My Days as an RV Salesman

I pulled the RV around to the shop last night so I could do some work on it today.  Naturally, I woke up to this:

Murphy's Law, hard at work in Utah.

Murphy’s Law, hard at work in Utah.

So, instead, I went through old mail.  When I opened the one from the California DMV, it brought back some sunny memories…

Look out, California!

Look out, California!

You see, just over two months ago, I was sweating it out at the Pomona show in 100-plus degree heat, working, for the first and only time ever, as an RV salesman.  Stef may have mentioned a time or two that I can get myself caught up in some pretty unusual situations, usually on a whim. I think this one qualifies.

We went to this year’s Pomona show for two main reasons;

  1. To do our regular “what’s new” video thing
  2. To hang out with our friends from Winnebago and spread the Travato gospel

And while that was all we had planned for, fate had other plans. On the very first day of the show, right before it opened, I was joking with some of the managers with Mike Thompson RV. It went something like this:

Me: Hey, I don’t mind talking to people all day about Travatos, but if someone buys one, do I get the commission? (laughs)

Manager: You would, if you were a licensed salesperson.

Me:  Uhhhhh…

Me: What exactly does it take to become a licensed salesperson?

Manager: Fill out this form, and go to the DMV.

Me: That’s it? Really?

Manager: Yep. Phil is going there now. He can drive you.

And with no more thought to it than that, I was on my way to becoming an RV sales person, and learning a bit about the RV Show world in the process.   So yeah, I basically took a job on a whim.

Russ Garfin – instructing the troops at the Pomona show

Russ Garfin – instructing the troops at the Pomona show

The first thing I learned is that there’s no RV knowledge at all required to become an RV Salesperson.  At least not in California.  You really do just have to fill out an application and go the DMV. Well, there is a background check/fingerprinty place you have to go to first. That costs $50.

Then you go the DMV. In California, the DMV is kind of a big ordeal, and you’re supposed to make an appointment.  Due to the big RV show, most of the dealers had blocks of appointments set up already. But even with an appointment, when you go to the DMV in California, you can expect to wait. So the first part of my day looked pretty much like this:



After what seemed like a really long time in a place where I didn’t feel like I should touch anything without using hand sanitizer afterward, it was my turn, and it was really pretty easy to get my license. I was issued a temporary permit (after paying another $51), and bingo – licensed to sell vehicles in California.

It takes about 4 hours, and exactly $101.

It takes about 4 hours, and exactly $101.

Then, back at the RV show, I filled out what seemed like 100-plus pages of employment applications and new hire paperwork.  Thankfully, none of the papers I signed required me to relinquish my soul.  The dealership had a makeshift HR office in a trailer, and they were processing stacks and stacks of new hire paperwork just like mine.

(They also had snacks.)

And about the time I realized they had assembly-line HR functions going was the same time I realized that a big RV show like Pomona is a really big deal for the RV dealers. As in, it’s pretty much their whole month. It takes them a week and a half to move all the vehicles in. The show itself lasts over a week. And then it takes them another week and a half to move the vehicles back out again. So yeah, pretty much the whole month is shot, and everything at an RV dealer ramps up to support the show.

Psyching myself up with the other “show dogs” before the show opens.

Psyching myself up with the other “show dogs” before the show opens.

I was, what they call in the business, a “Show Dog”. Since these RV shows are such a big deal, the dealers hire extra salespeople to support the shows. That was how I got in. But in addition to “guys off the street who happen to have a website” (me), there are also “professional” Show Dogs. These guys travel around the country, following RV shows, and selling RVs. They might be in Florida selling 5th wheels one week, and in Texas selling Class Bs the next. But since it’s their thing – these guys can actually be pretty knowledgeable.

The next thing I learned is that they really try to make these RV shows a big deal/high energy event for the sales people as well. The days usually start out with a morning meeting, and they try to keep it exciting by having people having salespeople “spin the wheel” for prizes if they had sold something the day before – things like that. It was all hundred dollar bills, applause, and pep-talks.

Spinning the wheel for bonus cash. Believe it or not, Jim Hamill from RoadTrek was just off camera to the right. Honest.

Spinning the wheel for bonus cash. Believe it or not, Jim Hammill from RoadTrek was just off camera to the right. Honest.

There wasn’t actually too much mystery to the RV show. For the sales guys, myself included, things were pretty loose. We were supposed to clock in. But I only did once – the trailer with the time clock in it was a quarter mile away and it was about 110 degrees out most of the day. I tried to stay in the shade and just kept track of my hours on my phone.

Beyond that, there wasn’t much instruction. There was no “sales method” at work at the show. And there was certainly no instruction about phony “let me talk to my manager” conversations or other tricks like I was afraid there would be. I actually found that refreshing. We were free to be as honest as we could, and to do whatever seemed appropriate to help people out. For me – this included feeding potato chips to dogs.

