Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee

Convinced that the industry’s future is brighter than its recent past, RV Business is rolling out its 2nd Annual RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards program for 2009 – almost exactly a year after the California-based trade journal first introduced this bar-raising, quality-focused concept into the recreational vehicle sector.

The first group of 50 dealers was recognized in September at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during the annual RV Dealers International Convention/Expo.

“I’m not going to pretend that we didn’t look around at the current economic environment earlier this year and wonder what to do about our RVB Top 50 program for 2009 because these obviously aren’t the best of times for businesses throughout North America,” says RVB Publisher Sherman Goldenberg. “But when we looked around, we saw vital players on several fronts staying the course, not the least of which was an array of industry suppliers and manufacturers. At the same time, RVDA is forging ahead with its Con/Expo, Oct. 6-9 at the Rio, and RVIA’s own leadership, faced with similar headwinds, is tackling this year’s Louisville Show, Dec. 1-3 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.

“That’s the kind of grit that makes the world go round,” Goldenberg added. “But what really caught our attention was the continued support of last year’s RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards sponsors, companies that have stood their ground with an eye to the industry’s inevitable turnaround and to an agenda that looks beyond the current recession.”

Those sponsors include ADP Lightspeed, Blue Ox, Coach-Net, Cummins Onan RV Generators, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., Protective and RV Trader.

The goal is to select 50 of North America’s best RV retailers in terms of consumer care, best business practices and general professionalism, according to Goldenberg, noting that Canadian manufacturers and dealers are invited for the first time to participate this year as well.

“While RVB’s staff realizes that this is a highly subjective matter, attempting to recognize 50 dealers apart from all the rest,” said Goldenberg, “we do so on the assumption that the very act of nominating, selecting, honoring and promoting those who generally strive to do the best they can is in itself a worthy exercise that brings to the forefront the quality themes outlined by the all-industry Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence.”

Already underway is the first phase of the program through which nominations are solicited from U.S. and Canadian manufacturers, each of whom is being asked to nominate five of their best and most professional dealers for excellence in handling aftermarket parts stores, sales lots, service bays, F&I departments and employee training, as well as civic and charitable pursuits.

RVB then sends each of those dealers a letter congratulating them for having been nominated as one of North America’s elite RV retailers and asking them to fill out an application and submit it by July 10. This year’s application, based on dealer input from 2008, is somewhat less intrusive with regard to financial matters.

BJ Thompson Associates, Mishawaka, Ind., then oversees a review of those applications by an independent panel of industry “experts,” none of whom are directly associated with RVBusiness or its parent company, Affinity Group Inc.

Those selections will be announced in RVBusiness, on RVBUSINESS.com and at the 2nd annual awards reception and dinner on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 7, at the Rio in Las Vegas during this year’s RVDA Con/Expo. Invited to the all-industry dinner – along with Top 50 dealer principals, their families and key personnel – are all industry people interested in mixing with their peers, viewing the awards presentation and hearing the views of special celebrity guest speaker Mike Huckabee, who has endeared himself to the American public as a former Arkansas governor, a soft-spoken political candidate, an emerging TV personality, a guitar-strumming conservative folk hero and a likely 2012 GOP presidential candidate.

After the event and following party draw to a close, RVBusiness will promote the winners in print, on its website and with press releases targeted at award recipients’ area newspapers. Named dealerships also get RVBT50 window decals and pins and exposure to millions of active RV enthusiasts in the pages – and on the websites – of Affinity Media’s RV-related consumer magazines, Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life.

Here are the answers to nine RVB Top 50 questions that often surface:

(1) How are multi-store operations handled? We’re again limiting all multi-store nominees to one award, regardless of how many storefronts they have.

(2) Does size matter when it comes to the Top 50? No, a dealership’s acreage or annual revenues are not in themselves relevant. Excellence can exist at any level.

(3) Does it matter if a given dealer is nominated by several manufacturers? How many times a dealer is nominated is not viewed as a problem.

(4) Is each award winner publicly linked to a nominating manufacturer? In other words, will it be public knowledge who nominated whom, and will that linkage be part of the award presentation? No. We’re fully aware of the fact that some manufacturers, for their own reasons, may choose to submit their nominations in strictest confidence, and we’re more than willing to keep it that way.

 (5) Can a manufacturer nominate five dealers for each of its brands? In all fairness, we can’t accept five nominations for every brand because we’d be swamped with candidates. So, realizing that this is a highly subjective matter, we’re agreeing to accept additional nominees from a manufacturer’s stand-alone divisions.

 (6) Do you rank the Top 50 dealers in order – from No. 1 to No. 50? No, again, we’re not ranking them, although we do plan to focus on five Blue Ribbon performers as the top finishers among the 50 award recipients. And we’ll recognize one of those five retailers – above and beyond the rest — as the Dave Altman Award winner, named after the late Southern California retailer and industry activist.

(7) How do you buy tickets to the Oct. 7 awards dinner? Call (800) 719-1085 or download a registration form at RVBUSINESS.com.

 (8) Are park trailer dealers part of the program this year? No, not yet.

9) ) Where do I direct additional questions regarding the Top 50 program? Fax BJ Thompson Associates at (574) 674-6802 or e-mail them at [email protected] or call BJ Thompson or Barb Riley at (574) 674-6300. Goldenberg can be reached by fax at (574) 457-8295, e-mail at [email protected] or phone at (574) 457-3370.

RVB Top 50 sponsors

RVB Top 50 sponsors