Like any other woman who has risen to the top in a male-dominated industry, Dania Filippetto can recite a litany of the barriers she had to surmount. But Filippetto, president and sole owner of the Rangeland RV and Trailer Sales dealerships in Alberta, Canada, also will tell you how being a woman, and thinking in perhaps stereotypical female fashion, has served her well.
Rangeland RV's store in Rocky View is led by an experienced team that includes (left to right): Dania Filippetto, president; Dennis Limbird, finance manager; Justin Clarke, assistant sales manager; Russell Spence, service manager; and Jalene Grant, marketing manager.
“When a husband and wife or a family are shopping for an RV, let’s be honest: If the woman doesn’t like the floorplan or the décor, and it doesn’t feel like home away from home, she couldn’t care less about how it would tow,” she says. “I can relate to women about that. ... If the woman did not like the RV, he wasn’t getting it. That’s just the facts.”
Beyond being able to spot an RV model that she senses won’t fly with women, Filippetto brings to the business an inviolable commitment to customer service. In her previous work at an RV dealership and her observations of how others operated, she believed customer service and support could be so much better.
“Turnover in repeat business was terrible,” she says, adding that she wanted to create the right conditions to bring back customers. “How could we sell a trailer and still serve the customer after that?”
Long before Filippetto launched her own RV dealership, she was learning about the business. At the age of 18, with no college education, she became the finance manager in a car dealership. Four years later, she got a job at an RV dealership.
Then, in 2001, at the age of 28, she struck out on her own, leasing a corner lot in Calgary. A representative for Dutchmen called her and said he knew of a dealership in Pennsylvania that was closing. Did she want to buy two truckloads of Dutchmen tent campers?
“It was January of 2001, it was freezing cold outside, and I had no idea how to set up a tent camper,” she recalls. But she hauled the 14 trailers, “one by one by one, to the carwash” to clean them up and then set them up on her lot.
“I literally sold them all in 10 days,” she says.
Encouraged by that success, she headed to northern Indiana and started knocking on the doors of RV manufacturers.
“The first line I took on was Forest River Cherokee, and I still have that line,” she says. In the years that followed, she built her business into what she believes is the No. 2 dealership, by sales volume, in the Calgary area.
Meanwhile, despite a busy work schedule, she found time to give back to the industry, serving as president of the RV Dealers Association of Alberta and as a director of the RVDA of Canada.
Getting Customers on the Road
Rangeland RV’s main dealership is in Rocky View County just outside Calgary. In March 2017, Filippetto launched a second location about an hour north in Red Deer. This January, she opened a separate parts and service shop in Red Deer.
As a way to set Rangeland RV apart and demonstrate its commitment to serving the consumer, Filippetto did “something completely different” a few years after opening the dealership: She instituted the six-day service guarantee.
“In the event that something inhibits the consumer from using their RV, we will get them in and out within six days – guaranteed ... to get the customer out camping,” she says.
That might mean spending extra to get a part quickly, instead of waiting for a manufacturer to ship it across the border, but she says it’s worth it. The camping season is so short that it doesn’t make sense to tie up an RV for weeks, waiting for a part to come in, she says.
Another customer-friendly feature that Filippetto added early on was the free camping package, which has a $599 value. While other dealers were charging extra for things a buyer would need before hitting the road, Filippetto decided to give them away for free on every purchase of a new or used RV. That covers the battery, propane in the tanks, hookups, a theft security system and a pre-delivery inspection.
A pair of Rpods await finishing touches in Rangeland's service department.
When Filippetto was sitting in the automobile dealership’s finance office at her first job receiving the customers as they came in off the sales floor, she noticed they would look a little beat-up by the negotiating process instead of happy about their purchases, she says. She was determined that things would be different when she opened her own dealership.
“We have been a one-price, non-negotiating dealer since inception,” she says. “Who wants to negotiate? It’s a sucky experience. ... For the consumer, they hate it.
“If you paid $25,900 for a trailer, you’re not sitting next to a guy in the campground who’s a better negotiator than you and paid $23,000 for the trailer,” she continues. “What you paid for the trailer, everybody else paid for the trailer.”
The one-price policy lends the dealership credibility and demonstrates its integrity, according to Filippetto.
Brand Loyalty Pays Off
Rangeland RV carries Forest River products exclusively, a change she made about 18 months ago.
“We’re the No. 1 Forest River dealership in Alberta. We buy the most product from them,” she says.
“I have the top five-selling lines from Forest River, which are in the top 10 lines in North America,” she adds. Rangeland RV carries mostly towables – such as Cherokee, Wolf Pup, Arctic Wolf, Cedar Creek, XLR, R-Pod, Surveyor, Solaire, Rockwood, Geo Pro, Columbus and Sierra – and some Class C motorhomes: Forester and Sunseeker.
She says she feels that being an exclusive Forest River dealer – and being such an important account for the manufacturer – pays valuable dividends.
