Mike Noble was playing golf when his brother, Pat, first suggested the two start selling RVs. Pat had recently bought an old Holiday Rambler travel trailer from a farmer, and the experience led him to believe an RV dealership was worth consideration.
Nearly 12 years later, Noble RV is a full-line dealership with four locations in southern Minnesota, and a recipient of an RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Award in 2014.
Currently, Noble RV employs 50 people, with the potential for 70 if all locations achieve market goals. The dealership offers a wide variety of motorized and towable RVs from an equally large number of manufacturers, and has statewide exclusivity to offer the RV Warranty Forever Program, which Mike Noble said is a “huge advantage over the competition.”
“We are very committed to offering our customers the right products at the right time and at the right prices,” he said, adding certified professionals offering extraordinary service and outstanding products are the keys to attract repeat customers and achieve long-term survival. “We have learned the hard way that it really is important to offer products backed by companies that are committed to taking care of our collective customers after the sale.”
Noble RV can trace its roots to July 2003, which is when Mike Noble went into semi-retirement after he sold his half of a lighting and electrical business to his partner. It was during one of his daily calls from the golf course to Pat that his brother urged him to consider RVs.
After meticulous research, Mike determined a business plan for an RV dealership focused on customer service and employee satisfaction was worth further exploration. A trip to the 2004 National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., sealed the deal and, after attending a Spader Total Management Workshop in the first half 2005, the brothers bought five acres of land across from a Cabela’s store in Owatonna, which is about an hour south of Minneapolis.
“We started construction on our facility in September 2005 and were finished and open for business in March of 2006,” Mike said, adding the property included a 15-acre option which they have exercised.
Seeking to better penetrate southern Minnesota markets, the Nobles embarked upon an aggressive expansion plan that saw the brothers open three new dealerships within 12 months of each other.
They opened a store in Rochester, just 45 minutes east of Owatonna, in March of 2012. Madelia, within the Mankato market, was selected as the site for the third store with the acquisition of a former automotive dealership in January of 2013. The brothers opened their fourth location, serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul market, in March 2014 when they purchased a former Can-Am RV dealership.
Generally speaking, Mike said the advantages to expansion are: Ability to capture and service more customers; increases the dealership’s product line offerings; provides current employees with career advancement opportunities; takes advantage of local economies that are less cyclical; increases the dealership’s buying power with suppliers and manufacturers; and discourages other dealers from expanding into their territory.
Conversely Mike said the disadvantages include: Increased risk due to higher overhead; “cannibalism,” or cross-shopping by customers from store to store; increased government regulations; more reliance on managers to run the operation vs. owners; and less cooperation from fellow dealers who now feel threatened.
“Any expansion considerations are fueled by who is serving the local market and how well. In any expansion, product lines need to be available. More importantly, do you have the people in place internally, are they willing to relocate and can you trust them? Without the proper manager for a new store you are asking for disaster,” Mike explained, adding they currently have no further expansion plans.