Dave Barry, owner of Barton Lake RV, says both his business and the Jellystone campground, operated separately by his parents and family, rely upon each other in different ways. But, it wasn’t until the dealership took a play out of Yogi Bear’s “do-it-the-simple-way” playbook in 2008 that it began paving the way to boosting business.
Barton Lake RV is located adjacent to a Jellystone Park Camp Resort. The dealership and resort are owned by members of the same family, but the businesses are operated separately. Still, the close proximity of the businesses benefits both operations.
“Before, we sold high-end fifth wheels, but at the end of each year, we’d look at it and see the average turn wasn’t great. And that consumer is a shrewd buyer,” says Steve Wilcox, the dealership’s general sales and marketing manager. “In re-evaluating, we just didn’t replace those. In 2008, we sold the last high-end fifth wheels.”
That year, the dealership decided to exclusively offer Keystone towable products and to vault the Cougar line as its version of high-end, according to Wilcox.
“It’s maybe the best move we’ve made,” he says. “Instead of having warranty at 2-3 different manufacturers and having to deal with all of them, we just became a Keystone-only dealer. The advantage is that they’re the largest manufacturer of towables, and name recognition comes with that.”
The dealership currently offers several Keystone lines – Cougar, Hornet, Hideout, Bullet, Premier, X-Lite and High Country – and a fleet of used towables on its sales lot. It also sells new park models by Breckenridge. The dealer keeps an inventory of about 50 new and 50 used units at any one time, Wilcox says.
Barton Lake RV’s decision to focus on lower-priced product was a timely one, as sales of motorhomes and higher-end product nosedived nationally in 2008 and 2009.
Barton Lake RV owner Dave Barry is pictured outside the dealership with Jag, a Yellow Labrador who serves as the official mascot and greeter for the business.
“We draw from the Fort Wayne, Ind., market and the surrounding area and we just don’t feel like motorhomes, or a real high-end product, is our niche,” Wilcox says. “To be frank, in ‘08 and ‘09, when things got bad, we focused on that $15,000-$30,000 product that sold well for us. We just focused on what we did right and in hindsight it was the right thing to do.”
2010 was the dealership’s best sales year by 10 percent, according to Barry.
“Last year was our best year and I thought we’d have a hard time matching that,” he says. “But this year we’ve gone over by probably 20 percent.”
As of November, Barton Lake RV had already moved 251 units this year. Forty-five percent of the sold units were new towables, and 55 percent were used towables and park models. Barry says the dealership will reach more than $4 million in sales this year. He says that’s far better than what it earned with the “decent” sales it experienced in the mid-2000s, and the lean years of the Great Recession.
“2008 and 2009 were down years. We saw a little bit of a dip, but it wasn’t as drastic as the whole industry,” Barry says. “I think we’re small enough, we were able to maintain a certain level of sales.”
Selling Keystone exclusively also gave Barton Lake RV a geographical competitive advantage.
“We’re the only Keystone dealer in 75-100 miles in all four directions, which is how you’re successful in this: To have some protected territory in all four directions, if possible,” Wilcox says.
Keystone’s operations also fit the mentality of Barton Lake RV, a small-sized business that employs 12 full-time workers.
The Yogi Bear Connection
The dealership also has developed synergy with the neighboring Jellystone campground, which also has experienced a recent uptick in business.
“In 2008-2009, our campground became a destination for a lot of people, as opposed to a bigger trip that would’ve cost more money, like Disney World or Yellowstone National Park,” Wilcox says. “Therefore, the campground thrived in a down market. And we played off, to a certain extent, the attendance that the campground had, which brings us business.”
Campers regularly wander away from the campground to casually browse the sales floor or the parts and accessory store.
Members of the Barton Lake RV team are pictured next to a fifth wheel. The dealership has done very well selling Keystone RV products, such as the Cougar, Hideout, Hornet, High Country, Premier and X-Lite.
“The campground is our biggest form of referrals,” Wilcox says. “A surprising amount of them decide to buy while they’re here on vacation. We end up with customers that may not have been here otherwise.”
Customer service is an essential quality at Barton Lake RV, where employees are encouraged to treat customers well, but also to allow them space to shop.
“We have real relaxed approach to the sales and shopping atmosphere – and even the closing and the orientation segments,” Wilcox says. “We’re just small enough that we can keep all of our team members on the same page with what we believe regarding customer service.”
Wilcox offers an example of elevated customer service provide by the Barton Lake RV team.
“If (a customer) has never towed something, one extra step we do is to try to make sure they’re comfortable with the towable components. That’s such a big safety issue,” he says. “I’ll see our service team take a customer around our five-mile block quite often to get them comfortable with the towing before we turn it over them completely. The extra step means good service.”
Paying attention to every detail when making a sale translates into return customers, Barry says.
“We try to make sure that everything we told them during the sale process is fulfilled when they come back and see us,” he says. “You get so many people, sales people especially, who promise the world, and then once that customer signs on the dotted line, something is missing. We try to make sure they’re as satisfied during the sale process as they are after the sales process.”
