By Norm Rosen
Facing the challenges, seizing the opportunities…
The pandemic has changed the way we do business – have you adapted to take advantage of new market opportunities?
When the pandemic changed the way the world does business, almost everything we took for granted hit the pause button – and it could be months, or even years, before things revert to the pre-pandemic patterns. Despite the upheaval in our normal marketing processes, the pandemic has opened the door to a massive influx of new RV prospects as families across North America change the way they look at travel, vacations, and family values.
The initial lockdowns created a sense of fear and impending doom, as COVID-19 presented challenges in terms of detection, transmissibility, and risks to the population at large, and especially to the older generation, which represents a substantial portion of the RV consumer market.
In recent months, the virus has been studied to the point where we are beginning to understand the treatment required to reduce the number of fatalities, and we have learned the three golden rules – social distancing, masking, and handwashing – but COVID-19 fatigue threatens to increase the number of cases, and we are not out of the woods yet… indeed, we may have to live with this virus for many years to come, even if we get it under control.
The challenges faced by the travel and tourism industries are crippling the traditional transportation and lodging sectors, as millions of families are turning to alternatives that they consider safer than travelling by air, rail, or cruise lines. The near elimination of business travel has decimated the hotel and motel industry – but there has never been as strong a surge in interest in the RV industry. This is the golden opportunity that the pandemic has brought to our businesses… are you ready to deal with the biggest influx of new RV buyers in the history of the industry?
In Canada, the potential for growth in the RV sector has been measured thanks to a survey conducted by Abacus Data Canada for RVEzy, a Canadian peer-to-peer RV rental operation based in Ottawa. Through the cooperation of RVEzy and Abacus Data Canada, RV Dealer News published the results of this survey. We asked David Coletto of Abacus to write a special article on researching the new RV customer… this will help you understand the needs and react to the questions that will be asked by consumers who are totally new to the RV vacation lifestyle. Read the article here.
As experienced RV marketers, we have the knowledge and selling skills to deal with repeat customers, and “newbies” who have been referred by existing RV enthusiasts – but many of us are generations removed from the days when everyone was a new RV customer, and that is where the established dealerships and long-term members of the industry can help.
At RV Lifestyle Magazine, we have been Canada’s leading source for information on RV travel since 1971 – we will celebrate our 50th year of service to the Canadian RV community in March 2021. Several members of our team have decades of experience in the field – Bill Taylor, Publisher, has been an avid RV enthusiast since the outset; Garth Cane, our Tech Editor and 2020 RV Hall of Fame inductee, has more than 60 years of experience in the field; I started working on the magazine when it was still known as Camping Canada – the RV Lifestyle Magazine, with my first issue being the third issue produced by the company. How many RV purchase decisions have we influenced over the years? That would be hard to calculate, but we have distributed 14 million magazine issues over the years, and if we influenced just 1 in 10 of the families who read a single copy of the magazine, with just one RV purchase during the past 50 years, that would be 1.4 million RV purchases…
Over the years, we have enjoyed personal contact with our readers – at RV shows and events, over the telephone, and during the course of our travels. We understand the RV consumer, we know how to convey the most important information about choosing and using an RV, and we consider it our duty as members of the RV industry to promote the RV vacation lifestyle.
While our participation in the RV industry is deeply rooted, we are by no means sedentary. We understand the changing media habits of the RV customers – we were early innovators in the online world, creating our website www.rvlifemag.com in the early 1990s. Today, the website draws more than 100,000 unique visitors per month, and our growing multi-media content brings expert insights through our YouTube channel. Our social media sites serve a growing audience, but we take a different approach from most of the RV dealers… we use social media to drive visitors to the website – where they can experience the full range of our expert content – this is serious business, and social media posts that do not encourage further business are lost opportunities.