They told me it was OK first…

They told me it was OK first…

I can’t say if all dealers work this way, but I was extremely pleased at the lack of “sleaze” at my dealer. However, one area where I thought things could improve was in the product knowledge of the “Show Dogs”.

I recognize that this is tough for the dealers. They don’t have enough regular sales people to staff a huge show like Pomona. So they hire who they can, but the product knowledge of those show dogs can be lacking. They try, but they certainly don’t get full factory training. For example, one of the other show dogs recognized Stef and me. We found this out when he saw us and exclaimed “Hey – you were in my training video!” While we were flattered, the reality is that he was no better informed than our average website reader. So keep that in mind at the big shows – if you’re reading this blog, you might know more than your show dog.

The way the dealers compensate for this is to mix the less knowledgeable guys in with some real experts. So, for the Winnebago Touring Coach display where we were, they had Russ Garfin on hand. They also had Stef and myself, and one of the super-knowledgeable show dogs named Dave. So, if the new guys got stumped, they didn’t have far to go to get the right answer.

But did I sell anything?

Oh sure, it says $81,898 on the window, but what will it take to put you in this Travato today?

Oh sure, it says $81,898 on the window, but what will it take to put you in this Travato today?

I think I had it easier than some of the other sales guys.  If folks were actually serious, and were considering a Travato, they had most likely done some research.  That meant they had probably come across our videos.  Talk about a great ice breaker!  And speaking of ice breaker, so is Lance.  We had people come in to the show looking for us because they had seen Lance in the parking lot!  (He’s hard to miss.)

But overall, let’s just say I don’t have a “killer instinct” when it comes to sales.  As a sales guy, I operated pretty much the way I roll on our website.  I gave people facts, straight-up.  I tried to learn what they were looking for in a motorhome, and what they needed.  And when I knew that, I gave them my opinion about what motorhome would best meet their needs.  Over the course of those few days, I actually guided a few people toward larger B+ and small C motorhomes, because I thought that would make them happier in the long run.

But I did have a few people who were genuinely interested, and for whom the Travato was – I thought – their best option in a motorhome. Take this guy for instance:

This guy was my best prospect of the whole show.

His name was George, and he was actually looking for a motorhome to live (mostly) full time in.  He was also a student, and was pretty big into outdoor recreation (surfing, if I remember correctly, in addition to the “driveway surfing” he had planned).  I honestly thought the Travato 59g was his best fit.  The separate dining/work area and sleeping area made a lot of sense for someone who admitted to never making the bed, and we figured the available kayak racks would be able to hold his surfboard.  He seemed to agree, and I turned this over to one of the “closers” to fill out the paperwork.

And then things got… weird…

Apparently, he had also been over to Pleasure-Way earlier in the day, and as the day was winding down, the Pleasure-Way rep called him back with a crazy good offer.  So then he was on the fence again.  Also, late in the game, there was some complication with finance.  I don’t know what, because I purposefully tried to AVOID learning about anyone’s finances.  There are some things I just don’t need to know.

But most disturbingly, there was “the other” RV sales person.  I don’t know if her name was Patty or Selma, but she reminded me of one of Marge Simpson’s chain smoking sisters.  She showed up for the first time just before the RV show closed, and she claimed that George was somehow “her” customer.  (I’m not kidding. She had not even been present at the Winnebago Touring Coach display for two whole days, up until thirty minutes before closing.  Whereas I had been talking with George for over two hours.)  She was apparently enraged that I was talking to “her” customer, and gave the manager an expletive-laden earful about it.  Classy.

And in the end, I don’t know what exactly happened with George.  The show was closing for the day, and we had to get back to Utah, so we split.  I don’t know what ever became of Selma/Patty, but I’m sure, at least Karmic-ally, she’ll get everything she has coming to her.  I don’t know if George went to Pleasure-Way and bought that Ascent for $29,995 (OK, maybe not that low, but it was a crazy offer on the table).  I just don’t know what happened.  We hopped back into Lance and headed home.

So a month or so later, I was very intrigued when I received a check from Mike Thompson Recreational Vehicles! I had no idea what to expect. I tore it open and, well, I got this:


From the attached paystub, I concluded that George never bought the Travato. Or, if he did, Selma/Patty somehow got the commission for it. But I also concluded that ten dollars an hour wasn’t too bad for doing the same thing I would have done at the show for free anyway.

So, all in all, it was an experience.  Would I do it again? Maybe… my license is good until 2018!  So, if you’re planning on going to the Pomona show next year, and you’d like to buy an RV… we should talk. 😉



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he's also an IT consultant.

    23 thoughts on “My Days as an RV Salesman

    1. Sonia Flanigan

      Oh, my husband and I are planning to go to Pomona this Fall to start our process of looking at RV / Class C or small C and narrowing down our options… it would be great to see you both there!