“When I need something, there’s never a day when they’re not there to support me,” she says. “I can pick up the phone and call any of the head honchos at Forest River, and I’ll get a return call within an hour. … I can confidently sit in front of a customer and say, ‘If there’s an issue, Forest River will make it right.’”
Towables make up more than 70 percent of sales in the industry, and Rangeland RV has chosen to focus on that segment. “The Class A market was quite low,” she says. “I’m just not interested in sitting on big Class A motorhomes.”
Back From the Ashes
A pivotal event in Rangeland RV’s history came in October 2014, when the dealership was destroyed by fire.
“It burned to the ground, and we lost everything,” Filippetto says. As a result, the company built a new, 25,000-square-foot facility on 10 acres not far from the original 3-acre site.
“Where I had my fire, I was on a highway that has 130,000 people drive by the door every day. I’m not on this major highway anymore,” she says.
That lack of drive-by visibility concerned her, so she had to refocus her branding on making Rangeland a destination dealership. It doesn’t hurt that the destination is the nicest RV dealership in the province, according to Filippetto.
“It doesn’t look like an RV dealership; it looks like a Lexus dealership,” she says.
To make the name Rangeland RV top-of-mind, the dealership has ads on the radio every day. The dealership also uses Google AdWords and other Internet advertising.
Rangeland’s main dealership in Rockyview has 12 drive-through service bays, and the Red Deer location has four. Between the two locations, there is a staff of 40 employees, including 10 technicians. Filipetto’s brother, Russell Spencer, is her service manager, and her sister, Jalene Grant, is her marketing manager.
Filippetto says it’s not easy to find service technicians: “It’s one of the biggest challenges we’ve had.” RV techs are required to complete three years of schooling, which Rangeland pays for, and pass an exam before they can be certified.
Service mechanic Chad Gouw applies a new piece of decal on a trailer door.
Spencer sits on the province’s apprenticeship and training board and recently participated in a career-day event to encourage young people coming out of school to consider working in the field. Filippetto also was a member of that board in the past.
A Cross-Trained Team
At the dealership, Filippetto says she’s a hands-on owner. Starting from scratch in 2001, she had to teach herself every aspect of the business.
“I have literally done every position except technician in this dealership,” she says.
She encourages the same approach with her staff. In fact, in August she’s rolling out a job-sharing project that will put each employee in another department for a day: Finance managers will be washing trailers, and salespeople will spend time in the service department.
“Our people will be sharing with each other, so they can have an appreciation of what they all bring to the table,” she says.
Already, some of her staff members wear several hats, she says.
“My marketing manager, she does five other jobs in the dealership. My rental manager does three other jobs in the dealership,” she says. “They have the ability to step in and job-share and help each other. That gives them an appreciation of how the overall dealership runs.”
Filippetto describes a close team atmosphere at the dealership. She plays on the Rangeland RV baseball team, she says, and it’s not unusual for employees to get together for a barbecue on the patio after work on Fridays.
“If you are not happy coming to work at Rangeland RV, you can’t work here,” she says. Sometimes employees spend more time at their jobs than with their families, so the work atmosphere has to be a good one.
That closeness can have its drawbacks, she acknowledged: “It makes it difficult when you have to put your foot down.”
In the end, the customer benefits from the culture of teamwork at the dealership, she says.
Offering What People Love
Although an especially long winter set sales back this spring, Filippetto says the dealership probably will hit its goal of selling 630 RVs in Calgary and 220 in Red Deer.
Back in 2015, when the market took a dive, Filippetto started something that she never thought she’d do: She stepped into the rental business. And she’s glad she did.
Sales consultant Josh Clarke goes over some details with potential RV buyers at Rangeland.
“We decided to go after a niche market. These people are mainly local; they want to rent for a weekend or a week,” she says. “We have 20 units in our rental fleet right now. ... We’re sold out for the summer.”
Renting out a camper lets families try out the RVing lifestyle, and it has brought some back as buyers, she says.
About eight years ago, Rangeland RV added another feature to its business: Luxury portable washrooms with flush toilets and running water. Rangeland Event Restrooms rents its units for events such as corporate parties and outdoor weddings.
Filippetto has two 6-year-old boys who love to ask their mom when they’re taking the family trailer out. For the past two summers, the family has parked the RV in a campground in Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada.
“We spend two months out there,” she says. “There are mountains and huge trees and a lake there where I take the kids boating.” She admits that she wakes up early and spends a few hours on the computer before hitting the lake with the boys: “As owners, you don’t get to walk away and turn off the tap,” she says.
The experience has opened her eyes to the world of camping in a new way, according to Filippetto.
“Everybody in the campground knows what I do. I’m able to talk to people, ask what they’re doing, where they’re traveling ... their needs and wants, and what they love and don’t love,” she says. “Every summer, I’ll gather three or four new ideas to bring back and do differently for customers,” she says. “Until I was able to go out and do that with my family, I didn’t have the appreciation of what people loved with the RV industry.”