Mike Molino

Mike Molino

Editor’s Note: This column was written by Mike Molino, president of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), and appears in the current edition of RV Executive Today Online.

As we enter the holiday season, this is a good time to look for reasons to rejoice and be jolly. Anyone can find a reason to be gloomy. Doom and gloom are everywhere. For too long a time, the RV business has been sputtering. Few of us are doing really well, no matter what we do as our part of the business. Drive out gloom!

Last December, I wrote, “We need to celebrate. Just getting rid of 2008 is reason enough. Even the late great Frank Sinatra could not have made 2008, ‘a very good year.’” A year later, some will say, “2009 was even worse than 2008.” That may be true for many of us. The year 2009 was the worst year for new unit shipments in my 21 years with RVDA.

Still, don’t fall into the trap of pessimism. Look at that situation positively. It has to get better. For the first time in too many years, Dr. Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan is forecasting that the next year will be a better one for RV shipments. That is good news!

There are many positive signs to support Dr. Curtin’s forecasts. We see plant openings in Elkhart, a drop in the level of distressed RV inventories and positive late season occupancy reports from many campgrounds. Credit is not what it used to be, and probably never will be. There are signs of available credit, however.

Our members are an optimistic group. When we budgeted for dealer attendance at this year’s convention, we budgeted what we thought was a reasonable number. Our dealers greatly exceeded that number.

We also have reason to celebrate the participation of our associate members who exhibited. The convention drew well over 1,000 total industry people in a very bad year. Reason to rejoice!

As we do that, we need to remember that our industry works better when we work together. Quit the bickering and take the high road. Let’s work together to sell our industry and the RV lifestyle to our customers. Dealers and manufacturers must cooperate and build trust between them. If we don’t, we won’t survive.

Let’s look at the new landscape of manufacturing. Some of you dealers will be seeking new product lines. Many manufacturers will be looking for dealers. Before anyone agrees to anything, please do your due diligence. As President Reagan said, “TRUST but VERIFY!” It is part of my job to warn both dealers and manufacturers on the relationship. Please consider the following as warnings.

My first warning is to both dealers and manufacturers: Be careful before you make the deal.

Warnings for Manufacturers:

Don’t expect a dealer to develop an instant service department, if he doesn’t have one. If a dealer’s culture is to sell on price to anyone from anywhere, don’t expect that dealer to take care of your mutual customer after the sale. If a dealer has a history of not properly preparing units for delivery, why do you expect the future to be different? If a dealer has dealt badly with one manufacturer, like using buyback requirements arbitrarily in order to manage inventory, what makes you think it won’t happen to you?

Warnings to Dealers:

If a manufacturer does not have a parts system in place, why would you expect instant correction?

If a manufacturer’s culture is to grind out every warranty claim, why would you expect that to change because you signed up?

Under-resourced manufacturers will be rolling out “dazzling” new products with low price points and looking to take on dealers. Before you buy in, make sure the company is in a position to provide an adequate “logistical chain” for repair parts and warranty payments.

Don’t expect RVDA, RVIA, or any of the national or state associations to make bad actors behave. Make sure you know what you are doing, before you make the deal.

We’re going to have a good year in 2010. It may not be a great year, but it’s certainly going to be a good year, and its certainly going to be better than 2009. So, let’s all look forward to that. Thanks for your support!