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.