I know what you are thinking. Last time I brought this up it turned into a giant prank by for April Fool’s day. But no, I think I found something I could be good at and the world really needs: A good RV Salesperson. Hear me out.
As I’ve mentioned in different posts, my wife and I have a small RV that we have enjoyed owning over the past 12 camping seasons.
It is our first motorhome and has been an awesome little camper for us and often a great asset at races. We have reached the point where we have decided to move on to a newer, bigger camper. While we have dabbled in shopping off and on over the last couple years, this summer the search began in earnest. Well, really the search began in a torrential rain storm in Maryland.
Our current motorhome is a 2007 Itasca Navion which is a Winnebago product built on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis. It is a Class C which means it is a box added to a cutaway van chassis. In our case the van is a baby 5 cylinder diesel. The sprinter is a great platform for a motorhome but there are some size and weight limitations. Our unit was built with real wood cabinets and some other heavier materials than those used now and has pretty severe cargo and towing limitations.
Unfortunately, despite loving the original Winnebago Sprinter implementation, for a variety of reasons we do not love the newer version of this great little coach so we almost immediately crossed them off our shopping list. We similarly crossed off most of the rest of the industries Sprinter-based motorhomes for a host of different reasons.
Pet peeve #1 with RV designers: Sometimes simple is okay. Not everyone wants satellite reception, and 4 TVs in a 25′ motorhome. Please stop sacrificing windows to add televisions.
Pet peeve #2: More choices in interiors is better than less.
Of course given my line of work as a project manager (something I vehemently swore I’d never be . . but that’s a whole ‘nother story) I’ve developed a list of requirements over 12 seasons of RVing. This list helps define what I want in my next motorhome. It is lengthy and in prioritized order so this has helped greatly in our search.
One of the coaches that looked good on paper was the 26′ Jayco Alante. I began scouring dealer inventories on-line to try to locate said coach. After not being successful on-line I began calling around to check since on-line inventories aren’t up-to-date. I was usually met with “No. We don’t have that in stock but I can order you one”. In my head I would think “Oh sure. I’ll go ahead and have you order me a new motorhome sight unseen and I’ll be prepared to fork over a significant chunk of cash for something we may not even like in person”. But I said “No thank you”.
After much searching we found the exact coach at a dealer not far from Annapolis Maryland. Conveniently it was a larger dealership and they were having a show to try to blow out some of their 2018 inventory.
The show included the desired Jayco unit. Despite the forecast of rainy conditions we set out for the Annapolis area. Note to self: “Always have dry clothes and shoes in the car”. It turns out the show was at a local park just South of Baltimore. Now, for those not familiar with the greater Chesapeake Bay area, most of it is right around sea level, sometimes a bit below. We arrived at the park in monsoon conditions and proceeded to trudge around several coaches including the Alante in an absolute deluge and shin-deep water. It turns out the Jayco was not a favorite but, sensing the opportunity for a sale, our salesperson showed us several other units including one or two bigger than I had had on our radar. It was a Georgetown 30X3 which is about 32 feet long on the exterior, somewhat bigger than our little Sprinter. The only problem was we loved it! It ticked all the boxes on my list, had a great floor plan, nice interior and exterior colors, awesome big windows throughout, and made use of simple, time-proven systems. No thermonuclear, space-age refrigerator, no high-intensity 1.2 gigawatt solar panels, no European cabinetry woven out of organic cat tails, and no awful, hideous Victorian-era upholstery. (Hint: There’s a reason nobody decorates like that anymore.)
Now, this particular unit was a 2018 and was “priced to sell”. The translation of this phrase means “We’ve had it kicking around our lot for a while with various things getting beat up and broken by our sales people, and shoppers. We’d really like to get rid of it, so despite our carelessness we want to sell it to you cheap”. Uh, no thanks. I know there are bargain hunters out there who focus on the bottom line who don’t mind fixing things up post-purchase or believing promises by the dealer that they’ll fix things up. I get it. Fair enough. And this coach wasn’t really that bad, but I think the rain may have dampened our enthusiasm a bit. Plus it was considerably bigger than we had been looking at and I had to think through logistics of storage and how we would camp with it. We took our soggy selves and headed home but not before stopping in Joppa, MD for a rally awesome seafood dinner at Baldwin’s Crab House.
