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When several hundred RV owners were surveyed nationally, more than 90% said they plan to hit the open road this summer, even with gasoline near $3 a gallon. But it’s a different highway altogether that drives the growth of PPL Motor Homes of Houston, which, according to the Houston Chronicle, has become one of the country’s largest consignment dealers of used RVs.
The dealership’s success in consignments is due primarily to PPL’s website, reports Ron Rambin, who owns PPL Motor Homes with Ed Sebesta. “On an average day we’ll have about 125 buyers come and visit our lot,” Rambin said. “But we’ll get about 500,000 visitors a month to our Web site.”
The company’s highly visible 15-acre lot stocks about 200 vehicles at any one time, but it’s the Internet that really drives traffic, according to Rambin. He says he can’t say how many sales are due solely to the Internet, because he relies on everything from newspaper ads to word of mouth. However, he said, 30% of the dealership’s sales are to out-of-state customers who shopped first online.
The company began in 1972 as a matchmaking service between RV owners and potential renters and switched its focus in the early ’80s to consignment sales. According to the newspaper report, PPL sells between 1,100 and 1,200 used vehicles a year in exchange for a 10% commission fee. And that amounts to fully 92% of the vehicles it agrees to put on its lot.
“We’ve had record sales for new RVs for several years now, and that translates into more sales of used RVs,” said Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), noting that two-thirds of all RVs sold annually are used. “The other thing we’re seeing is that more people are choosing to buy a used RV from a dealer rather than from a private party.”
Parsons says that 14% of all used RV sales took place at consignment lots in 2001, and that number today approaches 21%.
Because Internet users come from all over – PPL has had buyers from 47 states and nine other countries – the Houston retailer has devised a six-point rating system to describe every vehicle. “It helps buyers when they’re looking at an RV over the Internet,” Rambin said, “because lots of times you can’t see flaws in a picture. There could behail damage to the roof, which wouldn’t necessarily show up. So we inspect each vehicle, give it a rating, then tell callers about any particulars to the unit, especially if they’re coming in from far away.”
RVs are rated “poor,” “fair,” “good,” “very good,” “excellent” or “like new” to give Internet users a feel for the vehicle’s condition, Rambin said. The company prices its stock based on discussions with the previous owner and information from the National Automobile Dealers Association price guides.