Slide Show Video: https://youtu.be/N3j-82M8Qxs
Marked by fireworks rivaling what many cities put on for the Fourth of July, company officials, employees and their families along with invited guests gathered in Florida on Jan. 16 to celebrate the grand opening of the all-new RV One of Tampa and Airstream of Tampa dealerships.
Separated by wetlands and a lake, the two facilities occupy a sprawling 37 acres — not including another 94 undeveloped acres — fronting what has essentially become the nation’s “RV Super Highway” on I-4 east of downtown Tampa. The RV One/Airstream of Tampa complex is within a stone’s throw of Camping World and General RV stores, and Lazydays RV is just one exit to the west.
RV Onew, which came under the ownership of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based RV Retailer LLC late last year, now operates seven locations in New York, Iowa and Florida. President and CEO Don Strollo told RVBUSINESS.comhe is “beyond excited” that the RV One/Airstream of Tampa’s three-year project is finished and that employees and customers alike can take full advantage of the new facilities.
He added that they wouldn’t have made such a significant investment in its operations in 2018 — five of its seven locations are brand new facilities — had they not been “very bullish” in the RV industry’s growth potential.
“We’re looking at significant expansion, significant growth, not just for RV Retailer and RV One, but also for the entire RV industry. We believe that that’s the path, and we want to make sure that we have facilities that are prepared for it,” Strollo said. “So instead of remodeling an older facility and just getting it to a point where it can limp along for another couple years, we really wanted to build that foundation for growth for the next 10, 15, 20 years.”
“It’s also important to do it right once, and not have to look back — especially when your business model is to add a significant number of stores over the next two to three years,” he continued. “Clearly these facilities will not have to get redone in two or three years. We wanted to make sure that we’re prepared for doubling and tripling the business in the Tampa market over the next two to three years. And we’re certainly prepared for that.”
Replacing what had been a doublewide trailer set on gravel, the RV One of Tampa facility is a 40,000-square-foot, two-story building that includes 32 covered service bays with additional uncovered service areas. In addition to a cavernous indoor showroom flanked by a parts and accessories area, RV One of Tampa’s inventory will range from Rockwood folding campers to Newmar Dutch Star Class A motorhomes.
As for Airstream of Tampa, the 17,500-square-foot standalone features an Airstream travel trailer lifted off its chassis in the two-story showroom, plus a display recounting the history of the company that includes a life-size statue of founder Wally Byam as well as 3D-printed and hand-painted scale models of Airstream’s iconic units over the years.
Additionally, the facility, which includes an air-conditioned service bay with room for at least 10 units at a time, offers a 360-degree movie theater where guests can be immersed into a guided tour of the manufacturer’s production facility in Jackson Center, Ohio.
Stollo noted that RV One has plans to open additional Airstream-exclusive stores in other locations, adding the company has already exceeded sales goals by more than double in the 45 days it’s been open.
All of which, of course, is welcome news to people such as Bob Wheeler, president of Airstream, and Jon Ferrando, president of RV Retailer — both of whom were on hand for the grand opening.
“This new Airstream of Tampa store is the physical representation of Don Strollo’s vision for what an Airstream dealership could and should look like, and he’s gone from talking about it in concept drawings to actually executing it. The physical reality of it is even better than what he had envisioned, and we had envisioned, when he first had this idea. So we couldn’t be more pleased that he’s pulled this off and to have RV One as a partner. This really sets the bar now for the future of the Airstream dealer franchise,” said Wheeler, who mentioned this is the OEM’s 19th Airstream-exclusive dealership.
For his part, Ferrando told RVBUSINESS.com that he “couldn’t be happier to see the completion of the world-class, brand-new Airstream of Tampa facility, and the all new RV One of Tampa Superstore.”
“It’s truly a world class RV retail destination. RV One put a big stamp on, ‘This is where you need to go,’” said the former AutoNation executive.
Ferrando added that RV Retailer continues to be in an acquisitive mode, after having added in 2018 Motorhome Specialist, a single-site dealer in the Dallas-Fort Worth market led by Donny O’Banion, and ExploreUSA Supercenter, a nine-store Texas operator still managed by Scott Chaney and Brian Booker.
In total, RV Retailer has 17 stores and 900 employees, and Ferrando said they expect to retail close to 20,000 RVs in 2019.
“We’re No. 1 in New York, No. 3 in Florida, No. 1 in Texas, and expect to be No. 1 in Iowa as well with our RV One Superstore there. We’re very excited about 2019, and we expect to absolutely to grow businesses here,” he told RVBusiness. “We’re attracted by the demographics and the huge opportunity over the long term to build a fabulous business.”
Part of Ferrando’s enthusiasm is how its corporate structure is designed to put as much of the “talent and resources as close to the customers at the stores as possible,” he said.
“Our strategy is to make sure that we can continue that entrepreneurial spirit of these businesses that we’ve acquired and then share best practices across our enterprise. So if somebody’s very good at servicing parts, we’re going to take those processes across the whole network and make it better. But we want our tremendous RV partners and entrepreneurial talent to keep doing the great things they’re doing.”
Another guest in attendance was O’Banion, whose Motor Home Specialist operation was the first to be acquired by RV Retailer in July of 2018. Earlier that day O’Banion spoke with RVBUSINESS.com in front of the Realm Class A coach he developed in partnership with Foretravel Motorcoach, that was attracting quite a bit of attention while on display at the Florida RV SuperShow. He said Ferrand and the entire team at RV Retailer — including co-founder, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer John Rizzo — have been “exceptional to work with.”
“They simply have done what they said they were going to do, and have been a joy to work with. They’re passionate about every aspect of the business, and have given us the tools and everything that we need to be successful. It’s been a great partnership and we’re looking forward to a great year,” O’Banion said.