COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – You might say the dealer members of the Overland Park, Kansas-based Route 66 RV Network got their marching orders during Tuesday’s opening session of the 20th anniversary Rally at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.
Retired Gen. Paul E. Funk II, who commanded the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command in Iraq to lead the fight against ISIS as the fourth commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, addressed the gathered dealers by explaining how he was able to bring together the forces of 72 nations to bring stability back to Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s ouster.
He said those independent forces were able to coalesce around the common goal of getting the Iraqi army prepared to defend its own nation against ISIS and that, through the power of coalition, the fighting forces were able to properly train and equip the Iraqis.
The independence of the Route 66 RV Network – one of the industry’s leading North American dealer networks encompassing more than 200 dealerships – compares favorably with that coalition, he said, adding that by working together for the common good, the dealerships are able to plan common objectives that might change depending upon the time of year.
He said that, like the Task Force he commanded, Route 66 leaders are able to provide training and equipment (services) as they advise, assist and accompany the dealers.
“It makes for a reliable partnership when you realize that you are independent, but you are also interdependent,” he said.
That idea of small groups working together to obtain major goals carried throughout the morning sessions.
In fact, Partner and Co-Founder Rob Merrill took the crowd back to the beginning of Route 66 when he and his partners looked at a bleak future when they could foresee mom-and-pop RV dealerships disappearing in a wave of consolidation.
“It seems we’re living in that time we featured 20 years ago,” he said, noting the number of independent dealers who have been bought out over the past five years. “We wanted to create something predictable. Something where we could see what’s our path to succeed and continue.”
To show the power of the network, Merrill read off the list of dealers who have persevered from the beginning to be honored as 20-year members. Those included Apache Village RV Center (Hazelwood, Mo.); Camperland of Oklahoma (Tulsa and Sapulpa, Okla.); Coachlight RV (Carthage, Mo.); Camperland of Augusta, Ga. (Martinez, Ga.); RV Wholesale Superstore (Sylvania, Ohio); Trailside RV (Grain Valleu, Mo.); Myers RV Center (Albuquerque, N.M.); Pikes Peak RV (Colorado Springs, Colo.); RV Connections (Panama City, Fla., and Dothan, Ala.); RNR RV Center (North Spokane, Liberty Lake and Lewiston, Wash.); Rick’s RV Center (Joliet, Ill.); Tri-Am RV (Bulls Gap, Tenn.); and Rangitsch Bros. RV (Missoula, Mont.).
During the dealers-only session that followed, members were urged to not just quietly and humbly go about business. But instead, they should let the buying public know that there is a real difference between “big box” dealers and themselves.
In a video piece, New England RV Dealers Association President Bob Zagami told the network, “People like to do business with people they know and people they trust. There is no way a large megadealer can create the same environment as a small dealership where they know the owner.”
Merrill said dealers must let people know why they continue to do business the same way and remain independent.
“Your story is what makes you strong,” he said. Then, referring to the recent public relations disaster a major beer brand has faced, he said, “Sometimes when you sell your business you lose the story. Right now, we’re in the middle of the story. The good news is, we can still write the ending.”
During the vendor expo following the sessions, dealers seemed to be upbeat regarding what they had heard and seen. The expo was expanded to three hours this year at the request of dealers.
Jim Rangitch of Rangitsch Brothers in Missoula, Mont., said he was impressed with the new services and updates being offered by Route 66.
“I’m notoriously slow with change and don’t like to take big steps,” he said. “I’m very cautious. But Route 66 is always there for you.”
Donny Mason of Rocky Ridge RV in Van Buren, Ark., also left encouraged.
“I feel a lot of optimism, although I’ll remain cautious,” he said. “The Network is more important than ever.”
Also, during the Opening Session, the Dave Francis Partner Award was presented to Joe LaPelusa who represents Route 66 partners Road Sentry, Expert Gap and Maxx Gard. The award is designed with the image of an ox yoke to depict the idea of two independent creatures working toward the common good.