      We are a couple in your early 50’s looking to buy a small Class C or regular Class C in 2017. We love the reviews and so far, we are leaning toward the Winnebago Fuse but it is such a big, big RV world out there! I am going to do a ton of research but it would be easier to have a good solid reference point!

      I have a question for you and I would love to find out from someone who has such much experience looking at the underbelly of the RV!

      In terms of excellent build and quality of construction vs. best value for the $$ as well as what brands may be less likely to result in major problems over the years, what would be the top best five manufacturers for us to consider: Winnebago, Thor, Dynamax, Lazy Daze, Jayco, Leisure Travel, Coach House, Forest River, Gulf Stream, Coach Men, Pleasure Way, etc.

      Feel free to email me directly if you are unable to post on the blog 🙂 Your blog and reviews are outstanding and have been so helpful!

      Thank you-

      1. James - Post author

        Hi Sonia –
        Glad you like our blog. It sounds what you’re really looking for is some “Consumer Reports” like ranking of RV manufacturers.
        Since this is just a hobby for us, Stef and I don’t have the resources to pull something like that off. Certainly not fairly and objectively – it would just be largely unsubstantiated opinions. A proper list would be a big undertaking.
        If we had the money to buy a bunch of RVs and own them for a number of years, we would. (I wish!) But we don’t, so we do our best to check out new and exciting RVs, and give our honest opinions of them.

        1. Sonia Flanigan

          Makes sense! I realized the wide scope of my questions after posting. I guess, I must have been thinking out loud! LOL

          Btw, after my question to you, the answer came from a different source! I stumbled on a resource for reviews at The books or downloadable documents are available for purchase and it is very educational. It is exactly what we needed! It includes reviews of manufacturers and excellent advice for going through the process of choosing and purchasing the RV. Thought of mentioning here in case someone is also looking for something like that!


    2. Mike

      James you need to come to Gatlinburg,TN sometime and Cumberland Falls.Your doing what we would like to be doing.

    3. Betsy C

      I would definitely make an “appointment” in Pomona next year to buy a Travato from you! We’re in SoCal and hubbie is a competitive amateur golfer who wants to hit the road next year to travel to his tournaments. Make sure and post on here if you are planning to return. Thanks!

      1. James - Post author

        Betsy – you’re AWESOME! I’m sure we’ll be back at Pomona this fall. I’ll be sure we post here what days we’re going to be there.

    4. Kimberly


      As always, great post and…a great story. I forwarded the post to my mother so she can understand the dynamic when she goes to a show as a buyer.

    5. Al and Sherryl

      Informative read. Can’t really picture James having the ‘hard-core closing’ tactics, usually employed by salespeople. However, having said that, we have purchased three trucks from the same salesperson over the years. He had tons of knowledge and is just a nice, nice, nice person. Never pushy, never used questionable tactics. Interestingly, he just retired from sales at an interior BC dealership and relocated to a town within boating distance from us. So guess that speaks to how well-balanced he is too 😉 Anyway, our point is that with the exceptional knowledge, first hand experiences and charming personality that James has (he made us say that), we bet he would do extremely well selling RV’s, if he decided to.

    6. Terry McWilliams

      Hi James, thinking back to your mentioning of gas mileage after you first pick ed up the Travato now that you’ve got more miles on Lance, what are you averaging now ??

    7. Eric Eltinge

      I worked for one year at 2 new car dealerships. 3 months at Cadillac and 9 months at Jaguar. The best truest advice I got is that you need a little larcency in you heart to be a great salesman. At $300 mini commissions, you need to be a 10 car Tom, not a 5 car Fred, like me. For $1,500 a month, I got to work evenings and weekends. Better for the customer to buy through Costco or AAA and negotiate down. I just bought my new Winnebago ERA from a commercial truck dealer in Ohio, and I live in California. No nonsense!

      1. James - Post author

        Well, I’m certainly not contemplating a career change based on this experience!
        It was an interesting glimpse into another world though. I might do it again – maybe… – especially if one of our readers was already going to buy a coach anyway and wanted to help us out.
        It might be a way to finally make some money from The Fit RV!
        But I really just don’t have that “car salesman” gene.

        1. Mike

          Hey, if you come to BC, you should come to Vancouver Island (but all of BC is beautiful, really). Will buy you coffee 😉

    8. Andy & Kim

      DUHHH, I knew something was wrong. We forgot to ask for your credentials!
      I hope we didn’t cost you any sales taking up your time. Russ started giving us the fish eye in the end. Honestly we weren’t tire kickers, you can kick tires that are melting.
      Seriously, we’re glad you seemed to enjoy you foray into the world of sales. I was in that for about 20 years before I escaped to the serenity of IT. If there is a next time, just remember the 3 cardinal steps of sales ….
      Drag em in
      Tie em down
      Sign em up

      Happy trails,
      Andy & Kim

      1. James - Post author

        I wonder if Selma/Patty would have tried to claim you guys as her customers, too! lol.
        We’ve always got time for people like you. We’re glad you stopped by!


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