Recreational vehicle companies need to have an Internet presence to operate effectively in today’s business world, according to the latest RVBUSINESS.com Industry Poll.
A resounding 88% of the participants from all sectors of the industry agreed that establishing and maintaining a website is essential to survival.
“The future is the Internet, and it is now,” said a retailer. “The Worldwide Web has completely revised our way of doing business. And while it may not be the answer to all of man’s woes, it’s certainly the cure for half of them.”
A respondent from the manufacturing arena offered: “The Internet has grown exponentially over the past five years. It has grown from an advertising arm to communicating with not just retail customers, but with dealers. It has become a cost-efficient way to update orders as well as changes to the product in real time.”
A member of the service community said that providing potential customers access to a website helps even the field, noting, “It is not so much a boon as it is a necessity to stay in business and be able to compete with the larger service companies.”
But while most felt that the Internet is a necessary component to conducting and helping grow business, several commented that the web also was a “double-edged sword,” posing as many potential pitfalls as benefits.
“From a wholesale perspective, I like the fact that retail buyers have spent some time educating themselves and have narrowed their choices before they hit the dealer or RV show,” said a participant from the manufacturing sector. “I despise unscrupulous dealers who falsely advertise on the web and destroy a good, stocking dealer’s margins – not by selling to a customer 2,000 miles away, but by simply screwing up customers’ perceptions (on price). The Internet is definitely a two edged sword.”
A retailer commented: “It has shown some significance in our sales and marketing efforts. But this has been somewhat diminished by the online forums that open universal and often unfair commentary to our business. The Internet has potential as a valuable tool to promote our sales and service efforts. But it has shown to be a double-edged sword with forums that only seem like a tool to berate honest efforts to promote the RV industry and our facilities therein.”
When asked what portion of new business is generated online, about a third (32%) of the respondents answered “less than 10%,” while around 28% of the participants indicated 20% of their new business was web-related. Other responses regarding the percentage of Internet-based new business were evenly divided, including 9% that said over half of their prospects came through their website.
“The best way to reach new customers is through the Internet search engines,” said a respondent involved in tow vehicle conversions. “This is nearly a free way to advertise where any other medium would be prohibitive. This allows a local or regional business to be literally worldwide at the click of a key.”
A retailer countered: “The Internet has not created more profit or even made our work easier. With the Internet, customers have another shopping tool. It has created more work and smaller margins. Rarely does the Internet generate real sales.”
The main areas that poll participants saw impact from the Internet were advertising (33%), disseminating new product information (17%) and generating new business leads (13%).
“The Internet has become an extension of our advertising to the retail public,” noted a retailer. “We find a very high percentage of customers will use our Internet site to research our company and products once they decide they want to come to our store to buy. If a customer has visited our Internet site they are more likely to be a buyer than if they have not.”
Other responses to web usage included closing sales (4%), communicating with dealers (3%), distributing technical information (6%), training sales agents (1%), handling warranty claims (8%) and interoffice communications (4%).
Most of the poll participants (71%) indicated they handle their own Internet operations versus outsourcing. With regard to how many employees are assigned to handle Internet business, the broad majority (82%) responded “fewer than five.”