Stag-Parkway Inc. President and CEO Stan Sunshine holds a decidedly positive view of the year ahead – a view that was probably reinforced by dealers attending Stag’s “Passport to Profits” convention, Jan. 20-22 at the Paris Las Vegas.
“The year 2004 will certainly contain some unforeseen actions, just as the past has provided us with events that did not appear on the radar screen,” Sunshine told attendees at the Atlanta-based aftermarket distributor’s annual convention. “Presently, we see an economic recovery that is clearly cheered by the current administration, and we don’t know what the world political environment will provide.
“The good news must be that we can’t worry about those items that are outside of our control,” he added. “With low interest rates and rising consumer sentiment, historically the two most reliable indicators of the RV industry, we are poised to take advantage of the 80 million Baby Boomers now entering the key age demographics generally tied to RV ownership. No industry can match the collective efforts of our own Go RVing campaign in attracting new entrants into the RV lifestyle.”
The 1,600 attendees represented about 600 businesses, including RV dealerships and 150 trade show exhibitors. And, judging by the general demeanor of showgoers, business at Stag’s convention was as upbeat as it appears to have been around the rest of the industry early this year.
Sunshine, in his opening remarks, reminded attendees of his company’s ongoing financial commitment to the industry’s Go RVing advertising campaign – having donated $25,000 to each of the program’s three-year segments. Beyond all that, however, Sunshine maintained that a genuine, industrywide effort “to continue to develop an increased value proposition to the consuming public” will go a long way toward securing the industry’s future.
“Each and every one of us is a consumer,” said Sunshine, who shared the podium with Mike McKay, Stag’s vice president of sales and marketing. “In the fast-paced, Internet-active world we live in, consumers have expectations that derive from virtually every occurrence that they encounter. An RV customer may be affected by an auto dealer, Nordstrom’s, or McDonalds. The experience they enjoy when they come into your place of business is a function of your environment and behaviors.
“That’s why efforts like the RV industry’s Committee on Excellence are so important,” he continued. “Of more immediate importance to you are your actions and commitments to respond to the needs and expectations of the consuming public. By ignoring the changes in the market, we can’t even expect to get the same result from the same behaviors. We must change along with the market to respond to their desires or achieving this great opportunity will not be realized.”
Sunshine also praised the “ambitious” efforts of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) and its RVDA Education Foundation for developing a central source of information for RV dealerships nationwide – the new RV Learning Center. He said the RV Learning Center, based at RVDA’s Fairfax, Va., headquarters, should prove to be a “catalyst” for innovative ways to operate retail stores, to share proven methods and practices and encourage high professional standards for dealerships of all sizes.
The upshot of all this is an experience that keeps the industry’s customers energized and the industry growing. “We believe in the concept of the learning center and not only endorse the goals they espouse, but we intend to assist the foundation in developing their content for the aftermarket,” said Sunshine.
With that, he called to the stage RVDA President Mike Molino, RVDA Education Foundation Vice Chairman Jim Sheldon (special assistant to the chairman of Monaco Coach Corp.), Stag-Parkway Chairman Ted Kaplan and McKay to present a $25,000 check to support the RV Learning Center.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Molino told the crowd in a brief statement to thank Stag for its support, “This amount raised our total pledge since the RVDA convention in October to $878,000. And that’s a tribute to everybody in this room because most of that money comes from RV dealers.”
Sunshine then proceeded to bestow Supplier Partnership Awards upon six of the company’s supplier vendors “for their meaningful contributions on our collective behalf during the past year.” Among them:
• Automatic Equipment Mfg. Co., d.b.a. Blue Ox, Pender, Neb.
• Dicor Corp., Elkhart, Ind.
• KVH Industries Inc., Middletown, R.I.
• Pulliam Enterprises Inc., d.b.a. PullRite, Mishawaka, Ind.
• Cequent Towing Products, d.b.a. Reese Products, Goshen, Ind.
• Cequent Electrical Products, d.b.a. Tekonsha Towing Systems, Tekonsha, Mich.
McKay, in his turn at the podium, reiterated Sunshine’s comments regarding quality and the need for continuous change and improvement, and he spoke in greater detail about some of Stag’s 2004 initiatives.
“I think most of us would agree with the premise that the consuming RV public is better educated and more demanding today than ever before,” said McKay. “That continuous improvement is a fact of life if we want our own businesses to succeed, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that competition for the Baby Boomer’s pocket book is running at a feverish pitch, with no letup in sight.
“From cruise lines to exotic vacation venues, today’s consumer is being wooed. Within our own industry, we see competition coming at us from the mass marketers, from Wal-Mart to Camping World. Can we compete and win or are we destined to fall short and lose this growing customer base to someone else? I don’t think so. The independent RV dealerships of America offer so much more. The key will be found in our ongoing willingness as an industry to seek continuous improvement along with a commitment to maintain connectivity with our most valuable asset, the RV consuming public.”
With that, McKay for the second year bestowed the company’s Lifetime Value Award to recognize “some significant performers from the dealer community” who have excelled “in executing the steps necessary to achieve maximum customer value.”
The finalists, selected by Stag and RV Trade Digest, included:
• Altman’s Winnebago, Baldwin Park, Calif.
• Camper’s Barn of Kingston, Kingston, N.Y.
• Dewalt’s RV Inc., Easton, Pa.
• Phillips Happy Hollow, Lakeview, Ohio.
• Leach Camper Sales Inc., Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The winner was Dewalt’s, a family-held operation that exclusively sells towable and motorized Coachmen Industries Inc. brands.