Offering Dealers RV Solutions
Years later, Tom Utterback still vividly recalls the hassles associated with searching through multiple distributor catalogs trying to find customers the specific parts they needed for their RVs. So, about 10 years ago when he transitioned from working behind the parts counter at an RV dealership to heading up his own software business, he set out to do something about it.
“Working at the stores, particularly at the parts counter, it’s real obvious that every parts counter has lots of catalogs shuffled all over the desk. Basically, it’s a mess,” Utterback says. “A lot of times customers spend a lot of time there standing, waiting for the person behind the parts counter to research a part. I knew there had to be a better way.”
His solution was RV Partfinder, a computer program that allows parts personnel to quickly locate parts, prices, product images and other useful information. RV Partfinder has parts data from 17 RV distributors, with the ability for dealers to load specific price files supplied by the distributors, including the big three –Coast, NTP and Stag-Parkway – so it can cross-reference those distributor catalogs to find customers the exact part they need.
As a result, the program can reduce the amount of time that parts personnel would have spent searching through multiple catalogs and price books from perhaps 10-15 minutes to a matter of seconds, allowing them to be much more efficient, says Utterback, president of Garden Grove, Calif.-based RV Solutions. Additionally, the program allows parts personnel to create purchase orders to print and fax, or submit purchase orders directly to suppliers and keep track of parts to order using the handy “Order List” feature.
One particularly useful feature of RV Partfinder is that it provides current pricing from suppliers side-by-side for comparison purposes. Utterback says that, based upon some calculations he’s done, he conservatively estimates that dealerships using his RV Partfinder program save 10 percent on parts purchases throughout the course of a year.
“It’s not just the price of the parts, either. It’s the time spent on the phone – all of the things a parts guy does in the course of a day that he could do a bit quicker and look them up on the computer like Pep Boys or any auto parts store does,” he says. “So, we’re just trying to bring the industry more into an automated fashion like the automotive industry. But we’re not trying to cram our industry into the automotive industry model, because we all know that doesn’t work.”
And because RV Partfinder is Internet-based, Utterback says that new updates on products and prices are downloaded automatically and the information is accessible from anywhere with Internet access. “What’s real convenient about this is, if a business is using an online version (early versions were software-based), it lets the parts manager or owner log on from anywhere there’s Internet access to place orders or keep an eye on what’s moving,” he notes.
Utterback says another plus of RV Partfinder is its ease of use: parts employees can typically begin using the basic features of the program with as little as five to 10 minutes of training. If dealers have questions or need assistance, technical support is available from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.
Pricing for RV Partfinder varies based upon a number of factors, including the size of the business and its number of locations. “Generally, we’re trying to make them (businesses) realize that if we charge a monthly subscription fee to access the website to get the information, it’s not another expense and more overhead for the business, like a light bill or another telephone line would be. We’d really like them to look at it like a tool, like an air compressor, where you pay a little bit for it and it saves you every day and every time you use it,” Utterback says.
One happy RV Partfinder customer is Damon Bresaw, a senior parts associate with Bell Road RV in Phoenix. “I use them a lot; several times a day,” he says of the software program. “The ability to cross-reference is particularly handy for me. I can use a catalog part number from one supplier, put it in there, and it will cross-reference into a bunch of different suppliers, so that I can find stuff that maybe one supplier doesn’t have in stock. It helps me find parts a lot faster.”
Currently, about 500 to 600 businesses are using the program or a product demo on a regular basis; on any given day the number of businesses using the program averages somewhere between 200 and 300, Utterback says. He notes that parts searches using the program in the past 12 months totaled 2.2 million.
While RV Partfinder is an integral part of RV Solutions, Utterback is quick to note that it’s one of a number of services his company can provide to help dealers run their parts and service operations more efficiently and profitably. RV Solutions also offers Repair Partfinder for appliance breakdowns and also RV Google, a search engine specifically designed to help dealers find parts and accessories that might not be in their distributor catalogs.
RV Solutions also offers RV Parts Network (also known as Amazon RV), which is an online parts store plug-in for selling RV parts. Utterback says that RV Parts Network is not just another distributor catalog plug-in, as all parts are included, regardless of the distributors that stock the parts, and dealers can change the prices and the look of the presentation. Additionally, dealers have complete visibility to the orders as they come in.
RV Solutions also sells RV Business Controller, a point-of-sale software program Utterback developed in conjunction with CAM Commerce Solutions. He says the program assists dealerships by managing inventory, shop work orders, invoicing, customer tracking, accounts receivable, reordering and purchasing.
Utterback says the common denominator among the various programs he’s developed is that they are designed from the vantage point of someone who has worked in the RV industry for more than 30 years and wants to make the process easier for dealership personnel.
“Most of my ideas come straight from the users and the businesses. When they describe for me a situation or an idea they have I can picture myself doing exactly what they’re describing,” he says. “It makes it really easy for me to jump in their shoes and make a system that handles the situation.”