Content is King
Just as the real estate industry will tell you that the key to success is location, location, location, the key to success in bringing new customers into the RV community is expert content. More than 80% of online marketers credit expert content with increased sales, and according to the experts at the Content Marketing Institute, the leading global content marketing education and training organization, 86% plan to continue this practice when things “get back to normal”. At RV Lifestyle Magazine we have always offered dealers the opportunity to link to our expert road tests, videos, and even full issues of the magazines – all it takes is an email requesting permission to use the link – this third-party credibility greatly enhances the impact of your sales efforts, and we can help you save valuable selling time by answering the basic questions that new RV prospects ask… sound interesting? Let’s discuss the possibilities… Send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2021, third-party tracking cookies will disappear from your online tool kit. This poses challenges, as well as opportunities. If you create a person-to-person communication link with your website contacts, you can qualify each lead, refine their needs, and give the prospective customer the reasons they need to select you as their dealer of choice. This may involve a dedicated (and very knowledgeable) staff member to respond to chat requests, answer telephone calls, and reply to emails. This can be a very time-consuming task, but if you sell one additional RV every few days, it can be an excellent way to establish a strong dealer/customer relationship.
How long does it take to close a sale? In the pre-pandemic era, when most of the new customers came from regional RV shows and events, people looked at units in the Fall and Winter, and either “pulled the trigger” within a few days if the deal was too good to pass up, or waited until a few weeks before the camping season started in the Spring. Today, the demand for RVs is so strong that you are likely low on lot stock, the manufacturers are in a back-order situation, and people are scrambling to buy an RV because they want to have somewhere to escape the madness of the pandemic.
Strengths of the RV Industry
As we continue to cope with the pandemic, the RV industry is in its strongest position EVER to expand the overall North American RV market. We have all the elements for success – excellent product range, reasonable prices within each market segment, and, best of all, the greatest degree of family values in the travel and tourism sector.
Weaknesses of the RV Industry
Several factors can negatively influence the potential growth of the RV industry:
- The tarnishing of our reputation as “friendlier than car dealers”.
- Slipping levels of quality control due to delivery stress within the RV manufacturing sector.
- Reduction in the time available to give customers a proper pre-delivery inspection and RV orientation session.
- Lack of campsite availability to accommodate a rapidly growing customer base.
These challenges can be addressed by the RVIA and RVDA chapters, and by astute RV dealers. While nobody can change the perception that car dealers are just out to take the customer’s money, we can do our best to assure that our reputation remains positive – you don’t need me to explain how this can be done – just continue treating every customer as a valued new friend, and we should be fine.
As far as quality control at the manufacturing plant is concerned, the huge increase in demand could make this a difficult challenge – and manufacturers of components as well as the RV as an entity must try to maintain quality control that customers will find to be at least acceptable – if not exceptional. It has been the trend, in recent years, for the RV dealer’s service department to be viewed as “the last 30 yards of the production line” – but RV dealers neither have the time, nor can they afford to fix defects that should never have passed quality control inspections at the plant. If you must perform pre-delivery repairs that exceed reasonable levels, make sure that the manufacturer compensates you for the time.
The pre-delivery orientation session is essential to the new customer understanding how to operate their RV. In many cases, an in-person orientation session can take hours… and it is a difficult process when the social distancing guidelines are followed. For this reason, we have created a series of basic orientation videos, which will soon be available on the RV Lifestyle Magazine YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/rv%20lifestyle%20magazine. We encourage you to follow this lead and take the time to create a video that will show new buyers how to operate their new RV. Once this has been completed you can use the video for a wide range of models, and save a great deal of staff time. In the meantime, you are welcome to share the link to our generic RV orientation videos, produced in cooperation with the team at Sicard RV in Smithville, Ontario.
The last element that could turn new RV prospects sour on the RV vacation alternative is the availability of campsites. During the pandemic, when our U.S. friends could not cross the border, the campsites that they would have occupied became available for Canadians. When the border re-opens, we will not have this degree of campsite availability, and it is very likely that RV’ers will look for camping opportunities in less frequently travelled areas.
The RV industry must work with local, regional, and national stewards of public lands to assure that camping opportunities are available starting in the spring and summer of 2021. This may involve substantial lobbying, and personnel within every level of the RV associations should be actively pursuing the goal of increased accessibility to public lands for camping purposes.
The Bottom Line…
We are at a critical point in the growth of the RV industry in North America. If we work together for the good of the RV community at large, and the growing number of new RV enthusiasts, we stand to benefit tremendously in the 3–5 years to come, and in all likelihood, well beyond that time frame.