Bucking trends and a keen eye for innovation are Manteca Trailer & Motorhome’s calling cards.
As the RV retail market becomes saturated with product and experiences a slowdown in sales, Manteca General Sales Manager Gio Romitti remains unfazed as he stands steadfast on the California dealership’s business model.
While the RV Industry Association’s recent surveys of manufacturers found that total RV shipments have ended recent months with double-digit decreases compared to the previous year, Romitti has a bright forecast for 2019.
“This year is looking good for us, as our January RV sales showed a 26 percent increase over 2018, and February is looking great, too,” he says of the San Joaquin Valley dealership, owned by David Tenney since 2014.
The market dip was a result of increased manufacturing costs in new production and increased availability of used products built up over the past eight years, according to Romitti.
“They (manufacturers) overproduced. New production increased considerably last year and carrying costs are much higher, as are manufacturing and flooring costs – all of which contributed to the drop. They have a lot of product sitting in yards – they’re stacked.”
Despite those challenges, Romitti says that unit sales increased modestly in 2018.
“It really didn’t hit us too much here as much as it did with some of the smaller dealers around us,” he says, adding that much of this year’s early growth for the dealership can be attributed to pricing, customer education and care, and succinct market valuation.
From left to right: Shop Manager Henry Richardi, Finance Manager Chris Solario, Service Manager Tom Sperry, Office Manager Marie McGovney and Sales Manager Carlo Canto are all part of Manteca Trailer & Motorhome’s leadership team.
Aggressive Pricing & Innovation
Manteca has a “low-price guarantee” and Romitti and his sales managers regularly examine their competitors’ pricing and the market – all the while making healthy margins. When a consumer arrives at the lot, all units are sale priced.
“We don’t start from retail and work our way down. We’re like Amazon – everything is on sale and we have a big selection,” Romitti says. “It’s helped us out greatly.”
Manteca’s 79,000-square-foot facility, which includes 30 service bays, sits on a little more than 10 acres and employs a staff of 102.
“We’re one of the largest service departments in the state,” Romitti says.
There are more than 500 units in stock (worth about $19 million total), of which about 90 are used ($3 million). Last year, Manteca sold 1,237 units, representing nearly $50 million in sales. Manufacturers carried by the dealership include Winnebago, Jayco, Newmar, Heartland, Riverside, Coachmen, Genesis Supreme, Crossroads, Dutchmen and Sylvan Sport.
“We’re selective when it comes to bringing a manufacturer on-board. We carry brands that we feel offer good dealer and consumer relations, that are trusted in our industry, and that offer innovative designs and ahead-of-the-curve floorplans,” Romitti says. “Warranty is very important.”
In 2017, the dealer received two awards that reflect Manteca’s dedication to its customer-first mantra: a Top 50 dealership award from an RV trade magazine for its growing embrace of technological change, increased attention to handling service issues, and innovative customer care; and also the Gaylord Maxwell Innovation Award for Outstanding Business Creativity and Ingenuity.
Manteca customers can browse its lot with detailed colorful maps – similar to going to an amusement park illustrating ride locations and various attractions – that show where all the various RV classes are located.
On the map’s flip side, consumers are taught how to read a stock number, whereas other dealers may “encode” them so that it’s decipherable only to perhaps a salesman, Romitti says. “We encourage our customers to look at the stock numbers, retail prices and model numbers – it’s a full roadmap for how to select an RV.”
Nicholas Buczkowski, OEM/front counter parts, talks with technician Stan Espinosa from behind the parts counter.
Manteca also has tablets set up for customer financing on the spot, with payments that can be made via PayPal.
“We aim to create an Amazon store-type experience that is familiar and comfortable to our customers.”
Meanwhile, Manteca’s “Fly & Drive” is a simple program that brings in additional customers, according to Romitti. When a consumer picks out his motorhome online, the finance department makes sure his financing is secured and arranges a pickup date. At that point, Manteca’s Guest Service Department will purchase airline tickets and set up transportation to its facility.
“When the customer arrives and gets their orientation, their adventure begins,” Romitti says. “They love it.”
Robust Service & Parts
Manteca’s 30-bay service department is fortified with 20 technicians and outsizes many other area dealers that feature fewer than 10 bays, according to Thomas Bruce, parts and service director.
“We get a lot of business from our large customer base, who might travel from up to four hours away,” he says. “With the sales department selling more than 1,000 units, it gives us just as many new service customers every year.”