I spent the next week or so researching this new-found coach and other’s in it’s size class. I read specs, searched inventories, called dealers, and scoured on-line forums to find out how happy owners were. We also comparison shopped similar products from other makes including Winnebago.
We have loved our Winnebago product. The name is iconic and synonymous with RVing. When one says they are buying a Winnebago, it could be any motorized camper.
We went to the Winnebago factory back in 2008 for their annual Grand National Rally. I had expected a week of bean bag baseball. It was anything but and one of the best camping experiences we have had. I recommend it to any Winnebago owner. That said, some of their decisions in the current product line are disappointing. While many out there love the new View/Navion series (the Winnebago View is the same as the Itasca Navion), the new style Euro cabinetry is a non-starter for us.
In the low to mid-tier Class A series, they’ve really cheaped out on some things like putting a really bad ABS plastic sink in the bathrooms, cheap looking faucets, and other missing and basic features that we’ve grown used to in our then-entry-level coach. Their new Intent series has promise. It is billed as entry level and as such I’d expect it not to have certain niceties but those things would be easy to add for the price of this new series. For that I’ll give them kudos and encourage anyone who thinks a new motorhome is unaffordable to take a look. For us, after studying an equivalent Winnebago product we both looked at each other and said “I like the Georgetown better”. Cross Winnebago off the list. There are other manufacturers. Some more expensive others with really terrible reputations. One by one they were crossed off due to expense, size, customer satisfaction, or just not making something we liked. We decided we really liked the Georgetown the best.
We decided we should drive one since neither of us have ever driven a coach of this size. I also wouldn’t have minded finding one in dealer inventory we liked. Conveniently, a local dealer about an hour away advertised the exact coach we wanted (except for having an extra bed) in inventory. I called to verify the information and the salesman assured me it was in stock. The next day was a Saturday and he wanted to know if I wanted to make an appointment to look at it. Having an appointment would insure he could devote his time to us. “Okay. How about 1:15?” It was set.
Saturday afternoon we arrived at the dealer in a timely fashion at 1:10. At 1:45 we were still waiting for our dedicated time. Ben the sales guy finally came scurrying in to the showroom looking for us apologizing for being late. “I was hoping to have the engine, generator, and air conditioning running and the coach pulled out for you”. Um, yeah. That would have been nice. As it was it was locked, stuffy, and hot. We walked out the front door together and Ben paused, scanning the lot, glancing at an inventory sheet. I said “I think it’s right there”. “Oh, right”. He unlocked the coach, opened the door and we could immediately tell it wasn’t what we’d asked about. It was the wrong interior color, and had options not advertised on the on-line sales page. We’d wasted our time and gas driving here. But we were here so decided to walk through the coach. There were things I’d thought of I wanted to investigate and this coach would do for that purpose. But Ben had other ideas. Without asking if we’d ever done any RVing, he began to explain in detail every feature of the RV including telling my wife how she’d wash her hair in the RV shower. When Janice commented on the size of the wardrobe he said “Women always care about the wardrobe”. I looked at him and said “I do too”. It turned out he knew almost nothing about RVing in general. It was clear he’d not only never owned one but also had never camped in one and he really didn’t know anything about this unit in particular.
If I owned an RV dealership and hired a salesperson who had never been RVing, I’d find a used camper on the lot and send him off to a State Park for week and then to a KOA for a week. Additionally, if I were an RV salesperson and had an appointment to show a particular coach at a particular time to a couple clearly ready to buy a motorhome, I’d probably at least get the brochure out and brush up a bit.
