RV Education 101: More Than Filling a Gap
That is why, in the late ‘90s, when an idea to help RVers become more knowledgeable about their units came to him as he sat at his desk at a dealership where he worked as the F&I manager, he jumped on it.
“When I was selling RVs, it was obvious to me that when the average customer came in, they did not have a great understanding of the RV, including RV weight issues, cleaning and care and safety,” Polk said. “From a safety standpoint alone, I felt like something needed to be done.”
In late 1999 to early 2000, RV Education 101 was born.
“It was really just a lack of educational material available to the consumer—basically when I sold a unit at the dealership I worked for, the customer was overwhelmed,” he said. “We offered a one-to two-hour class discussing how to use the RV, but by the time the (customer) got home, they forgot most of what was covered in the class.
“Customers were calling me from home, and at that point in time, I knew something had to be done to help the consumer about RVs in general,” added Polk.
When Polk first arrived at the idea to produce educational RV videos, he looked at it more as an effective way for his dealership to educate potential consumers before they came in to buy an RV. Also, it killed two birds with one stone by allowing his dealership to cut down on the time it spent on its training classes.
Polk did his research and couldn’t find any RV training videos—so he decided to leave his dealership, and venture into his own business entirely.
“When we first started with the business , our goal was to produce some orientation videos specific to different types of RVs and market the videos to dealerships so they could provide new customers with educational material,” Polk said. “I soon realized if I continued down that road, I wouldn’t be in business for very long.”
Dealerships weren’t very responsive to Polk’s videos, so he and his business partner and wife, Dawn Polk, decided to market their videos directly to the consumer.
“We looked at more of an Internet business geared to the consumer,” he said. “So we branched out from the basic walk-through videos to more of a specialized-operational training.”
Thus, Polk launched “Mark’s RV Garage,” an Internet-based series of videos filmed on Polk’s property, where he discusses a wide range of RV how-to topics. The videos are then made accessible to RVers, both new and old, via his website at www.rveducation101.com.
“I try to keep topics pretty general in nature,” Polk said. “Say, for example, when we do a segment on tire care and maintenance, every RV has tires, so everyone watching will benefit from the episode.”
Polk added he also likes to do a mix of broad to specific video segments ranging from easy product installations to how to back up a fifth wheel.
“I think the average person watching the show gets something from it—even if the whole show may not apply (directly) to every viewer—they might get something from it. At least that is what we hope.”
While Polk said most of his videos are equally popular in regards to the number of views they receive, he said his feature segment on vintage trailer restoration is the most popular.
“That has the most draw to the show in general, and because of that, that is why our (viewer) numbers are so close,” he said. “People see what is involved with a restoration, and there is a lot to be learned.”
Polk is always looking for good RV-related stories. His wife handles a lot of the social media content with Facebook and Twitter, which is a great way to gain input from the consumer on upcoming video topics or general tips, Polk said.
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve gone full circle with the material I can write (scripts) about when it comes to RVs, but there is always something to write about,” he said. “There are new consumers coming into the market every day, and what we might consider old material, is new material to them.
“I just have always felt if you give people what they want, they will keep coming back for more,” Polk added. “With RVers, they want knowledge and information, and if we give them that, they’ll hopefully come back and pass that on to other RVers.”
Polk and RV Education 101 explored other options in its quest to educate the RVer. Three years ago, RV Education 101 DVDs were sold in Walmart stores, and Polk sold more than 44,000 of his RV books.
“We still see residual from that every day,” he said. “Our DVD is in the book, so we still have people contacting us from that and our books are still sold in Camping World stores. We also distribute a flier in RV starter kits.”
Polk said he is also once again marketing through dealers.
“It goes back to our original game plan where we market through dealers,” he said. “What I discovered over the years is if a dealer is customer-orientated then they respond well to our videos. If they are not, then they have little or no interest in our products at all.”
Season one of “Mark’s RV Garage” is currently in production. Plans for a season two is also in the works, as well as plans to begin printing updates to Polk’s books. Eventually, Polk said he’d like to see his video series grouped according to topic, and sold in a packaged format.