Overflow from overbooked competing dealers also provides a healthy source of service business. “Another local dealer might be three months out for appointments, whereas we try to be three weeks, so our sheer size also drives business,” Bruce says.
Aside from chassis work, Bruce says the service team can handle anything that comes into its bays, from accessorizing with the bells and whistles of solar and satellites, to roof and collision repairs and basic maintenance.
“We’re highly involved with IDS (Integrated Dealer Systems) and are fully mobile with tablets,” he says. “We use the technology for service writing and for technicians to clock in and out of jobs, and it provides photos and digital inspections using a speech-to- text feature that can be attached to work orders on-the-go.”
A full-time triage technician also works the service drive to quick-solve simple repairs.
Espinosa squeezes underneath an RV to complete a repair. Manteca’s 30-bay service department is fortified with 20 technicians.
In addition to price-matching units, Bruce says Manteca also price-matches all of its parts, including those sold on Amazon, “whether I win or lose.”
The 5,000-square-foot parts department fields 12 employees and runs about $300,000 of inventory on a monthly basis. Over-the-counter customer sales account for $100,000, while parts for the service department are another $150,000 – although totals can reach as high as $350,000, depending on the season.
“We’re unconventional. Nearly all of our product inventory is on our retail floor and on movable gondolas,” says Bruce, while also noting that the department is slatwall designed, rather than standard peg board, and placed on wheels, so the layout can easily change according to season, keeping it fresh and new.
“We’re aggressive, and also have an online presence on Amazon, so that we can get involved in both parts worlds – brick and mortar versus internet is a constant battle.”
Staying loyal to specific products also has assisted in pricing. Bruce buys direct through Camco’s Platinum program, which allows Manteca to remain price-competitive against online offerings, and he negotiates pricing with NTP-STAG. When Coast merged with NTP-STAG, Bruce also reached out to Arrow Distributing to be aligned with a family-run distributor.
“Our partnerships with Blue Ox and PullRite – both of which offer good products and strive to provide quality customer relations – have impressed me immensely,” he says.
Staff are required to receive quarterly training from both companies, Bruce says, adding that PullRite is the dealer’s primary fifth wheel hitch source.
“They stand by their product and the end-consumer, and fly out representatives to assist with quality checks and training,” he says. “PullRite always answers the phone.”
Scott Later, PullRite national sales manager, says training is support for PullRite’s distributors because they’re the ones “talking with the end-users,” so the company wants to make sure it provides them with the knowledge they need.
“Manteca is a great partner and we’ve invested a lot in training their personnel, and Mr. Tenney has also invested as well in allowing us access to his key people, such as Thomas, who has been a great help to us,” says Later. “Supporting our dealers is paramount. All we do is build fifth wheel hitches – it’s a small space, but we occupy a good portion of it.”
A Winning Company Culture
All things considered, Romitti says a large part of Manteca’s success is driven by happy employees whose attitudes transfer directly into a positive experience for customers.
“We seek out people who are willing to put in extra effort and are willing to engage with customers,” he says. “If a prospective employee requires training for sales or service, we’re willing to do so for the right candidate, but you can’t train good morale and outlook. We have a great staff, but hiring can be tough and we’re constantly searching.
“We have a commitment to warm, personal attention, and high standards of service excellence,” he adds. “We believe in motivating and rewarding our team members. Their efforts and contributions are recognized, and outstanding performance is rewarded.”
Manteca has an in-house “Morale Manager” who arranges pizza parties, barbeques, company camping excursions and outdoor activities. Winners of a recent company contest also won a trip to Cancún, Mexico.
“Those are just some of the ways we recognize our employees’ efforts,” Romitti says. “Company challenges are a great way to encourage teamwork. We also have a program we call ‘Helping Hands,’ where we help employees in need during a crisis at home – anything from needing a transmission or otherwise. All of those things go a long way for company morale and our culture.”
That culture also extends to the surrounding community.
Sales associate Stacy Lynn stands ready to greet customers at Manteca Trailer’s front desk.
Community involvement includes donating RVs for use to the police department for fundraisers, and a wild game dinner for which the dealership makes its facility available while also offering staff assistance. Proceeds go to families in need.
“Anytime we can become involved with the community, we will,” Romitti says.
As the dealership’s February sales were tracking similarly to the previous month’s double-digit increases, Romitti says he is optimistic about the year ahead for the dealership.
“We prepared ourselves toward the end of last year, inventory-wise,” he says, “but overall, our success lends itself to the way we have our units priced and how we conduct business.”