Twenty-six years ago, Ray Bunney, owner of R’nR RV Center in Spokane, made two fateful decisions: He got married, and he got into the RV business. Both decisions have paid off handsomely for Bunney, and have combined to propel him to notable heights in the industry.
Along the way, Ray and wife Jo have worked together to bring a very different approach to the sales and, importantly, service of RVs in their region. While some other dealers are happy to make a one-time sale, R’nR RV has instead chosen to create long-term relationships with its customers.
“A lot of dealers won’t service what they don’t sell, but we’re the opposite,” says Bunney. “Our customers – who we draw from all over central and northeast Washington State, northern Idaho, northwestern Montana and parts of Canada – come to us because we take care of them. They know that if something goes wrong with a vehicle or even just a part or accessory, we’re going to be there to take care of it.
R’nR RV owners Ray and Jo Bunny have grown their dealership into one of the largest dealerships in the Pacific Northwest, thanks in large part to their strong focus on customer service. Photos courtesy of R’nR RV Center
“Other dealers think of service as something to be avoided, while we take pride in being relied upon by our customers,” he adds. “We know that pays off for us in the long term. Even if they didn’t buy from us the first time, we know they will on the third, fourth or even fifth time if they enjoy their experience with us.”
Servicing a broad base of RVs is one of many ways R’nR RV Center shows its dedication to improving the customer experience. The dealer’s 15.5-acre grounds also feature nine overnight RV spots with full hook-ups with a fenced dog run for pet owners. Because the lot is located off the highway without any restaurants in walking distance, R’nR even added a full-service 1950s themed diner on the grounds where customers can relax while waiting for service work to be completed.
For R’nR and Ray and Jo Bunney, it’s all part of the same consideration: How can they treat a customer right and improve their experience.
“Our customers see all of these things and they enjoy them, and we think of that as an insurance policy for our dealership,” he says.
Undoubtedly, R’nR RV Center’s substantial facilities play a role in its success: The grounds feature multiple buildings, including 8,000 square feet of sales and showroom space, a 10,000-square-foot parts department and 50,000 square feet of service space with a remarkable 40 individual service bays – the largest number of bays in the Northwest. The facility also includes a 52-foot paint booth.
With the exception of exhaust and some glass work, service on anything from tires and brakes to chassis work, interior repair, full sidewall and roof replacement, air conditioning service, engine and transmission service, and custom paint are all done in-house, allowing R’nR RV Center to be a true one-stop shop for customers. As if that weren’t enough, the Bunneys have a mobile service truck for those jobs that can’t find their way to the shop.
R’nR RV boasts 40 service bays in which to take care of customers’ RVs. The business also offers mobile service for those who can’t make it in to the dealership.
“If they buy from me and have any sort of problem or issue, they can come to me and we will deal with all the headaches,” he says.
The People Make the Difference
As important as the facilities may be, Bunney insists that in business, it’s the people make the difference.
“We try to treat people right, and that is not limited to our customers,” he says, speaking of the more than 100 employees who keep the company competitive, even in trying economic times.
Bunney says R’nR RV Center employs about a dozen employees in the parts department, 20 more in sales and administration, with the remaining number working in service and on the lot.
“We have a lot of long-time employees who have been with us 10, 15, even 20 years now, and that is because we take care of the people who take care of us,” he says. “We try to create a welcoming environment, not just for customers, but for employees to come to work as well. As a dealership, our goal is to always be improving.”
Part of that constant effort toward improvement comes in the form of offering numerous opportunities for training and growth for employees, he adds. That includes RVIA and numerous manufacturer certifications, all of which have allowed the staff at R’nR RV Center to become among the best trained in the region. A dedication to training staff has resulted in 13 of the shop’s employees becoming RVDA-RVIA master certified technicians, three ASE certified, and many more RVDA-RVIA certified.
That becomes even more important when taking into consideration the fact that R’nR services almost all brands of RV and sells RVs from Winnebago, Forest River, Fleetwood RV, Coachmen, Keystone, Roadtrek, Heartland and Adventurer.
“In that way our size has really become a benefit, because we’ve been able to add a big training room right here at the company and that pulls a lot of manufacturer’s trainers in to us,” says Bunney. “It takes five years to become a master-level technician and a lifetime of learning to stay there, so having them come to us has been a huge benefit.”
A well-trained staff also helps Bunney to work with products that have evolved greatly over the years he has been in the industry.
The dealership has the capability to do nearly any type of service work, including paint and body work.
Some 13 of R’nR RV’s service technicians are RVDA-RVIA master certified, three are ASE certified, and several more are certified.
