For years in the United States RV market, an unfortunate (and generally inaccurate) perception existed about Canadian dealerships. Many Americans believed that their north-of-the-border counterparts existed entirely as modestly sized operations selling mid-sized and smaller RVs.
In stark contrast, today a new breed of bigger-is-better Canadian dealership is breaking through that dated perception and showing that being big offers considerable advantages, but doesn’t necessarily detract from providing the quality service they’re known for.
Among this new breed, Calgary, Alberta-based Bucars RV Centre stands as a notable example. This 52-year-old staple of the southern Alberta RV community, under the leadership of brothers Jeff and Kyle Redmond, has grown large while maintaining an intimate experience for its customers.
On its 20-acre site, Bucars provides 6 acres for customer RV storage, a 40,000-square-foot dealership with 19,000 square feet of showroom space, a 5,000-square-foot parts store, and a 16,000-square-foot service department replete with 16 55-foot-long service bays and a 30,000-pound Class A hoist for even the biggest of big rigs. Some 10 technicians – all of whom are either certified RV technician journeymen or apprentices – masterfully move vehicles through various services.
According to Jeff Redmond, the dealership’s general sales manager, this admirable physical presence, in combination with the dedication to service and effective communication that has allowed it to grow significantly since its inception in 1959, allows Bucars to offer the best of both worlds: A great product selection and all the amenities of a large dealership with impeccable service.
“We believe you can be big and provide great service and support to your customer, all at the same time,” he says. “And we’re doing that.”
General Managers Kyle (left) and Jeff Redmond were proud to receive the Alberta Dealer of the Year Award on behalf of Bucars RV Centre. Photos courtesy of Bucars RV
This winning combination of products, parts and service has been a successful one, garnering the dealership a couple of high-profile awards in the past few years, including the RVDA of Alberta Dealer of the Year Award (which comes with an accompanying nomination for 2011 RVDA of Canada Dealer of the Year Award) and a Top 50 Dealers Award in 2010 from a respected RV trade magazine.
A Focus on Product Selection
While many large RV dealers in North America focus on carrying all of the industry’s premier brands, Bucars takes a more selective approach in an effort to better serve its customers.
Redmond says he and his team focus on establishing long-term relationships with a certain type of manufacturer.
“One of the top areas of concern, of course, is always the quality of the manufacturer’s product,” he says. “That being said, we also prefer to do business with privately held companies whenever possible.”
By doing business with privately held companies, Redmond believes he receives a higher level of communication and service than what he’s experienced with many of the publically traded manufacturers he’s worked with over the years. That, in turn, allows him to provide a better experience for his customers.
Bucars RV continues to prosper thanks to the efforts of its “Vision Team.” Pictured are (left-to-right): J.C. McLeod, (parts manager), Lisa Finkbinder (business manager), Tom Bauer (sales manager), Jeff and Kyle Redmond (general managers), Paul Sinclair (service manager), Brian Mackenzie (assistant service manager), Don Fisher (controller) and Dave Westhaver (sales manager).
“We prefer to do business with manufacturers that have owner-operators working on their business on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “We pride ourselves on clear and concise communication with our customers, and in order to do that you often need clear and concise communication from your suppliers.
“With a big, publically traded company you sometimes have to go through many levels of middle managers to get to the person who can make a tough decision,” he adds. “We don’t have time to do that, so we prefer to deal with companies that are run day-to-day by their owner operators.”
Redmond says the fast-moving nature of the RV business inherently requires quick action from both manufacturers and dealers in order to address the needs of RV owners.
“When we need something done immediately, I can get on the phone with that other owner or operator and make things happen,” he adds. “I’ve found that people who are more personally invested in their company have more pride in the reputation of their company and pride in their brand. That type of person is more personally connected to maintaining that reputation.”
Bucars RV Centre differentiates itself from its competitors, Redmond says, by specializing in “high-end diesel pushers, but we also offer the best mid- to high-end trailers, fifth wheels and gas motorhomes.”
Contrary to the perception of some U.S. dealers, there is a market for large motorhomes in Canada. Bucars RV successfully retails all types of RVs, including large diesel pushers.
Bucars RV features 16 55-foot-long service bays capable of accommodating even the largest motorhomes and park models. The dealership has a 30,000-pound Class A hoist for even the biggest rigs.
Sinclair keeps things moving in the service shop. The dealership employs 10 technicians, all of whom are either certified RV technician journeymen or apprentices.
Today, the company primarily offers products from KZ RV, Jayco, Outdoors RV, Carriage Resort Vehicles, Newmar, Tiffin Motorhomes, Breckenridge Parks, Woodland Park and Earthbound RV.
The company’s commitment to creating the right relationships – not just the highest profile ones – extends to the company’s long-standing policy on choosing emerging products and product lines as well. After learning the hard way to avoid hopping on each new bandwagon to come down the highway, Bucars now takes a more measured approach.
“We have always worked on developing long-term relationships with the manufacturers we partner with,” Redmond says. “We don’t just jump to the next greatest concept to come along, but focus instead on building brand awareness with the best in the industry. Sometimes what seems to be the latest and greatest development in the industry turns out to be lacking a year or two later.”
