Ray Dwyer has one answer when people meet him outside of work and ask him what he does for a living.
“I sell funmobiles,” he says.
After 40 plus years selling nothing but vans, campervans and specifically Class B motorhomes, Dwyer is the undisputed Dean of the Class B RV world. He’s forgotten more about the business than most dealers will ever know and at the age of 72, he says today’s generation of small motorhomes are the most efficient, technologically advanced, safe and practical machines the RV industry has ever seen.
Dwyer owns and runs Van City RV in St. Louis, MO and when our route took us near the area, we had to visit. Back when I was first starting this blog, in March of 2012, Dwyer was the first person in the industry to notice us and he called me up and gave me some advice that has become the guiding light of all we do on roadtreking.com
“Write about what the Class B RV can do,” he said. “Write about the lifestyle and the people and places Class B owners will meet out there while they are living their dreams.”
So, the other day, I spent several hours with him at Van City RV, tapping his brain for new insights.
“What we’re seeing right now is a major emphasis on downsizing,” he says. “I’d bet close to 50% of our business comes from people with Class As who want something more drivable. Many of the Class A owners are getting older and while they don’t want to quit traveling, the big huge motorhome is getting to be too much. The wife is worried that if the husband gets ill or can’t drive, that she’ll have to take the wheel. So they come to us and find that with a Class B, they can keep traveling and, frankly, enjoy RVing even more.”
The first lesson Class A owners need to learn is “they don’t need all the stuff they thought they did.”
He recalls a couple who showed up with their Class A to unload their possessions into their new Roadtrek. “They started hauling stuff out and it literally filled our parking lot,” he says.”They were amazed at all the stuff they were carrying around that they never needed or used. They had to go get a big U-Haul trailer to take it all back home where they probably sold it on a garage sale.”
The other half of his business comes from new retirees, people “anxious to live their dream and go out there and have fun.”
About 25% of his sales are to women, he says.
Many of those shopping for their first motorhome have the same question: Why should I buy a B when for the same money I can get a big Class A with slides?
Dwyer has a rather unique answer.
“I tell them that’s true, he said. “They do cost the same. But so does a dump truck and a Cadillac. But which one are you going to use the most? The Cadillac. I don’t mean to offend anyone but just like with a dump truck and a Cadillac, a Class A is used one way, a Class B another. Class A people tend to drive it to one place and sit for a few months. Then they drive it back home and store it for a few more months. Class B owners use their motorhomes all the time. They tour and travel and move around and are always on the go.”
He is not against Class A motorhomes. But…
“I tell people if you want to see every mile of every interstate, buy a Class A because that’s pretty much the only place you’ll be driving it and all you’ll ever see is what’s on either side of the interstate.”
And the rest of the time, Class As pretty much stay put. Dwyer shakes his head at that thought. “If it sits in the driveway or storage or on a cement slab somewhere for 80% of the time, where’s the value in that?”
Class Bs, meanwhile, “are meant to roam.”
“If you measure square foot-for-the-dollar, I wouldn’t be in business,” he said. “But it’s not about size. It’s about lifestyle. If you want to do things, go places, tour and see and have adventures, it’s a B that will get you there best.”
To Dwyer, it’s a matter of getting the most value out of a motorhome. “That means using it,” he said. “If you’re just going to sit in it and look at it in the driveway, there’s no value. These things are meant to be driven and used. They’re funmobiles.”
Dwyer didn’t start out in the RV business. He actually began his career as a butcher. Starting in high school and for a couple of years after. Then, when a friend was selling a dry cleaning business, he bought that. Eventually, he ended up with a chain of 10 dry cleaning shops. But then, at the age of 33, he developed cancer, something he believes came from exposure to the harsh chemicals then used in dry cleaning.
A lot of treatments later, he came through and changed his career path. “I always liked automobiles and tinkering,” he said. “Especially with vans. I’d buy them, fix them up, add some seats and customization and then resell them.”
He opened Van City in 1970 and, as new Class B campervans started being produced, eventually changed it to Van City RV.,
He became one of the first Roadtrek dealers. “Back in the early days,” he said, “they could only produce so many so fast and they had us on allotment. I could only get one a month, 12 a year.”
He sells much more than that now. His lot has every model Roadtrek on display, including a wide selection of previously used Roadtreks. He also sells Pleasure-Way, Renegade and Leisure Travel Van models.
“I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for Roadtreks,” he said. “Roadtrek was the pioneer. They are the ones responsible for the Class B market. They’ve always understood what their customers want. They want mobility, freedom and ease of operation.”
The biggest change he’s seen over the years has been the Internet. “The customer has all the power these days,” he said. “Because of the Internet, they can shop pricing and features and they know exactly what they want.”
Most of his sales come from out of state buyers who make their purchases, sight unseen.
Dwyer’s been married 49 years and has two grown children. In the early years, he did a lot of RVing himself, especially in Southern Missouri. That gave him a love for the Ozarks so much that he bought up several hundred acres of land and built a cabin there. He is in Van City RV most every day. He especially likes hanging out in the repair shop with his nephew Dan, who handles service.
The phone rings all day long from across the country from the Internet shoppers. The dealership is constantly heading out to the St. Louis Airport, picking up out-of-state customers coming in to pick up a coach they bought sight unseen.
And as they drive off in their new “funmobile,” Dwyer smiles.
“I feel good about every sale,” he said. “We’re seeing people heading off to do something they’ve been dreaming about for a long time.”