, has added six locations since January for a total of 49 outlets.
”We cover coast to coast,” said Earl Manning, RV Care Group vice president and general manager. ”If a customer is 2,000 miles away and they have a problem, they can call one of our members and ask if they can help out.”
Bill Redmond, co-owner of Bucars RV Centre in Alberta, is president of RV Care Group, which provides employee health insurance, business products and parts and accessories programs along with retail finance, extended warranties and a private-label roadside assistance program provided to consumers by Coach-Net.
”RV Care Group works as a value to the dealership on two sides,” Manning said, ”The partnership program for the dealerships saves them money with discounts and rebates and on the consumer side there is a strong added-value network of 48 other dealers that can look after customers if they have problems and get them on the road again as quickly as possible. That’s a huge benefit to the retail customer.”
Manning said RV Care Group is in ongoing discussions with various suppliers to more wholesale and retail services.
With regard to service, retail customers from other RV Care dealerships ”are given the highest possible priority when the come into an RV Care dealership,” Manning said.
He said that RV Care Group was initially formed in 2000 by members of a 20-Group who already were providing cooperative service to its members’ customers. ”When you look at RV Care Group members, they are highly respected industry leaders,” Manning said.
Based on population, however, RV Care Group intends to grow no larger than 60 or 70 dealers, Manning reported.
”One of our principles is not to over-populate any one area of the country,” Manning said. ”We want to fill in the gaps, but we want to retain the value of RV Care for those dealers who are already in the group. We don’t want an RV Care dealers on every corner.”
There is no sales threshold for membership; the only requirements are that the dealership provide full service and be open year-round.
RV Care Group members, who recently made international headlines for having donated $80,000 to purchase generators for Haitian earthquake victims, include:
- 1000 Islands RV Centre Inc., Gananoque, Ontario.
- Adventure Sports RV, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
- Big Boy’s Toys Ltd., Nanoose Bay, British Columbia.
- Bucars RV Centre, Balzac, Alberta.
- Campkin’s RV Centre, Myrtle Station, Ontario.
- Camp-Out RV Ltd. Stratford, Ontario.
- Can-Am RV Centre, London, Ontario.
- Caravanes de la Petite Nation, Gatineau, Quebec.
- Chemo RV Sales & Service, Quesnel, British Columbia.
- Chemo RV Sales & Service, Williams Lake, British, Columbia.
- Christie’s RV, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
- Earlton RV, Earlton, Ontario.
- Eldorado RV Sales Ltd., Lethbridge, Alberta.
- Ferguson RV World Inc., St. Thomas, Ontario.
- GNR Camping World, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
- Happy Camper RV, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
- Happy Trails RV, Grande Prairie, Alberta.
- Happy Trails RV, Prince George, British Columbia.
- Holiday RV & Auto Centre, Redcliff, Alberta.
- Import Export RV M.A.C., Laval, Quebec.
- Lardners Trailer Sales Ltd., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
- Leisure Time RV Center, Saint John, New Brunswick.
- Leisure Trailer Sales, Tecumseh, Ontario.
- Luxury Motorhomes, Carlton Place, Ontario.
- McPhail’s of Harriston, Harriston, Ontario.
- Mike Rosman R.V. Sales, Vernon, British Columbia.
- Mobilife RV Centre, Kitchener, Ontario.
- Niagara Trailers, St. Davids, Ontario.
- Nickel Belt Camping, Chelmsford, Ontario.
- O’Connor RV Centre (Langley) Ltd., Chilliwack, British Columbia.
- O’Connor RV Centre Ltd., Chilliwack, British Columbia.
- Ottawa Camping Trailers Ltd., Ottawa, Ontario.
- Peden RV Superstore, Sidney, British Columbia.
- Pik-A-Dilly RV Centre, Brandon, Manitoba.
- Primo Trailer Sales, Ottawa, Ontario.
- Recreation World RV, Thunder Bay, Ontario.
- Roulottes Desjardins Inc., Saint-Jerome, Quebec.
- Roulottes E. Turmel, Chateau-Richer, Quebec.
- Ruston RV Centre, Burlington, Ontario.
- RV City, Morinville, Alberta.
- Sellers RV Centre, Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.
- Springmount RV Centre, Owen Sound, Ontario.
- Stone’s RV & Home Center, New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.
- Stone’s RV Centre, Sydney, Nova Scotia.
- The RV Warehouse Inc., Cookstown, Ontario.
- Trailblazer RV Centre Ltd., Nisku, Alberta.
- Traveland Leisure Centre Ltd., Regina, Saskatchewan.
- Vellner Leisure Products, Red Deer, Alberta.
- Westgate RV Centre Ltd., Kelowna, British Columbia.