RV Retailer President and Chief Executive Officer Jon Ferrando is about as bullish as they come in assessing the prospects for U.S. recreational-vehicle sales over the next year or so. And that’s good, because few people are so invested in a continuation of the boom times for the industry that were accelerated by the pandemic.
As a result, soon it might be possible to get your RV fixed much more quickly than RV owners have become accustomed to. Modernizing the repair-service process in the industry is one of RV Retailer’s main goals.
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based aggregator of RV dealerships is on its way to 70 stores by December, in 24 states across the country, from its current 58 dealerships in 17 states after RV Retailer this acquired Blue Dog RV, a retailer that operates 12 stores in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, California and Pennsylvania.
“Retiring baby boomers and new younger buyers are getting into the industry and starting to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle,” Ferrando told me. “Pair that with OEMs that have higher-quality entry-level products than 10 or 20 years ago. It makes for a better RV experience. All of that has been accelerated over the last 14 months by Covid shutdowns.”
RV Retailer is taking advantage by consolidating much of an industry retail network that historically has been highly fragmented. Ferrando cut his management teeth under the late Wayne Huizenga, who built AutoNation with a similar approach by rolling up hundreds of independent auto dealers over a few decades into America’s largest car-dealing corporation. Ferrando co-founded RV Retailer in 2018 with John Rizzo, who is executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer.
Redwood Capital Investments backed them initially and continues to bankroll the growth of RV Retailer through acquisitions, store additions and organic increases, which the company is focusing in the U.S. Southeast but executing nationwide.
“We looked at the industry and saw a tremendous opportunity, with how fragmented [RV retailing] was and how outdated with respect to technology processes,” Ferrando said. “We saw an opportunity to come in and focus on the customer to build a great retailer in RVs.”
One of the biggest opportunities for improvement that Ferrando saw was in modernizing repair service in the industry. Even amid the current sales boom, Ferrando said, most RV dealers haven’t upgraded their service facilities and personnel sufficiently to keep up with the concomitant increase in demands for service. As a result, he said, many of the customers new to the industry are facing the unexpected frustration of having to wait six to eight weeks — in the middle of the summer, at that — to get repairs made to the new or used recreation vehicle they recently bought.
“RV dealers generally have been focused on selling new or used RVs and haven’t invested enough in the service side of the business,” Ferrando said. “And the OEMs haven’t focused their supply networks on the repair side. So we’re focused on leading the industry over the next decade in customer service and on addressing the service-capacity need.”
So, among other things, RV Retailer has launched what Ferrando called the industry’s biggest-ever training and development program, including millions of dollars of investment in three regional training centers that boast 100 service bays for hands-on technical training and state-of-the-art technology for classroom training. RV Retailer also is picking up the cost of coveted technical certifications for service people and has launched a tech-mentor apprenticeship program.
One effect, Ferrando said, is that “a forklift driver or detailer in one of our stores can become a level-one service technician in 180 days and be on their way to great careers. It’s an array of training that no one else is doing, and it’s paying off within our stores and in teh stores we acquire and are opening. People want to come to work for us.”
Even amid an unprecedented labor shortage across the U.S. economy, he said, RV Retailer plans to employ about 700 service technicians by the end of the year, up from about 400 at the beginning.