At some point Ben figured out we were RV owners and I knew way more about RVing and this Georgetown than he did. I had to explain to him that the reason there was an extra grey water drain on the sewer outlet was to accommodate the external kitchen the unit wasn’t supposed to have had (according to the website). At least three times he told us he was new and that he was learning from us. In my head I thought “Sure. Let me hand you my cash for your commission”. All the while he would periodically run into the building, presumably to work with his other customers, and then come running back out. Good thing we had that appointment so we’d have dedicated time. Just as well as Ben wasn’t really helpful.
One of the main reasons for this trip had been to test drive the unit to see if we liked the Class A road experience. The unit was pinned in behind a traded in 5th wheel. It would have taken significant time and engineering to get it on the road. I had decided I was done with Ben and this unit almost from the time we arrived and was not the least bit interested in trusting him to guide us through our first Class A driving experience. After investigating the things we wanted to check out, I looked at my watch and decided I wanted to beat feet to another Georgetown dealer closer to home to get a price on ordering the unit we wanted.
But Ben wasn’t done. He wanted to give us his whole spiel about the buying experience and how people fly in from all over to buy campers there. I couldn’t help but think how disappointed they must be to arrive and find out the unit pictured on the website wasn’t what they were buying. For all you budding salespeople out there in any industry, when the customer has one hand on the door, has declined to take your business card, and is looking at their watch, stop talking and let them go. It isn’t happening.
We left Ben behind and drove at speeds far faster than I am normally comfortable to make it to the closest dealer to our house that sells Georgetown. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this dealer. We’ve been there for service three times. The first two were excellent experiences and the third not so much. Our rig sat for six weeks waiting for continuously promised attention but never actually making into the shop despite the fact I’d made an appointment some 20 days prior. Excuse after excuse was offered until I said “Never mind. I’ll come get it and do it myself”. When we picked it up we demanded an explanation and were told that “Right now we can only service what we have sold”. Fine. I get it. The camping industry is booming, sales are high, and RV techs are in short supply. Why not tell us that up front instead of making us lose a bunch of the camping season? It’s called setting the proper expectation.
That experience not withstanding, I thought I’d give their sales team a chance to impress me. After making the beeline away from Ben, we walked in to the very professional looking dealership and were directed to JC to discuss the Georgetown. I told him I knew they didn’t have what we wanted in inventory but wanted to get an idea on ordering. JC went and got a Georgetown build sheet and we went through our trade information and what we were looking for. This is when the first red flag popped up. “What colors does that come in?” Really? Did the sales guy just ask me that? Strike 1! “The exterior only comes in one color. We want the Sand Castle interior”. JC stared blankly at the build sheet where Sand Castle wasn’t listed. I noted the 2017 date on the bottom of the sheet and said “I think your specs are out of date”. This was going well. After I talked our salesman through available standards and options, he took the build sheet and our trade information for the old talk-to-the-manager bit then came back and gave us a rough price of about what I expected. I wasn’t ready to order today as we still hadn’t driven one. I inquired about driving something similar. “We don’t do test drives on Saturday, but if you can come back during the week we can find something to take out”. Strike 2. I’m here now. I’m a customer ready to buy a new motorhome. I understand that Saturday is a busy day but there is a reason for that. Most people that can afford to buy a new camper have a job and work during the week.
It turned out we had the opportunity later to find and drive the actual motorhome we were interested in at another dealership much farther away. In fact, it was a good deal in the right color but, again, it had some options we decided we really didn’t want. I know, I know, you can just not use those things, but we really want what we want and not extra stuff we’ll never use. Extra stuff, is just more things to develop rattles and squeaks, to clean, and otherwise care for over time. The point is we got to drive one and had now decided we were about ready to pull the trigger.
