At summer’s end in 1972, two young petrochemical engineers found themselves in the business of “matchmaking” – between RV owners and potential renters, that is. More than five decades later, what eventually became PPL Motor Homes has made a Texas-sized name for itself as a leader in RV consignment sales.
“Within six months of opening the rental portion of PPL, RV owners partnered with the dealership started wanting to sell their RVs,” says Juan Tejeda, CEO of PPL Motor Homes.
That’s when the business’s DBA changed from PPL Leasing to PPL Listing, with a lineup of RV owners looking to permanently offer their rigs to a booming market. Founders Ron Rambin and Ed Sebesta broke ground on
their first real sales lot nearly 14 years later, on South Rice Road in Houston – and still, that was just the beginning.
“This was in 1986. Prior to that, PPL employees were working at offices and in their vehicles. RVs were being appraised at owners’ homes, and buyers who were interested were able to view the RVs at nearby storage facilities,” Tejeda says. “We like to say there’s some parallels to being the Airbnb of RVs, before it was cool.”
The dealership didn’t stop at rentals and sales, either – at one point, it became the largest RV insurance broker in Texas, a segment still present on a smaller scale in today’s business. However, being the No. 1 consignment dealer in the United States is the main game, Tejeda says, bolstered by Texas currently being the No. 1 RV registration state in the country.
“Hence, PPL attracts sellers and buyers at a high level. PPL’s walk-in traffic and online leads are statistically the highest in the country amongst all RV dealers in the industry,” he says. “Sellers get more for their RV by selling through us than they can get through any other method.”
Being a leader in pricing and intuitively knowing the worth of each unit is a core PPL practice that won’t ever change, he adds – along with the company’s mission to “help RV enthusiasts exit, enter and enjoy the RV lifestyle.”
Eyes on Expansion
While the dealership only began its expansion plans in 2022, opening its first Florida location in Summerfield (currently the No. 3 state for RV registrations), Tejeda says PPL customers will travel to its shops from all over the country.
“Our first customer in Florida was from out of state, and they traveled to come and buy an RV from us. It’s pretty incredible to see how much out-of-state business we do as a company. There are people who will come and list their RVs with us from all over, as well. What differentiates us is our ability to take care of those two types of customers.
“It’s not easy, right? We typically deal with a buyer and seller on every transaction – very atypical to traditional dealers,” Tejeda says. “That’s a pretty strong value proposition when we have customers who say, ‘I just got a trading price for this RV.’”
It’s a simple business model, he adds, and PPL has optimism even as the market determines what an RV sells for based on traffic, condition and pricing.
“We have that down to an art and a science, and we have a lot of good resources, tools and data to support our decisions on what we do.”
The dealership continues to see more listings and leads year-over-year – something it doesn’t see slowing down anytime soon. PPL’s total sales are up 8% compared to 2022, while Tejeda has heard some dealerships are seeing drastic drops.
PPL’s brand resonates across the U.S. because of the “tremendous value” offered to both buyers and sellers, Tejeda says, but the dealership also prides itself on a strong service department. The company has two service buildings at its Oklahoma site, and with improved infrastructure, all its locations can service 10-plus units at a given time.
From a finance perspective, PPL also has one of the best lender portfolios in the country, he says.
“Whether it’s having a bank that offers financing to full-timers – that’s something we didn’t necessarily have before but do now, so it allows us to be able to make these deals happen.”
The dealership is also known for being one of the largest RV parts and accessories retailers in the country, having done hundreds of millions of dollars in parts revenue throughout the years.
That success can be attributed to a culmination of the dealership’s online presence and focus on brand-building and resourcefulness. With a website established in the late ’90s, PPL has garnered a healthy flow of organic traffic.
“When you start discussing year-over-year growth, overall appeal and how we rank in keywords across our respective markets, we’re pretty close to the top. That’s just a testament to not only SEO, but the partnerships that we have and what we’ve been able to do as a company through the years,” Tejeda says.
