Outgoing RVDA Chairman Jeff Hirsch

Outgoing RVDA Chairman Jeff Hirsch (Photo by Shawn Spence)

The 2014 RV Dealers International Convention & Expo moved into the next phase of activity on Tuesday (Nov. 11), featuring a wide range of workshops and the opening of vendor exhibits — as well as a customer satisfaction challenge from Outgoing Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Chairman Jeff Hirsch.

The Con/Expo, convening for the first time at Bally’s on the Las Vegas Strip, attracted approximately 1,200 attendees, according to the RVDA. The event, which runs through Friday, is annually sponsored by RVDA, RVDA of Canada and the Mike Molino RV Learning Center.

Many of those attendees packed the Platinum Ballroom, where they heard Hirsch of New Hampshire-based Campers Inn say the entire industry must “recommit itself to improving the customer experience.”

“Our customers have told us they want better customer service — they want it done right the first time. Can we blame them? They’ve also told us they want better quality. They expect it. They paid for it,” Hirsch said. “I believe our biggest threat isn’t all the volatility, our biggest threat is ourselves. And, as an industry, we must stop the bleeding of customers leaving the lifestyle because we have fallen short of their expectations.”

Hirsch suggested an industry task force be assembled to drive this initiative, while volunteering to serve on it and inviting others to join him.

Hirsch also related it’s clear the economy is back on solid footing and the RV industry has led the recovery, adding that the recent drop in gas prices is a huge boon for the industry.

“This drop in gas prices, if it’s sustained, could reach even more people, and would put more money in people’s pockets than the big payroll tax cut from 2009 that put $400 in the average taxpayer’s pocket,” Hirsch said, noting the economy’s health underscores the need for improved service. “That’s because economists say America spends so much money on gas that for every penny you drop the price, and if you keep it there for a year, you’ve increased America’s spending power by $1.4 billion.”

Keynote speaker Doug Lipp

Keynote speaker Doug Lipp (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Doug Lipp, who headed the training team at Disney’s corporate headquarters in the ’80s and is an internationally recognized expert on customer service, leadership, change and brand and global competitiveness, delivered the keynote address. In his presentation, titled “Even Monkeys Fall from Trees: Learn from Mistakes and Embrace Change,” Lipp echoed Hirsch’s challenge, stressing the importance of empowered employees that would enhance the “customer experience.”

A number of other industry officials also addressed the audience, including Con/Expo Committee Chairman John McCluskey of Florida Outdoors RV Center in Stuart, Fla., who was designated to replace Hirsch as RVDA chairman. During his time at the podium, McCluskey reported that the Vendor Training +Plus workshops have more than doubled since 2013. “These workshops focus on the technical aspects of our dealerships,” said McCluskey, adding it’s been “an honor to chair this committee and work with these dedicated volunteers.”

RVDA of Canada Chairman Kyle Redmond of Bucar’s RV Center in Bulzac, Alberta, congratulated the industry for not being afraid of change, as evidenced by the Con/Expo’s shift in venue and date. The event had been held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in October for several years.

“We’re fortunate to be in the center of the economy that is healthy and growing,” Redmond said, adding that he agrees with Hirsch that offering customers what they want is key to sustaining this momentum.

Jeff Pastore of Hartville RV Center in Hartville, Ohio, touched on a number of topics related to the Mike Molino RV Learning Center. Pastore, who chairs the Learning Center, announced the formation of the Society of Certified RV Professionals, which is designed to increase the number of RV industry certified professionals and retain those who already hold certification credentials. A meeting outlining the initiative was held Monday evening.

He also urged dealers to set their staffs on a course for certification. “With the growth in our industry, we really, really need these professionals,” Pastore said. “We all want the latest and greatest … make sure your dealership has the latest and greatest certified staff.”

In addition, Pastore suggested people support the Learning Center with a financial investment, asking “what would dealers do, to where would they turn for the latest technical information, if the center did not exist?”