With a price for ordering from another Pennsylvania dealer, I called JC back. If I could get a similar deal, their dealership was still the most local for service. “JC I need you to get a price to order the coach with the 50 amp package, and Maxxaire fan. We don’t want any other options.” Well, now that JC knew I was serious, my phone rang every half-hour with an update finally culminating with “I need you to bring your trade in for an appraisal”. Really!? Strike 3. I’d gotten quotes from 4 other dealers all the way to Florida with nobody else needing to see my motorhome. “How about tomorrow?”, I asked. “Well, it can’t be tomorrow. The boss is off that day and he says he has to look at it”. Strike 4. You’d think I’d have rung him up and hung up by now but again there is some merit to a local dealer. Just to be clear, they were requiring me to drive to their dealer for an appraisal (something nobody else has asked) and to do it when it was convenient for them. Awesome salesmanship. Simply awesome.
The dealer isn’t too far away. I’ll indulge a little bit more. Again, if the price is good, it isn’t a bad thing to have nearby service after the sale. I had engaged in a long discussion with the service manager about our last service appointment and assurances that now they only take in RVs they’ve sold for service. (I’ll bet the manufacturers they represent would love to know they won’t honor manufacturer warranties from other dealers.) Friday evening, despite the call for sudden thunderstorms I called JC and asked if now was a convenient time for them to try to sell a motorhome? “Sure. Come on up. But if you can, try to get here by 5:00”. Really!? Do they listen to themselves!? We drove the 22 miles and searched for a parking spot on the crowded lot finally finding one behind the service center. We walked the considerable distance to the showroom where JC asked if we could move it out back and extend slideout. You couldn’t have told me that on the phone? What are we up to? Strike 12? 13? Fine. Obviously walking a few hundred yards doesn’t really bother me but it was the principal of the thing. Clearly their time was very important.
After re-parking our Navion and extending the slideout, we returned to the waiting area. Conveniently, Janice could see down the hall and saw JC and the appraiser head out to look at our coach. I expected a thorough inspection and picked up a magazine to read. Three minutes later Janice said “They’re back”. Strike 45. You dragged my ass all the way up here to spend 2 minutes looking at my coach!? And what did you learn? That indeed we have a ##$#$^%$#@#$# motorhome!?!?!?
A few minutes later in comes JC with a sheet of paper. “Your trade is clean”. (No shit! I told you that on the phone.) “We’ve got a great deal for you”. JC put the paper in front of me, and presented me with the highest price on the Georgetown we’ve seen from 5 dealers.
But it gets better. Remember I asked for a price to order what we want? The price given was on a unit “almost exactly like what we asked for” that is in stock at the manufacturer. JC explained “The only difference is that it has the loft bed. That will really help your resale value.” Strikes 50-100. That is NOT what I asked you to price. And nice job playing the old resale value gambit. Considering we just brought our 12 year old coach in for an appraisal, it isn’t like we are going to be selling a new one any time soon. “I’ll give you two some time to talk”. You do that.
As soon as JC left I said to Janice “We are done here”. Of course then there is the awkward moment of trying to leave. JC came back with that hopeful look of a salesman who thinks he wowed us. I explained to JC that I could have already bought that exact same unit for $7500.00 less and that isn’t what I had asked him to price for me. The hopeful look became crestfallen. He was speechless, which isn’t saying a lot because he barely said anything anyway. He had not gotten pricing for ordering a new unit and would have to make some calls to get those numbers. JC made several more trips to and from the managers office. He was a go-between salesman acting as a courier of pricing between the only guy in the store empowered to make monetary decisions and us. In a challenging voice he played his last chip: “Where are you going to get it serviced?” I said “I can drive a long way for service with $7500.00 in my pocket.”
Happily, I have found another dealer who has been helpful and knowledgeable on the phone and who will earn my business. But based on the experiences we’ve had at various dealerships I think I’d be a pretty good RV salesperson. No foolin’.
Good read and oh so true. I’m glad I’m not in the market for an RV right now, especially in this over heated market.
We were spoiled RVing in our nearly new VW Campmobile in the mid 70s.
Oh to life over with a greater appreciation!
We now live in East TN and are on year three of travel in our 2015 Navion.
I like “extra stuff” and if you EVER find yourself owning an RV dealership, I will come work for you just so that I can get those free camping trips in the used RVs that you mention!
Congrats!! I look forward to walking in your new camping unit with muddy feet!