Redmond cites as a prime example moving toward the first hybrid RV models on the market when they were introduced. Bucars made an exception to its policy and went with the first brand available, when waiting for a hybrid model from a more trusted manufacturer would have been a more prudent move.
“At the time they were the only ones offering a hot new product, so we took a chance,” he says. “But within a few years every manufacturer had them and we could have avoided some headaches.”
Prime Location for Great Service
As with any other business that requires 12 acres of land to sustain its operations, Bucars RV Centre thrives by having a great space in an ideal location that benefits its day-to-day operations. The dealership is located about 30 minutes directly north of downtown Calgary, just off of Highway 2, the country’s second busiest highway, according to Redmond.
This location, he says, benefits the company in a number of ways. First and foremost, it provides Bucars with adequate space for its operations and high visibility. Secondly, it does so without breaking the bank.
“RVers are travelers at heart and they don’t mind road-tripping to a destination facility like what we’ve created here,” he says. “When you’re this big, you need to acquire that land at a reasonable price, and that’s just not possible in a large urban area. Beyond that, it has to have great access and visibility, and we feel that we have both of those elements in our current space.
At the moment, Bucars RV Centre utilizes its space to host an admirable selection of all classes of RVs, and also prides itself on offering the largest parts department in Southern Alberta, featuring “tens of thousands of essential, name-brand accessories, plus hundreds of difficult-to-find specialty items.”
That includes plumbing and electrical products, appliances and associated parts, awnings, hitches and hitch accessories, air conditioners, camping accessories and even solar panels and other cutting-edge technical products.
Unlike many other dealerships of its size, Bucars offers a full lineup of services to any customer who walks through its doors – both those who purchased their new or used RV from Bucars and those who purchased elsewhere.
“Once a customer experiences the care and passion that Bucars provides both for its own customers and those of other dealerships, when it comes time to buy they’re often going to choose us,” he says. “Once they experience our service, we’ve got a great chance of winning their business in the future.”
To that end, Bucars provides everything from pre-trip maintenance services ranging from checking wheel lug torque, tire wear and pressure and battery condition, to full annual inspections that monitor roofs, vents and sealants, testing for gas and carbon monoxide, cleaning and adjusting furnace and water heaters, 12-volt and 110-volt electrical checks, and a host of other regular maintenance items. The company does minor fiberglass and body work in-house, and specializes in the installation of solar systems, inverters, satellite units and hitch systems.
About the only work Bucars doesn’t do in-house is chassis work and some major paint and body repair, which it currently subs out to local specialists. Even some of these more intensive services may be done in-house, though, according to Redmond.
“Over the long-term, we would like to add a full paint and body area and move those operations into that space,” he says. “Right now we contract out our paint repair work and it’s just getting tough to find other people that have the same dedication to quality control that we have.”
Plus, Redmond suspects that by becoming an RV paint and body repair specialist itself, Bucars might just attract some work from other dealers and their customers.
“We would love to do that and bring them into the Bucars family,” he says.
The Times They Are a-Changin’
While Bucars RV Centre’s continued success over the years clearly indicates the dealership has developed a successful strategy, Redmond makes a point to note that many aspects of the RV business continue to change from year to year. That reality requires the dealership to change as well.
“One of the biggest changes we have seen has been the sheer size of units, which has made our service bays larger and display areas tighter,” he says. “And, in general, consumers are more demanding. We are in a now generation and with the Internet all consumers now have the research at their finger-tips at all times. Because of that, we need to be better trained on our products and our competitors’ products.”
Sales team members (left-to-right) Westhaver, Redmond and Bauer make sure the dealership carries the right mix of product for customers. The dealership prefers to carry RVs from privately held manufacturers, which it feels are more responsive to its needs.
McKenzie helps make sure that work on customers’ RVs gets done in a professional and timely manner.
In response to that changing reality, Bucars now focuses more than ever on training its salespeople and other staff on trends within the RV market.
“Whether in parts, service or sales, we have to be on our game,” he says.
Despite that dedication to keeping staff on the cutting edge of new developments, sales numbers at Bucars RV Centre, like so many other North American dealerships, have struggled to regain the momentum experienced before a few dreadful years at the end of the 2000s.
Today, says Redmond, “Business is good. It’s not great yet, but it’s very good. We continue to increase market share and our CSI is better than ever. We would like to grow back to our 2007 levels.”
To do so, Redmond and his team are employing a number of both traditional and new media marketing efforts to increase sales.
“Although our biggest source of new sales is referrals – after providing our customers with outstanding service for over 50 years we have a steady stream of repeat and referral business – we have invested heavily in our online presence,” says Redmond. “Whether it’s our website, online classifieds, e-mailers or social media, we are doing it.”
Despite the rapid changes to the industry and mounting pressures from the larger economy, Redmond says one thing remains constant and keeps him and Bucars RV Centre on the right track: His passion for the industry and, more importantly, the people who make up the RV community.
“RVers are generally good-natured people,” he says. “They love building relationships with friends, family and even strangers. When you can help them to do that in a better or more comfortable way, it’s a great feeling. There are few things in business that are more rewarding than getting an e-mail from a customer who just returned from a great trip, thanking you for what you’ve done for them. That’s what keeps us motivated and that’s why I personally love this work.”