Families are the most common demographic at the dealership, but retired-aged customers and snowbirds also purchase units.
Barton Lake RV, rurally situated on 7 acres in the northeast corner of Indiana, draws customers from three states: Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. It’s strategically located just off the east-west Indiana Toll Road (I-80), and the north-south I-69. Elkhart, Ind., is 60 miles to the west; Toledo, Ohio, is 90 miles to the east; and Detroit is within a two-and-a-half hour drive.
Marketing efforts for the dealership are primarily focused 52 miles to the south in the Fort Wayne market, which has a population of 350,000-400,000 people, according to Wilcox.
“We keep it fairly simple from a marketing standpoint. We do some area billboards based on our location. We spend money in print in only a couple exclusive areas we found work for us. And we do some radio in-season,” he says. And a lot of money really goes back toward our Internet efforts. We call that part of our marketing program.”
Barton Lake RV is one of seven dealers to exhibit at the Fort Wayne RV and Camping Show every year. This year, the dealership purchased 12,700 square feet of exhibit space at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, where the show takes place Feb. 2-5. The event typically attracts more than 10,000 paid attendees, according to Wilcox.
Barton Lake RV believes in having a fully-stocked parts department. Due to its proximity to campground, it sells a good amount of camping accessories, toys and dog accessories.
Barton Lake RV refers to the three components of its business – RV sales, parts store, and service center – as the RV triangle. All components are viewed as equally important by management, according to Barry.
“We never took our focus off any of the three when, four years ago, the market says maybe you should,” he says.
“We had a choice to not stock parts in our store like some dealers around us maybe weren’t doing when dollars were tougher. We took an opposite approach,” Wilcox says. “We bought a little more show space, we continued to stock parts in our store, and we had gains in all those departments, except in 2009, when everyone struggled at their worst.”
Camper-Friendly Parts Store
Barry says the parts store, managed by Jan Wilcox, is “part of our secret to our success.” Barry says he figures if campground customers have a good browsing experience, they will “be comfortable doing business with us at a larger level.”
Due to its proximity to the campground, the dealership sells plenty of camping accessories, like games, toys, patio lights, dog accessories, toilet paper, and RV chemicals. Hardware and parts are kept in a back storage room.
After a customer receives orientation on their new unit, the customer service manager leads them through the store. Upon picking up their new RV, Barton Lake RV customers receive a 15 percent discount voucher for the parts store, instead of receiving a starter kit.
“We used starter kits for years, and unless you get the high-dollar starter kit, they’re worthless,” Wilcox says.
Service Made to Order
The Barton Lake RV service department, managed by Dan Sichling, is slightly hampered by the four-bay, 4,000-square-foot shop it utilizes, according to Barry.
“That was one of the mistakes we made in the beginning. We have a large enough shop to get multiple units in, but instead of putting the bays on the side, where we could make full use of the 100- by 40-foot (space), we put them in the end of the building,” he says. “The original thought was, ‘Well, we’ll just drive them in and work on them, and then drive them out.’”
Barry says there have been discussions about adding to the service building or to other facilities on campus, but nothing is imminent.
“Our building is getting to be a little more than 15 years old, so there’s probably some things we probably need to spend some money on,” he adds.
The service department employs four service techs and six workers total. The service technicians also travel outside the dealership to other local campsites to provide service, according to Barry.
Customers at work who receive service at the dealership are updated through e-mail correspondence about the status of their vehicle as to not interrupt them, he says.
Stag PRO Educated
Barton Lake RV is not a member of the RV Dealers Association. For continuing education, the dealership relies upon the Stag PRO (Professional Retailing Organization) program by Stag-Parkway (see related story on page 51).
“A lot of the concepts and things we’ve learned at Stag PRO are part of what we do. But, a lot of it is overview for great customer service. It’s a great program,” Wilcox says.
The dealership’s service technicians receive certification from RVIA. But, a large part of the education for its employees comes through trips to the Keystone factory in Elkhart.
“We need to know how they’re put together, what the components are, and learn as we go on what we sell. Keystone doesn’t have individual training, so to speak, with certification, but we’re constantly training,” Wilcox says.
The one Barton Lake RV employee who doesn’t need any education – or a paycheck, for that matter – is Jag. Jag is Barry’s much-adored 7-year-old Yellow Labrador that serves as the official greeter for customers as they enter Barton Lake RV.
“He has literally been trained to go out and greet customers when they come through the door. Too funny,” Wilcox says with a chuckle. “People come and they love him. We didn’t realize this was going to be this popular when we started it.”
Jag is used in the dealership’s advertising – his image is used on print ads and his spirited bark can be heard in the radio ads.
“He’s part of the relaxed atmosphere and people just seem to love him,” Barry says.
“Kids come up out of the campground just to see him. They see him on the website; they hear him on the radio ads, barking. And he’s in our print ads as well. So he’s really become part of our team.
“I don’t want to say he’s the best employee; he’s just loyal,” Barry says with a laugh. “He’s only late if the boss is late.”