As Jennifer and I have traveled across North America, we've come to realize that the RV business – more often than not – is a family affair.
Yes, there are big chains and superstores and impersonal corporate players out there. But it's been our experience that the best dealerships – the most successful ones – are built on much more than scale and marketing
They are built on relationships.
And that is particularly true wth Fretz RV in Souderown, PA, about 30 miles north of Philadelphia. We've met Steve Fretz (that's Steve shown above) and his crew several times before: At America's Biggest RV show in Hershey, PA over the past two years and the big RV industry trade show in Louisville, KY after Thanksgiving every fall.
Steve invited us to stop by if we were ever in the area and so, this week, we did just that. I was looking to interview an industry leader for the podcast on what consumers can do to make sure they are getting the best deal when they buy an RV and we also wanted to pick up some advice on what those in northern climates should do when winterizing an RV, something lots of folks better be doing pretty soon.
I sat Steve down for the podcast interview (you can hear him next week on Episode 112), and Fretz rep Mike Myers obliged in a Facebook Live video that you can see below.
But in the process of hanging out at the dealership, we learned just how much of a family affair it is and, most importantly, how ethical business practices have made the Fretz one of the most honored RV dealerships in the country. In fact, this year, Fretz has been chosen as 2016 Dealer of the Year by review website DealerRater.com.
The walls of the dealership are filled with other awards, including many from Roadtrek Motorhomes. Fretz is the oldest Roadtrek dealer anywhere. December 7 will mark its 29th year for selling Roadtreks.
It all started in 1946 when Steve's grandfather, Wilmer D. Fretz, opened as a small country hardware store, selling hardware items and horse tack. Eventually he added horse trailers, and then, in 1967, pop up campers and then travel trailers and in 1986, Roadtrek. Steve's grandpa passed the dealership on to Steve's Dad and he in turn turned it over to Steve, though his Dad still shows up several times a month to talk RVs. Most of their sales come folks in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, though thanks to the Internet, they have customers from across the country.
“Our goal is to make sure our customers are treated like family and leave here feeling great about their choice to buy from us,” says Steve. “That's been our guiding principle since my grandpa started this business 70 years ago.”
The Fretz family loves Class B motorhomes. Besides Roadtreks, they sell Pleasure-Ways and Leisure Travel Vans. There are lots of Jayco towables, some Winnebagos and even a couple of Class A's, too.
I asked Steve what he thought the biggest issue facing the RV industry is and, like others, he was quick to note the challenge of meeting demands for maintenance and service.
I've heard this from a lot of dealers. Think of it. It's really a seasonal business in northern states. The busy time is April through September. Across the country, dealerships struggle with meeting demand. Hire too many techs and they have to lay some off every winter. Not enough and they end up with huge backlogs.
Fretz's solution is to run his service shop on two shifts, basically 7am to Midnight during peak times. He also invests heavily in training and the walls of his service center are lined with diplomas attesting to the skill and expertise of his team.
There's no doubt the RV industry is booming these days. While all RVs are selling well, Class B motorhomes are selling faster than any other type. In September, Class B shipments were up 51% over the same month last year. Class C's were up 12% while Class A's actually declined by 12%
“Class B motorhomes are just so useable,” says Steve. “You can put them in your driveway and they look great and you can use them to run errands around town or just take off and go. That's not so on the bigger motorhomes out there. Plus, I think people who are retiring today are more active, more mobile than past generations of RV buyers.”
We spent the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon touring the dealership, doing our interviews and videos.
It was a good visit that taught us a very valuable lesson: Good guys really do finish first.