RV Retailer LLC (RVR), the recent buyer of high volume Texas RV dealer Motor Home Specialist, is an acquisitive new player in the highly competitive U.S. RV dealer arena. Established in January by several former AutoNation Inc. executives, RVR’s management team is intent on rolling up an appreciable percentage of U.S. RV retail market share.
Indeed, RVR’s game plan is to acquire retailers with some of the same essential attributes as 145-employee Motor Home Specialist, according to RVR President & CEO Jon Ferrando, one of four RV Retailer senior managers formerly affiliated with AutoNation, a major U.S. source of new and used cars based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Motor Home Specialist, an aggressive retailer in the hot Texas RV market formerly owned and managed by Doug O’Banion and his son, Donny O’Banion, generated sales of more than 2,200 motorized and towable units and revenues of $275 million in 2017.
In the aftermath of the June 29 sale, Doug O’Banion, the founder of the 19-year-old, 80-acre Motor Home Specialist located in Alvarado in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, has announced plans to retire while Donny now serves as CEO with an ownership stake in RVR’s Texas store.
RVBUSINESS.com touched bases this week (July 12) with Ferrando, who retired in 2017 after 21 years from AutoNation and is flanked in his new role by John Rizzo, a four-year AutoNation veteran now serving as executive vice president, CFO and treasurer of RVR. The company is backed in its initial foray into the RV arena by capital partner Redwood Capital Investments.
RVB: You’ve been pretty open in your recent press releases about RV Retailer’s interest in establishing a substantial position in the U.S. RV retail market, all of which poses a question: What drew you and your associates from the automotive field to the RV sector?
Ferrando: A number of things, but mostly because it’s a great industry. I grew up in RVs. Living in western Michigan (in the Kalamazoo area), my family owned a number of RVs. During the summer we lived the RV lifestyle, so I know and love the industry.
Now, from a business perspective, we started looking at the demographics, and they’re really tremendous. So, you have 10,000 Baby Boomers a day retiring between now and 2030. That’s a core customer group. Millennials and Gen-Xers are now getting into the lifestyle, and the manufacturers are producing innovative great products to target those first-time buyers.
So, the industry to us looks like it’s going to be great over the next couple of decades. The demographics are fantastic. We’re thinking about it for the long-term, so this is not a short-term strategy, but a far-sighted approach to building a great company prudently over time.
RVB: Then, you might argue, the startup of RVR wasn’t so much a step away from the automotive field as much as it was a step toward RVs, something you personally wanted to be in at this point?
Ferrando: Yes, so I left automotive and then started studying different industries including RVs and came to realize what a fabulous opportunity this is, and what a fun industry this could be, and jumped in.
RVB: RV Retailer’s goal, then, is to become a major factor, not a minor player, in RVs?
Ferrando: Yes, to be a leading RV retailer. Our focus is on partnering with great management teams like Motor Home Specialist, which is just a fabulous business built by the O’Banion family, led by a great management team. They’ve been instrumental in growing the business into the largest (single location) motorhome dealer in the United States.
At the same time, Motor Home Specialist has a tremendous online marketing business. Their tools for consumers to shop for high-end motorhomes online are outstanding. They have a large selection of luxury premium motor coaches and, as I mentioned, a great management and employee team, and they do a fantastic job vis-a-vis the customer.
They also have a very simple transparent pricing model that obviously works very well, considering their impressive growth into one of the largest motorhome dealers in the world. So, they have a great customer proposition, a tremendous management team and just a fabulous operation down there south of Fort Worth.
RVB: So, Motor Home Specialist, in a sense, is your template?
Ferrando: Yes, that’s the kind of dealership we’d like to partner with initially, so that’ll be our focus. And then once we have strong partners with great RV retail businesses in great markets, we can then grow from there through either green field (startups) — new store opportunities partnering with manufacturers — or acquiring other businesses and then putting a brand on them, driving our operating processes and growing those businesses.
RVB: In the process, then, it sounds like you’ll be competing for market share with America’s front-line, growth-oriented dealers like Camping World Holdings Inc., Camper’s Inn RV and General RV Centers Inc. It’s an interesting point at which you’re stepping in, isn’t it?
Ferrando: It is. It’s exciting. We see this, long term, as a great industry, a growth industry. You mention great companies in the RV retail side, but it’s also a fragmented industry. There’s 2,000 dealers out there, and as large and formidable as those competitors are that you mention, that’s still less than 20% market share in the United States. So, there’s plenty of room for other players. And we’re certainly not afraid of the competition. We’re excited about it.