Dealer owners Mick and Lora Ferkey attribute ongoing education to the success they’ve enjoyed with their Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., dealership. They’ve returned the favor by making scholarships available for other dealers to attend this year’s RVDA Convention & Expo.
Mick Ferkey started out as a service technician in 1977. Within two years, he was the service manager and helping out the sales team at Greeneway RV in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. He was so adept on the sales floor that the sales manager, and owner, suggested they switch jobs. It was that move that allowed Ferkey to get a firm grasp on what it takes to run a successful RV dealership: knowledge and education.
He got another helping hand in 2002 when he was elected as an RV Dealers Association delegate from Wisconsin.
“The more I got involved, the more I was impressed by the people. It impressed me so much I wanted to get more involved. I got a lot more back than I put in, he says. “It’s like anything else, you put so much time in and learn so much.”
One of the most important things he learned from RVDA was the importance of providing continuing education opportunities for his employees. Since he became an RVDA delegate, he has brought in a variety of sales instructors to his dealership and invested in online training for his sales and service staff to make them more knowledgeable about the latest sales techniques and service requirements.
Scholarships Help Fellow Dealers with Continuing Education
Ferkey says his experience with RVDA has proved invaluable to him in growing his own business. Now, as the chairman of the RVDA Marketing Task Force, he’s found a way to give back to the organization: scholarships to the annual RVDA Convention & Expo.
Ferkey and his wife Lora donated $5,000 to establish 10 scholarships ($500 each) allowing fellow dealers to send their employees to the annual RVDA conference in Las Vegas this month.
Any RVDA member dealer or dealership employee who was not registered for the 2010 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo was eligible to apply for a scholarship. This means a new registration from a dealership not already registered for the convention, or an additional employee registration from a dealership already registered. Dealers could use the $500 scholarship to defray travel costs, hotel rooms, or the convention registration fee.
“I’m the taskforce chairman for marketing in the RVDA and found that a lot of dealers wanted to send additional employees to the convention, but couldn’t afford it,” Ferkey explains of his decision to provide the scholarships. “I talked to my wife and we agreed to step up.”
As a result of the scholarship program, which began last year, Ferkey received the RVDA’s Chairman’s Service Award in 2009. It was the second time he’s earned the honor; he also won in 2007.
Educated Employees Help Create Loyal Customers
The Ferkeys strongly believe that education and training are vital components to success. Given that an educated employee is more likely to create a loyal customer, the Ferkeys believe it was important to find a way to get more people to the conference.
“We’ve been blessed by the RV industry,” says Ferkey. “They’ve been very good to us as a dealership. Other dealers are not as fortunate as we are. When times are tough, the first thing that dealers do is pull back, but you cannot cut back on education.”
The Ferkeys blessings are born out of hard work and an eye toward the future of their business. Greeneway started in 1963 and the Ferkeys bought half of the business from the original owners in 1987 and the remainder in 1989. The dealership has been on a growth curve ever since then, becoming one of the largest towable dealers in Wisconsin and selling the most fifth wheels in the entire state.
That didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen by chance. Instead, Ferkey says that he and Lora took several specific steps to grow their business.
“We wanted to modernize the place,” explains Ferkey, who has been in the RV business since 1977. “We wanted to make sure the customer felt like this was a place they wanted to come to when they were looking for an RV.”
Ferkey believes that kind of environment comes from a professional appearance and, perhaps more importantly, professional attention to detail.
“We wanted to take better care of the customer,” he says. “That doesn’t just go with the customers. We wanted to take care of our employees. They’re our lifeblood.”
The dealership turned to online educational tools to help its sales and service departments become more effective. It allowed the sales force to stay abreast of the latest techniques, while the service techs were given the training necessary to became certified and, later, certified master technicians. The company also established a mentoring program for new employees to ensure this attention to professionalism continues.
Investments Made in Dealership’s Physical Facilities
One of the biggest changes in Greeneway’s image was the construction of a 20,000-square-foot, eight-bay service building. Prior to that, repairs were made in a small, one-bay metal building that acted as the service area.
“Our service center is very profitable,” he says. “I cannot tell you how many people we’ve taken care of on the road. When we help them, they come back and buy from us or send someone our way.”
Next, the showroom was addressed by opening it up to allow more light in and by creating an environment that allows buyers to see and touch the RVs in realistic setups.
The company has a staff of three full-time sales people and seven service technicians, as well as eight other part-time employees. The Ferkeys are currently considering adding an Internet salesperson.
“The Internet can be nice, but it can also be a bad thing,” Ferkey says. “(Those customers) buy a number. What we do is get the sales leads we get coming in and split them up (among the sales consultants). Sales people must contact them that same day. We’re learning we must be faster and an Internet salesperson would do that.”
Greeneway’s Success Tied to Towables
Overall, the dealership’s sales are split about evenly between fifth wheels and travel trailers. A noticeable absence from Greeneway’s lineup are motorized RVs. The dealership did sell them at one point, but when the Ferkeys took over sole ownership of the dealership, Ferkey decided he wanted out of that market.
“We did all right with them, but I couldn’t service them,” he explains. “I had to send them to an auto dealer to handle the mechanical portion. You have to have a good partner that you trust to do that. I want to be able to control everything related to the dealership, and since I couldn’t do it, I didn’t want to sell them.”
Greeneway does sell used motorhomes because the dealership takes them as trade-ins on purchases. However, the recent credit crunch and subsequent decline of the motorized marketplace makes him happy he doesn’t sell them new.
“Dealers who have a lot of debt – motorized dealers – got in trouble. They’re being more conservative now. We’ve been pretty conservative for a while now,” he says.
Greeneway has managed to squeak out gains each of the last five years, Ferkey notes, including selling 450 units last year, up from 420 units in 2008. Sales in 2009 were 60 percent new units and 40 percent used, he says.
“The used market is so darn hot it’s hard to keep them,” Ferkey says, adding the profit margins are on used RVs are outstanding because their values are so high. In fact, this is causing a problem for the financial institutions providing loans on used RVs; the sales price typically outstrips the book value of the RV, and banks are still not comfortable providing loans in that scenario, Ferkey says, crediting his long-standing relationship with several lenders as helping on that front.
Having those relationships are important as the Ferkeys look to a second generation of the family take over the business one day, and continuity will be important to ensure the continuing growth of the dealership. The couple’s son, Matt, joined the business a few years ago and has taken an active role in the ongoing growth of the dealership.
“We’re real excited about him joining us. He’s very knowledgeable and works well with everyone here and in the future that could be very important,” Ferkey says.
Greeneway’s sales gains come not only in a tough market, but in an area where there are four other dealers within a 30-minute drive of the dealership. While some dealers might see that as one more problem in a tough economy, Ferkey says the dealers work it to their advantage.
“We get together with the other dealers and have shows,” he says. “The customers get a chance to shop all the dealers and generally they’re going to buy that day. Really it’s an advantage to have all those dealers in one area. Customers are going to buy what they like and it’s our job to sell them on our dealership.”