If you subscribe to our weekly email newsletter you’ve been seeing me mention last week’s dealer training conference for some time now. After hearing from a few of you curious about what exactly we were there presenting on, I thought I’d share it with y’all here.
Winnebago invited RV sales personnel from all over North America to come for a couple days’ worth of factory and rig tours as well as educational sessions from OEMs and Winnebago engineers. We were the guest lunch speakers asked to talk about the evolving RV buyer.
Frank Hugelmeyer, the President of RVIA, summed it up perfectly when he said this:
“Today’s consumer is changing, and the next generation of buyer is unlike anything we have seen to date.”
That was pretty much the running theme for our discussion. We broke our talk into 4 parts:
1. Who is this new type of RV consumer?
Trying to identify a non-traditional vs. traditional RV enthusiast gets tricky, but there are certainly some categories they tend to come from. For example:
Millenials: People born from around 1982-2000 (current ages 18-36) grew up in an age where the internet is the way of life. They’ve had information right at their fingertips and likely don’t remember life any other way. A few fun facts from Millenial Marketing: Millenials are 2.5x more likely to be early adopters of technology than any other age category. 79% of millenials would like to visit all 50 states. 69% say they crave adventure.
Gen Xers: People born from around 1965-1981 (current ages 37-53) are arguably the best educated generation with 29% obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher according to socialmarketing.org. Some very surprising research from Nielsen revealed that Gen X is the most connected generation. And how about this: Nielsen also found that Gen Xers use social media 40 minutes more each week than millennials! More surprises: Gen Xers are more likely than millennials to stay on their phones at the dinner table and spend more time on every type of device — phone, computer, or tablet. I can hear the millenials heckling us GenXers now… we used to give them so much grief when they were growing up, and now it’s us glued to our phones!
Outdoorsy Types and Specialized Hobbies that require gear: The new type of RV consumer isn’t only about age, it’s also tied to interests and activities. If an RV buyer identifies with a specific pursuit, like cycling, kayaking, surfing, climbing, etc., they’re likely a non-traditional buyer. If someone needs their RV to haul their musical equipment to their next gig, they’re a non-traditional. People that have gear requirements could probably care less about luxury appointments in their next RV, it’s all about the RV meeting the needs of what they want to DO. If their inflatable kayaks don’t fit in the storage space, they’re not interested no matter how pretty the coach is.
Other Non-traditional Road Warriors: By “other”, we mean groups like the young full-time families, solo travelers, as well as those working remotely. Any of these would fall into the non-traditional RVer category and are going to have specialized needs for their RVs.
Most of the non-traditional RVers out there are going to fall into at least one of those categories above. Besides those, there’s one other common thread. They all try to avoid, or even openly reject, established RV trends. So, for example, if you told them they could only take their RVs to traditional RV parks, they’d say no way. Walmart parking lots are more appealing than that. They want to take their rigs to remote and beautiful locations, and they prefer to seek out free campsites over commercialized ones. They don’t want to be hooked up if they can help it. Another example of the non-traditional RVers rejecting RV trends: many hate trips to RV dumps so much they change out their toilets for composting or cassettes.
2. How do they see RVs?
So, for an RV salesperson, the most important thing they should know about this different type of RV consumer is that these people are not really buying an RV. At least, not in the sense the dealerships are used to. Instead, they’re buying meaningful experiences, exciting adventures and memories that last a lifetime. The RV is just a catalyst to get them there. It’s merely a supporting role to the things they want to do. It’s not about “keeping up with the Jones’s” for these guys. Instead of posh appointments and aesthetics, the non-traditional want “useful”, they want technology, and they want self-sufficient RVs that require no hookups for as long as possible.
One of the best examples we’ve seen of non-traditionals seeking useful RVs that act as catalysts for their pursuits is watching the Revel at RV shows. Stick around long enough and you’ll see people checking out the Revel under bed storage area with a tape measure; writing down measurements from all sorts of angles. These people clearly have a very specific need and they’re checking to see if the Revel can meet that need. And if they measure and find there’s no way their gear will fit, not even the best sales guy is going to convince them to buy that rig.
3. Where do they get their information about RVs?
Being that the FitRV community is predominantly non-traditional RVers, we did a survey last spring asking our FitRV community this very question:
Granted, this is a slightly biased sample being that we polled people on our website AND we only asked about Class B’s, but still. We’d bet this isn’t that far off from an unbiased representative sample. The takeaway here is that dealers should be aware that people aren’t coming to them (or even their websites) as their primary source of information. They need to expect this and be OK with it.
There’s also another big area where non-traditionals are getting their information; one that probably rivals “other blogs and websites”:
The Wonderful World of Social Media
By that I’m mostly talking about Facebook groups, with my very own “Travato Owners and Wannabes” Facebook group a perfect example. I started that group in the summer of 2015 when we bought Lance. Since then, it’s grown to almost 7,000 members. SO many of the people joining the group do so because they’re in the “research phase” of ownership and they want to hear what actual owners have to say. This is something that’s evolved especially in recent years, and any sales person worth his/her salt is already in these groups following them closely and learning everything he/she can from actual owners.
4. How do they see the RV sales process?
As much as RV dealers are trying to get away from negative stereotypes of the RV buying experience, they still exist. So, when a non-traditional who is new to RV buying finally walks into the dealership, it’s quite likely they’ve got a pretty low bar set. They’ve braced themselves for a process filled with deception, similar to the used car “game.” They expect it to take hours (if not days).
Since non-traditionals value efficiency and are tech savvy, they’d much rather have the “Tesla” experience: no pressure showrooms, the ability to configure product online, and a cut-and-dried quick purchase process that doesn’t have them sitting around the dealership for hours on end. Unfortunately the RV sales process isn’t at the Tesla level just yet.
But just because the expectation is that the purchase process is going to be lengthy and adversarial doesn’t mean that’s the reality. With the bar set so low, it’s easy for dealerships to actually impress the RV buyer and streamline the process. Much of this falls on the RV sales person themselves. From our interviews over the years, we’ve observed the salespeople who are the most successful take on more of a “realtor” approach to working with their customers. Realtors work more as an advocate for their clients by learning their clients’ needs and requirements. They may not be an expert on all the houses they show, but they’re never afraid to say “I don’t know but I can find out,” as opposed to giving what might be inaccurate information just because they feel pressured to come off as an expert.
So there you have it, that was our discussion with RV sales personnel last week.
Now your turn! What about you?!! James and I would love to hear what your buying experiences were… good? bad? lengthy? Did anything surprise you? Until that Tesla experience arrives in the RV industry, let’s continue to share our own experiences. The more we do, the more pressure it creates for the RV industry to evolve and improve their sales processes.