“Things are quite a bit more technical than they used to be, both in the products and how they are serviced,” he notes. “On the product side, it wasn’t too long ago that slide-out rooms were rare. Now you might have two on one unit, and that creates its own issues.
“On the service side, the techs are doing most of their work orders, trouble-shooting and research online,” he adds. “That’s all very different than it used to be.”
The situation is much the same for aftermarket accessories.
“We’re seeing a lot more satellite dish business and most of the high-end units have flat-screen TVs,” he says, noting that R’nR RV Center is also the second largest dealer by volume of Yamaha portable generators. “We just sell so much of everything now.”
That’s no exaggeration: The parts department keeps more than $1 million worth of inventory in stock, including all major accessory manufacturers, including Banks Power Systems, Hijacker hitches, Reese hitches, Roadmaster Towing, MaxxAir Vents, and KVH satellites, to name a few.
Staying Top of Mind
Even with its considerable profile in the area and with a wealth of parts and services on the menu, R’nR RV Center still works hard to stay top-of-mind with customers, ranging from traditional to organic marketing efforts, according to Bunney.
“By far the most important marketing we have is our word-of-mouth between customers,” he says. “That goes back to our views on service. During the summer months, we draw customers from all over the country because we’re one of the only dealers that will take service jobs from travelers that are passing through.”
Since 2000, the dealership also has had the benefit of a prime location. While its former facility had it hidden in Spokane, R’nR now operates in a location with a half mile of frontage within view of Interstate 90.
“That fact alone has had a huge impact, and we love a traffic jam along the highway here,” he jokes. “In all seriousness, our business nearly doubled because of this location. The way the property is set up, we’ll have anywhere up to 250 units in service at any time in the peak season, and that all looks like inventory from the highway. People are constantly asking how we could have so many units, when a lot of it is service work. That is certainly a benefit.”
While relying on time-tested tools like word-of-mouth advertising and a prime location, Bunney and R’nR RV Center also work hard maintain a presence in local media as well.
“We do lots of TV advertising, some print, some radio, and some online in the form of our website,” he says.
That wide-ranging effort helps to draw customers from all over the demographic range.
“We have customers that range from in their 20s to in their 80s. In the Northwest, there are just so many outdoor opportunities. People are into fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and hunting. The products we offer are great for all of those sports, so you get a wider range of customers,” he says. “It’s not like Phoenix or Florida, where most customers will be older snowbirds.”
Looking to the Future
Bunney started selling RVs in 1984 for what was then known as the McCollum Ford Group. After the owner passed away in 1991, he and Jo – along with partners Vern and Chichi Rice – took over full ownership of the dealership and ran it together until the Rices retired about seven years ago.
In the years since the Bunneys have been owners, both as partners and then as sole owners, the company has experienced years of consistent growth both in sales and in size, including the acquisition of the new location off of I-90.
Despite all of that growth, like most RV dealers in the country, R’nR RV Center wasn’t immune to the Great Recession. When the overall economy slumped in 2008, largely due to the national housing crisis, the Bunneys saw their sales volume fall considerably. Bunney estimates he saw revenue decline about 35 percent in 2008 – and an additional 25 percent in 2009 – before bouncing back in 2010.
Despite poor weather in the region in the form of heavier-than-average snowfall this past winter, which usually suppresses RV buying and servicing, they’re seeing much more positive numbers thus far in 2011.
As part of its focus on creating a quality customer experience, R’nR has a full-service 1950s-themed diner onsite.
“We all deal with the overall economy, rising gas prices and the lack of easy financing for customers,” says Bunney. “That is unavoidable. But we think we’ve made some good business decisions and that’s why we are seeing things bounce back the way we have.”
Among those good decisions was the purchase of a nearby dealership in April 2008, called Blue Crick RV. The Bunneys turned the dealership –which had been limited to travel trailers and other towables – into another strong sales and service outlet, including motorized RVs.
“You could say that wasn’t great timing because of the economy, but we believe it will be a great addition as the economy comes back,” he says.
In the meantime, Bunney says he enjoys his work, even if it is a lot to manage. It’s the nature of the work itself and the people he comes into contact with that keep him engaged with the work, even 26 years into his career in the RV business.
Asked if he enjoys his profession, he responds unequivocally: “Absolutely. I love it. It’s fun to sell products that people really want, as opposed to even car dealers who sell things that people need to buy. They need a car to get to work or take care of business. With RVs, people are buying something that is going to let them travel and have fun and explore. Those are people who are enjoying themselves, and that makes working with them fun, too.”