February '16

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54 • RV PRO • FEBRUARY 2016 rv-pro.com develop serious problems on down the line," says Wegge. "And, it saves them in the long run." The Sturtevant, Wis.-based dealer car- ries the education process through post- sale to a series of well-attended, monthly do-it-yourself maintenance and service seminars. A Burlington RV education seminar is never a low-key affair, according to Wegge. The dealership sends out invi- tations to customers and provides both a continental breakfast and unfettered access to master technicians, who speak from a stage. Over the course of a given year, Burl- ington's seminars will cover the gamut of RV maintenance topics and frequently asked questions from customers, from tips for upkeep of the unit exterior to navi- gating plumbing systems. Like Burlington, Wilkins RV – an 80-year-old dealership with locations in Bath and Rochester, N.Y. – has leveraged an intensive focus on the customer expe- rience into a competitive advantage. It's a business practice owner Brian Wilkins says he's worked hard to systematize over the dealership's long history. Wilkins' nearest competitors are stores that Camping World operated until late 2015, when the retailer sold both stores back to the original, independent dealers. "It doesn't matter to us who our com- petitor is," Wilkins says. "Any competitor can be a good competitor. It doesn't change our approach. We remain focused on what we do. We are very internally focused." Similar to Burlington RV 's educa- tion process, Wilkins' process involves a holistic approach to customer education – from a customer walk-through alongside a certified technician to a thorough orien- tation on financing paperwork, registering and insuring an RV and more. "Many of our customers are surprised at how much they learn," Wilkins says. "Sometimes it creates a little bit of impa- tience, but we make sure we are upfront in explaining to customers that buying an RV is much like buying a house. We want to make sure they are comfortable with their purchase." To ensure a consistent process, Wilkins says the dealership has a process of training and coaching employees in order to make the customer focus routine. A systematic customer focus is a busi- ness practice that is difficult for big com- petitors like Camping World to replicate on a consistent basis, according to Bill Corbett Jr., president of Long Island, N.Y.-based Bill Corbett PR. And that focus can help smaller businesses carve out a unique niche. "Personalized attention that either the owner, salespeople or customer service reps can give to the owners is important," says Corbett. "Accessibility is also important." One of Corbett's clients – now a large- scale commercial and residential moving company in New York – has maintained a president's hotline for customers. This line gives customers direct access to the company's top leader, if ever they have a complaint. The company focuses on customer ser- vice across the board, and customers rarely ring the president, as a result. But, that high level of access is a draw for customers, according to Corbett. He also suggests reg- ular customer visits or relationship tours, personal cards (instead of automated emails), small gifts to customers – such as a package of materials used to clean an RV – and customer appreciation events as small things dealers can do both to make their dealerships more memorable and build strong relationships with customers. Burlington follows this model in more than the education arena, hosting large- scale, invitation-only customer focus groups onsite and offering even more direct access to certified technicians through a 24-hour help line. Strength in Numbers One thing that Plemmons, Wegge and Wilkins all say gives them a competitive edge is their participation in the Priority RV Network, the country's largest net- work of independent RV dealers. Priority RV was specifically formed to give inde- pendent, non-competing dealers from across the country buying power when it comes to offering products and services to customers. " We believe educated customers get the most out of both their units and the RV lifestyle. " — Tim Wegge, owner, Burlington RV Superstore " Personalized attention that either the owner, salespeople or customer service reps can give to the owners is important. Accessibility is also important. " — Bill Corbett, president, Bill Corbett PR

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