Industry veteran Gigi Stetler, who by her own admission is “absolutely hated” by the RV industry as she likes to “buck the system,” looks to entrench herself as an advocate for RVers struggling to navigate the purchase and repair side of the RV lifestyle.
Stetler’s mainly doing that through “RV Advisor,” a membership-based consumer enterprise she launched in late 2018, and her Planet RV dealership in Davie, Fla. — which in itself operates with a somewhat progressive business model also designed to champion the cause of the consumer.
“I’m not the big dealer like I used to be,” she told RVBUSINESS.com. “I’ll buy a new unit from other dealers. I title them to myself. I sell them as used. I put an extended warranty on it. That’s how I roll. And I’m not the cheapest game in town, but my customers get service within the same 24 hours they bought it, if something’s wrong. I don’t even call the factory. I just crumble (the warranty paperwork) up and I take care of it myself. That’s what I do, and if everybody did that we’d have a whole lot more happy customers.”
Planet RV today sits on three acres and its operations include six service bays, a paint booth, body shop and inside parts store. A rented storage facility handles excess inventory, which includes one new line of fifth-wheels as well as consignment units. The company employs about 25 people, while RV Advisor has about 11 personnel.
Stetler garnered considerable publicity recently after retaining former NFL quarterback Dan Marino as a brand ambassador for RV Advisor. Stetler has known Marino going back to his playing days with the Miami Dolphins, she said, and the two are board members of several charities.
“Being an NFL quarterback, no one knows better than him why you need protection — and that’s our tagline,” said Stetler, who was once involved in high-profile litigation against Camping World. “But he’s a blue-collar good-old-boy from Pittsburgh — he really is — so he identifies with people, and he cares.”
Stetler recently took time to discuss RV Advisor with RVBUSINESS.com. What follows in an edited account of that conversation.
RVB: You make no apologies for how you’ve positioned yourself within the RV industry.
Stetler: I’m absolutely hated and I don’t care. The RVIA, the RVDA — all of them — are so focused on making manufacturers happy, and so focused on the business. Nobody focuses on the consumer at all. I’ve always been on the consumer side. I guess that’s why I’m not so liked.
I’m a warrior. I mean, I was stabbed 21 times and left for dead. There’s nothing that hasn’t happened to me in my life. I’m part of the ‘Me Too’ movement. So many times, people have tried to kill me physically, mentally, emotionally, and everything. But I don’t play the victim card. I’ve just always been a warrior.
I’m the underdog, and I feel that consumers are underdogs. Somebody has to speak for them. Somebody has to speak up — like Erin Brockovich spoke up for the people with the bad water. Somebody has to speak up for them. That’s my passion. That’s what keeps me going.
RVB: And this passion, we assume, is what led to the formation of RV Advisor?
Stetler: One of the main reasons that I started RV Advisor was I have 32 years of so much knowledge in my head and I’d been giving it away for free. People were asking for my advice and I was giving it to them. That’s No. 1. No. 2, I have so many customers who’ve moved away (from southeast Florida). I have horse show clients. I have NASCAR clients. I have clients all over the country, and they are constantly calling me for recommendations. They want to buy an RV, but by now they’re living in Ohio or in California or wherever.
I just want to help them and guide them into buying the right product. I want to be able to drive traffic to good dealers.
RVB: So what is the business model then?
Stetler: My business model is Angie’s List. Angie’s List started here in South Florida because there were so many unscrupulous contractors after Hurricane Andrew. When she first started, she was a membership-based company. Then she was providing reviews for members so that they could rely on somebody. It took her about five or six years to flip the script and go to free membership.
All her revenue now comes from advertising, and her contractors were now paying to be certified. And if you weren’t certified, you didn’t get any business. That’s where I’m heading. That is my ultimate goal.
I’ve tried to certify dealers. I’ve been calling them and sending them emails to get them certified. But they don’t want to be certified because business is too good. They don’t want to be accountable. They don’t want to be certified because they know they can’t.
So, I need to build up a huge member base right now. If I can get a million members, and a million voices, do you know how much power we would have in the industry?
RVB: So, as you said, it’s about having strength in numbers, with each paying $25 a year to be an RV Advisor member?
Stetler: Obviously, we have bills to pay. I’ve got staff to pay. We have experts, we have services, and we have a legal team. We need all that because we have to overpower the system.
I want these dealers to be more scared of me, because I know every trick. I know everything they could be up to. I know everything about everything in this business. They can’t hide anything from me. So, I want them to be afraid of me.
I want a dealer to be able to tell a consumer, ‘Oh, you’re an RV Advisor member? Here, let me take care of you.’
RVB: So what are the criteria for a dealer to become certified with RV Advisor?
Stetler: I charge $350 for certification and I will personally vet these dealers.
I also want to do verified real-time reviews. Anybody can write a Google review, but there are three sides to the story. I, myself, have tons of bad reviews. I don’t even know who these people are. A lot of times, bad reviews are written by competitors. But I will give the dealer the opportunity to explain how we fix this, and then write a real-time review on our website.
I’m hoping that I can bring out the better quality of these dealers and tell them what they’re doing wrong.