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Making Use of 20 Groups

With the industry constantly evolving, proactive RV dealers are turning to 20 Groups to help them navigate challenges they face in their businesses.

For the unfamiliar, 20 Groups are a collection of dealers (usually 20, hence the name) who meet in person or via teleconference under the direction of a moderator/business consultant to share their successes and failures with like-minded dealers outside of their own competitive markets. The idea is that the cooperative environment, where detailed financial information is shared, allows dealers to discover areas in their business where they may be underperforming and to develop strategies to fix those deficiencies.

Recently, dealers across the U.S. talked with RV PRO about their own experiences with 20 Groups and how those groups help guide them through the challenging economic times.

John McCluskey, president and owner
Florida Outdoors RV Centers, Stuart, Fla., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“I’ve been a member of a Spader Group for about four years. I was new to the industry and didn’t have the time to make all the mistakes by myself, so I wanted to join a group of experienced RV business owners. I managed a series of businesses in the financial services field, so I thought I could help them, too.

“From the group, which meets three times a year, I got a better understanding of the business metrics; how to measure your business so that you can improve your chances of being successful. The Spader Group I joined is a very experienced group of business managers, and we’ve been able to work together well. With the economy in such an interesting spot – probably the most difficult conditions in the last 70 years – we all had to react very quickly and make the right choices in inventory levels, cost structures and other business decisions.

“Among the biggest things that I’ve gotten out of the Spader Group are the benchmarks that show where my costs are in line and out of line. We are in a cost-control environment; if you don’t have your costs controlled in these economic conditions you are not going make it. It is almost impossible to sell your way out of financial problems in the current market, so you have to watch costs very closely while still maintaining an appropriate amount of inventory on your lot so there’s an opportunity to sell units.

“The group was also very helpful in sharing what product lines are most successful, which manufacturers stand behind their products and which ones make good products that sell. I’ve been able to improve my product lines substantially over the last four years. We’ve added Jayco and Crossroads to our towable lines and Forest River to our motorized line. We dropped some of our lower-end, lower-quality products. …

“One of the things you get out of a 20 Group, whether it’s Spader or another group, is the camaraderie. If you are in a group of very good business owners, they tend to also be good people. You form close friendships, and the lines of communication run both ways.

“I have talked to some business owners who are concerned about the time and cost of attending several meetings a year. You cannot attend a meeting with people who are running good businesses without coming back with enough ideas to improve your own business.”

David W. Tenney, general manager
Manteca Trailer and Camper Inc. and RVs of Sacramento, Calif.

“I’ve been in three different 20 Groups. In the last 16 years, I’ve been in an ADP Performance 20 Group, a Spader 20 Group and now, I’m a member of Lee Berryman’s RV Profit Group. The 20 Groups have allowed me to be exposed to some of the greatest minds in the industry. I have been lucky to be in 20 Groups with major dealers with lots of seniority, and I have been exposed to lots of very wise people.

“Coming out of the auto industry, and only having a few years in that, I had some core rudimentary ideas and training. The information from moderators like Berryman, who have been exposed to hundreds of situations, isn’t available in lessons you pay for at any college or university; it’s amazing.

“Lee is unusually good with the understanding of the inner workings. Since he’s visited so many dealerships for so many years he has all this cross-reference information and seeing the comparative operations and data, give him an overview that gives him the ability to really say what’s better or what won’t work. What you may think about trying, he’s seen tried and failed in other places.

“Everything I do daily is something I learned in the 20 Groups. My whole career and my whole management of the dealerships are things that I’ve picked up from being part of the 20 Groups.

“There’s no way the dealerships I run could have made it through this economy without the guidance of Lee Berryman and the other people in the 20 Group. Because of what was discussed in the 20 Group, we changed the inventory, the amount of inventory and our structure of management, reducing the number of employees. The guidance of the guys in the 20 Group and Lee Berryman helped us through all that.

“The way we judge a good deal has changed. We aren’t just guessing, I can pick up the phone or send an email to anyone in the group and ask for advice. We are in rebuilding phase now; we depleted the high-end fifth wheel business and the motorhome inventory down to the point where we didn’t have any new motorized units in stock at all, and now we are rebuilding that slowly. We will definitely be the strongest motorized dealer in our marketplace.

“I feel that even if you were raised in the dealership environment that there is always lots to learn from others.”

Steve Martin, business manager
Clem’s RV & Trailer Sales Inc. , Ellwood City, Pa.

“I went to one of Jan Kelly Enterprises’ seminars and our general manager talked to her regarding services, so we got involved in the RV F&I 20 Group. … We’ve been a member of the F&I 20 Group for about five years.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to get out it because I had never been part of a 20 Group. I guess I expected to hear things that others were going through that were similar at our dealership. Being a member of a group like that can help you resolve issues and trying new things that other dealerships have tried with success that can help your dealership become more successful. …

“The 20 Group has helped me stay more focused on being the best I can be in my profession. The F&I department is vital in any dealership, whether it’s in the RV industry or something else.

“When I started working here, the only ancillary products we offered were extended service agreements and tire and wheel road hazard, but now we’ve added GAP coverage, an environmental protection package, roadside assistance and even a biweekly payment plan, which allows customers to pay off loans more quickly. These are products that give consumers added value to their purchases or enhances the value of their purchases. I’m not sure I would have known about all those options had I not been part of a 20 Group.

“The biggest benefit of joining the F&I Group is that it really helps keep you focused on the profitability that a dealership is looking for from that department. And just being a member of a 20 Group is not enough, you have to really participate and give input.”

Jim Hicks, president
Southern RV Supercenters, Bossier City, La., and Lafayette, La.

“We’ve been a member of Spader for about 10 years, shortly after we started. I came out of the automotive parts industry, and I was not familiar with 20 Groups.  It is a tool that I would not want to do without.

 “20 Groups provide us our own consultants and guidance, and it’s nice to have advice from 19 of your peers who aren’t your competitors. I don’t know that I fully comprehended the impact of the numbers; I had never been involved in any business where we shared our financials with others and had the opportunity to have each department dissected in so many different ways. We share each other’s problems and solve the problems, but the real benefit is dissection of the numbers. It helps us better understand exactly what’s going on in our business and gives us a benchmark to gauge our own performance.

“Probably the biggest bonus we’ve gotten out of it is the friendships of dealers all around the country and Canada. We share our ideas and numbers and there’s a common bond among us all. We meet three to four times a year at a host dealership; we have an upcoming meeting in Canada.

 “Spader also has groups for marine, powersports, farm implementation and office furniture. I think what we learned from that wide assortment of different types of businesses gave us a better idea of what was coming in the economy long before it arrived here. …

“We made major adjustments to our inventory prior to the downturn, even though we didn’t get all of it done in time. Our dealership was always heavy in motorized inventory; we used to keep 15-20 diesel pushers on the lot and several different product lines, but, today, that’s down to very few. We remain very focused on motorized units, but our mix has changed and we’ve added more fifth wheels and travel trailers. …

“From the meetings, we all come back with specific goals and objectives. At our dealership, an area that needed attention was our F&I department; it was something we fought for a long time, but the group’s advice encouraged us to change personnel in that department recently. The results were immediate, and without the 20 Group involvement and numbers comparisons that it provides, we would not have known what we were missing or had a problem.”