“We’ve really evolved from a lot of traditional marketing to digital marketing and expanded our scope. It’s our aspiration to continue to evolve and find ways to be optimal in our marketing strategy.”
While experimentation is key to that evolution, PPL keeps an eye on practicality and a set budget that allows it to explore new and innovative ways to attract and retain customers. That also means knowing what areas and demographics are ripe for successful expansion.
“What we’ve experienced in Florida specifically is we’re right by a community called The Villages, which is one of the largest retirement communities in the United States,” Tejeda says. “There’s a lot of individuals who still love to travel there, so they’re a strong part of our customer demographics. What we see a lot in Florida, too, are snowbirds – people love traveling away from the cold in the North and they love going to Florida.”
PPL’s Florida site is also near significant campgrounds, he adds, attracting people who either want to upgrade or exit RVing completely. The dealership’s main consumers are typically more established or retired, leading to larger motorhomes and fifth wheels with higher price tags – and a higher average of phone-users compared to online.
“But in Texas, we experience selling a lot of towable RVs, so it’s a little different – that’s been our observation in the last year.
“Young families that have entered the lifestyle is exciting to see,” Tejeda says. “We’ve seen younger generations especially through the COVID years, so we have more people that will come for parts and service at our locations.”
The PPL team at its El Reno, Oklahoma, grand opening in 2023.PPL is looking to expand across the South, from Florida to the Southwest – and it all started at dealership’s flagship location in Houston, purchased in 1993 and sitting on 15 acres off the Southwest Freeway. The site has consistently ranked No. 5 for “connections” out of 1,750-plus RV dealerships by RVTrader, Tejeda says, often seen at the top of the website’s rankings. PPL’s four additional locations – in Texas’s New Braunfels and Cleburne, along with Florida and a recent add in El Reno, Oklahoma – are also doing very well, he says, and mark the start of “strong expansion plans” for the near future.
“We’re currently looking to add multiple locations in 2024 and beyond,” he says.
A ‘Culture of Care’
Outside of offering every segment its very best – from parts and service to consignments, sales and financing – PPL focuses on creating a strong company culture with 200 to 300 staffers on hand.
“We’re in a retail-focused environment, but we believe that family is important and continue to offer our employees time off on key holidays,” Tejeda says. “PPL’s hours of operation are very family friendly. We close at 4 p.m. on Saturday and are closed every Sunday.”
One of Tejeda’s personal practices is emailing the entire company every morning with words of encouragement – something he’s done since he joined PPL on Feb. 22, 2021.
“We have strong alignment, great meetings and overall structure that connects with our staff and their goals. Their success is equally important as ours.”
The dealership established a “Fun Committee” that engages its employees across the company, from customer appreciation events to give-back initiatives. PPL participates in multiple state, local and industry related nonprofit organizations, soliciting feedback from employees to choose charities and causes the dealership supports in the community.
“I’m most proud of PPL’s longevity of giving back. Cuddles for Kids, Hope for Three and the Texas RV Association (TRVA) are organizations we have given back to for well over a decade,” Tejeda says. Hope for Three is a preeminent autism advocacy group in the greater Houston area.
Additionally, PPL supports the Lupus Foundation of America, the Will Smith Foundation, local Chambers of Commerce and numerous industry organizations such as the Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA), Oklahoma RV Association, RV Industry Association (RVIA) and RV Dealers Association (RVDA).
“PPL has a strong ‘Culture of Care.’ We aspire to consistently make a positive difference with our employees, customers, community and the RV industry,” he says. “We want the industry to do well. So, we’re pretty strong champions of supporting the associations, especially when it comes to government relations and how it affects our industry and totality.
“We’re just super excited about what we’re building at PPL,” he says. “We have great tenure, and it’s a testament to the foundation we have as a company, with a strong culture that cares for our employees, customers and community.”