September '15

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118 • RV PRO • SEPTEMBER 2015 rv-pro.com a lot of our RV customers end up buying boats from us eventu- ally, and vice-versa. " Our salespeople are trained to sell both RVs and boats, but our service departments have specially trained marine techni- cians. While there is some overlap in the skills required, marine technicians need specialized training in the various engine and electronic systems that the manufacturers are using. The skills and repair equipment are slightly different than those required by an RV technician. "Frank Bretz, my grandfather, started renting and selling travel trailers out of a leased service station in 1967 in Missoula, Mont. Throughout the 70s and 80s the business continued to grow. Our current facility in Missoula sits on almost 50 acres and has 26 service bays, several of which are dedicated to marine service. We have also added locations in Billings, Mont., and Boise, Idaho, both of which are carrying RV and marine products. "Our best-selling boats are probably smaller fiberglass runabouts. We've had good luck with Chaparral, and are also carrying boats from Smokercraft, Thunderjet, and MB Sports. Small towable RVs have been really hot this spring. "We have our own in-house marketing department and they do quite a bit of our own production for social media and local campaigns. We combine marketing for boats and RVs quite a bit. We do some online stuff that is specific to one market or the other, such as the boats and RVs online classified sites, but for the most part we include both products in our advertising." John Meyers, general manager USA RV & Marine Lake Havasu, Ariz. "During the recession, boats seemed to perform differ- ently, according to the age of the buyer. The RV buyer and the conventional boat buyer that were older and already have a set income weren't affected as much, but obviously the younger buyer who might have gotten laid off or things became tough, that's who was affected. "The single biggest part of that was when the credit availability dried up. That was the biggest issue. Our RV sales mostly stem from snowbirds, mostly older folks, so they weren't as affected. What we saw was a shift from new to used during that time, and it carried on for a bit after that. "More on the marine side, we saw people go away from the big performance stuff that was so hot – from fiberglass to aluminum pontoons. They are a less expensive boat and since everybody was buying used, the used product market really dried up. It was quite hard to get used product and the values of used boats soared. Fiberglass sales are still very depressed. "There is definitely some crossover. More RVers are also boaters – you definitely see snowbirds buying boats, because we sell boats all year long, and RVs are more seasonal. An RV buyer is more likely to be a boat buyer than a boat customer is to buy an RV. "We do have separate sales and service teams. "In every category, people have shifted and just gone smaller, dropped down to less expensive stuff. The RVs shifted from big to smaller. That doesn't always translate into less money, but people are buying smaller motorhomes, because they don't want to be towing big rigs around. They are using them more for weekend jaunts, and are more comfortable with a smaller vehicle. "A lot of people in our local area, because of the recession, have purchased homes and gotten away from big 40-foot fifth wheels. They are now buying homes and a small motorhome or trailer. They haven't given up camping, but when the housing market was really strong, fifth wheels made a lot of sense. Now we have seen a drop in the fifth wheel values because people are buying homes. "Marketing really depends on the product because we are a resort destination. The RVs are marketed mainly in our local area, but boats – especially used – are marketed in a broader location throughout California, mainly because of availability. When the product dried up, people are going to drive 300 miles to buy a boat they can't find in their area, while they don't have to do that for an RV. For boats, people will travel to come get what they want. "You're selling fun, so these markets do really well together. We are starting to see people also bring the ATVs and side-by-sides, and that market ties into this really well, also because it plays real well with the toy box RVs. There's a big correlation between them and the boat buyer who wants certain RVs also likes their off-road toys." Don Littlefield, president Boat N RV Rockwood, Tenn. "We started in the boat business in 1990, and shortly after that, about 1992, we got into the RV business. When we were just in the boat business, we would get a lot of customers who wanted to trade in a travel trailer or pop-up for a boat, so we decided these fit well together. Today our business is probably 35 percent boat and 65 percent RV, depending on the location. Our Pennsylvania store is closer to 80 percent RV, while the locations closer to the water make up the difference. "The nice thing about the boat and RV businesses is that the sale of the boat and the sale of the RV are very, very similar. Financing is identical on a boat, travel trailer or motorhome, and many things service-wise are the same: paint, plumbing, engine. They are very similar and you can cross-train somebody in the service area very easily to go back and forth between the two. You get a good handyman who can do almost anything and then train them on the specialties. "2009 through 2010 were extremely difficult; 2011 started to DEALER TRENDS:

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