Many executives in the RV industry talk about the need to provide better service to customers, but brothers Chris and Jim Colton did something about it.
The president and vice president, respectively, of Colton RV Inc., North Tonawanda, N.Y., took action by investing $3 million to dramatically increase their service abilities. They put up a 40,000-square-foot showroom and service department because, as Jim Colton said, “We were putting too much emphasis on sales and not enough attention on service.”
The new building, on 5 1/2 acres adjacent to Colton’s 6-acre sales lot eight miles south of Niagara Falls, allowed the company to consolidate its sales and service departments, which previously were separated by more than half a block with several other retail businesses in between.
“The sales and parts and service departments basically were 600 feet away from each other,” Chris Colton said. “Sometimes they wouldn’t see each other for days.”
The consolidation already has provided a major benefit for the 41-year-old company. “Through the end of April, sales were up almost 20%,” Chris Colton said. “We attribute a lot of that to the new building. In our old building, we didn’t have voice mail. We were kind of in the dark ages.”
Working out of a facility that the Colton Family formerly used to convert vans limited Colton RV’s capabilities, Chris Colton said.
“Four or five years ago when business was really taking off, the building we were in wasn’t capable of servicing our customers,” Jim Colton said. “The first one to service their customers is going to win the battle,” he said. “It’s a shame that the RV industry is so far behind the auto industry in terms of servicing customers.”
The new facility has 20 service bays, a 10,000-square-foot indoor showroom and 12 sales offices.
The service area is equipped with a radiated heat floor and two 55,000-pound, in-ground lifts. Each 47-foot-deep service bay has its own dump station, 30-amp electrical service and is separated from the next by a six-foot aisle that allows easier access to units.
The lifts have been particularly useful because the service department moved in January. “It’s amazing how much we use them,” Chris Colton said. “If we can get a unit into the air, our techs can cut two hours off the time it takes them to do some jobs.”
Colton RV employs 58 people, and has reduced its payroll by combining the sales and service departments in one location.
Previously, service technicians had to do their work in six small service bays designed for conversion vans, and the sales office was three trailers parked on the sales lot.
“We tried to design the new building more like an automobile dealership,” Chris Colton said.
The Coltons sent out 75,000 invitations to Colton RV’s Grand Opening May 13-19, which included appearances by local sports celebrities — including Buffalo Bills quarterback Alex Van Peldt, Buffalo Sabre Rob Ray, former Sabre-turned-radio-commentator Danny Gare and up-and-coming heavyweight boxer Baby Joe Mesi.
Each night during the week a different local radio station broadcasts live from the dealership.
Colton RV traces its beginnings to 1961 when William Colton opened a business to replace convertible tops and seat covers.
In 1980, he was joined by sons Chris and, several years later, Jim.
The brothers expanded the company to build and sell custom conversion vans and soon added camping vans to the inventory. That led to taking used RVs as trade-ins.
After Bill Colton retired in 1994, Chris and Jim, added several major lines of motorhomes, travel trailers and fifth-wheels, including Holiday Rambler, Allegro, Fleetwood, Forest River, Skyline, Roadtrek, Jayco and Gulf Stream.