New York-based RV One has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years – expanding to seven locations with estimated annual revenues of $400 million.
Now, with its recent acquisition by private equity-backed dealership chain RV Retailer for an undisclosed amount, it appears primed for even more growth.
RV One’s meteoric rise in recent years is even more remarkable considering the humble origins of the dealership’s flagship store, Albany RV, which began in 1984 operating out of a garage in upstate New York.
The business was founded by Kathy and Tony Strollo, who rented RVs and sold fold-down campers from their Albany, N.Y., garage and home office. When Tony Strollo had time off during his 20-year career as a New York State police officer, he would take the family RVing, which is how interest was sparked in starting the business when he retired.
“My five brothers and I grew up watching it grow out of our house and it was a great experience,” says Mark Strollo, vice president of RV One Superstores, who as a young man rolled up his sleeves with his five brothers to help the fledgling business. Today, he runs the business with brothers Don and Matt Strollo.
Three years after launching, Tony Strollo leased a parking lot for $100 a month in an industrial area that allowed him to expand sales. Two subsequent moves, prompted by Don Strollo, who is now the president of RV One Superstores, landed the business at its present Albany location.
Albany RV 2018
Albany RV is situated at the gateway for the Northeast and the Adirondack Mountains while being relatively close to New York City and points south.
“It’s really an amazing place based on its location, which is why it’s one of the biggest locations in the country,” Mark Strollo says.
The dealership encompasses 31 acres that features a brand-new, state-of-the-art 41,000-square-foot facility and has a staff numbering 120 employees. Inventory fluctuates, but he estimates it has 700 units on average.
Albany RV and its six sister stores retail numerous manufacturers that are selected to appeal to a broad range of consumers, from entry-level models to luxury diesel pushers.
The dealership also has a recently completed two-level, 15,000-square-foot retail parts store (hot trending items include GPS systems, solar packages, Internet and smartphone connectivity).
“You name it, we have it,” Mark Strollo says. “We have to have something to offer everyone. It’s rare that a customer walks into any of our stores and says we don’t have what they’re looking for. Don does a great job of handling inventory and making adjustments.”
The best way Mark Strollo says he can describe Albany RV is as a boutique RV store – it has personality, with many customer-orientated events almost every weekend, from cookouts to ice cream socials.
“Customers have weekends to shop, so we’ve realized we need reasons for them to visit and come back,” he says. “They remember us as being a fun place. We’re not your typical old-school sales environment – we engage customers, many of whom return to us because of our reputation and they know we have their best interests in mind.”
The Strollos are always working “on the business” and it’s their main focus – they don’t have a: “This is how it is and this is what you get” attitude, Mark Strollo says, adding that year-over-year percentage growth at Albany RV hovers around 10 percent.
“We have plenty of salespeople around to assist customers when they have questions. Our aggressiveness, however, comes in different forms than one might normally think. We’re aggressive in product knowledge, listening to our customers, and generally improving in areas where other dealers might have become stagnant in customer service. There’s a lot to it.”
Albany RV’s layout is designed such that the shopping experience is easy for customers to navigate through inventory and see pricing. “They want to see as much inventory as possible, but at the same time, we don’t walk them through. They like to explore on their own and our layout is conducive to that,” Mark Strollo says.
When the Strollo brothers are not focused on improving sales and customer service, they like to be out in front of customers as much as possible.
“That’s where we’re different – there’s just no question,” Mark Strollo says. “Every day, week and month is different because things change rapidly here for the better, so we’re constantly making adjustments.”
Management Team & Culture
Character and work ethic are the most important traits in Albany RV’s management leaders, according to Mark Strollo. “People need leaders, and younger employees need those who can guide them along,” he says. “Our management is the best out there and they’re able to develop people because they work hard and have high standards.”
While Albany RV has some long-tenured staff, the Strollos have a human resources department that is constantly putting new talent in front of its management team.
“It’s ongoing all the time. Having choices is critical and providing a continuous flow of candidates is a huge focus of HR,” Mark Strollo says.
One of the most effective methods of sourcing new talent is through employee referrals. Once a candidate shows potential, they are required to go through an extensive background check, as well as meet as many members of the management team as possible.
“When someone new comes to work for us, the employee standing next to them will know they are of good character,” Mark Strollo says.
All employees receive a full range of benefits, including 401K, health care, flexible work schedules and flexible vacation time, he says, adding, “We do as much as we can for our employees — and that’s key, because they do so much for us.”
On-site, In-house Training
As much as Albany RV focuses on customer service and sales, training its staff has become an increasingly important cornerstone of its priorities.
“From techs and prep staff to sales and management, we’re putting more emphasis on training than we ever have,” Mark Strollo says.
In-house trainer Mark Maylath, who is responsible for technician and service manager training, has been with the dealership since its beginning.
Meanwhile, the service and maintenance department continues to grow.
“Because of Albany RV’s size, there’s a significant need to carry our customer service focus into that area,” Mark Strollo says, including a substantial amount of mobile service.
“The manufacturers we deal with are good quality, but the industry certainly has some challenges when it comes to taking care of the increased number of RVers, who need work on their units,” he says. “There are more supplier issues than manufacturer concerns, though everyone is doing what they can to improve the product to ‘catch up.’ We’re continuing to do everything we can to meet the service demands of our customers.”
Beginning next year, the dealership’s service department will move to two shifts: one during the day and one at night.
“It will be almost around-the-clock service to meet everyone’s needs and high expectations they know us for. We’re very excited about it,” Mark Strollo says.
As Mark Strollo has spent a lot of time in the past year focusing on the service needs of its various locations, he has realized that there’s an abundance of training offerings for people who don’t have related experience.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Shoot, we’re having a tough time sourcing technicians,’ but after digging deep into it, we found there’s a lot of training that our manufacturers offer – and their willingness to help train is tremendous,” he says. “We’ve partnered with the right manufacturers who have the right character. For new technicians who don’t have the experience, we have an avenue for them.
“Jayco, specifically, is willing to come to us as well as host us at their facilities. They really invest in their training.”
In Growth Mode
RV One has been in a major growth mode in 2018.
In November, RV One opened a fourth location in Sarasota, Fla., held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 95-acre store in Tampa and opened an Airstream-exclusive store located in Tampa. In early December, RV One was scheduled to open yet another new store in Orlando.
“Florida is like a second home for New Yorkers,” Mark Strollo says, “so it made sense to expand down there. And it’s a huge market and the average dollar amount of sales is larger than New York’s.”
Separately, RV One Superstores has moved into a new facility for its Des Moines, Iowa, dealership off of Interstate 80. Rounding out the company’s seven locations is its store in Buffalo, N.Y.
Mark Strollo says he sees no end in sight for RV One.
“In the last two years alone, we’ve invested $40 million in new facilities and upgrading locations,” he says.
In order to expand so much and so quickly, Mark Strollo says it’s important to have policies, processes and systems refined and in place that can be duplicated and adopted.
“Many RV dealerships lack standard operating procedures and just ‘wing it,’ but winging it doesn’t work when you’re opening additional locations,” he says.
Among those policies are keeping inventory neat and clean, and systems for hiring, ordering, and maintaining an overall well-oiled operation with everyone knowing what’s expected of them and meeting those expectations.
“It’s important to keep adjusting – whatever it is – for our customers. It’s both challenging and fun. We’re very grateful to be working with family and have our staffs and great manufacturers,” Mark Strollo says. “And we’re good at it.”