For RV owners, time is valuable on vacation. A trip to Yellowstone, Big Sur, or Yosemite can easily come to a grind if their RV maintenance on some of the more advanced appliances was done in the hands of an average Joe mechanic. That’s why certified technicians have been a boon to the industry: They have the professional know-how to solve problems, and in the process, help build customer loyalty.
While the benchmark for many people this week might be St. Patrick’s Day, March 12-18 calls attention to a crucial aspect of the RV industry: certified technicians. Thanks to the Society of Certified RV Professionals and the Mike Molino RV Learning Center, this time of the month is deemed RV Professional Certification Week.
Debbie Brunoforte, owner of Little Dealer Little Prices dealerships in Arizona, was “thrilled” when the first certification school opened up about 20 years ago. She said she paid for her employees’ time, flight, hotel, per diem, etc. in order to succeed.
“Even when it was still way out of state,” Brunoforte said, “we made the decision to have certification be a requirement with employment,” for technicians. Ditto any parts specialists, parts managers, warranty administrators, service advisors, and service managers.
For Little Dealer Little Prices, the change in operation was immediately apparent.
“The technician’s ability to diagnose the problem and repair it is greatly increased,” said Brunoforte. “They also have a higher awareness of safety-related items.”
These were sentiments she shared at the RV Industry Association Leadership Conference earlier this month where she accepted the National Education Service Award.
Today, certification classes are taught in dealerships every week, even requiring service advisors to be in the training class. Ultimately this helps increase their knowledge about the RV enabling a clearer dialogue with the consumer.
“I encourage all dealers to require certification,” added Brunoforte.
In a larger way, a focus on service is what saved many professionals of the RV industry.
Greeneway RV dealer Mick Ferkey of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., attested to that. According to him, from 2009 to 2011, “dealers were just trying to survive, let alone put money into training.”
They lost employees that were certified in the process. To stand firm ground through the aftershocks of the Great Recession, Ferkey said he knew that dealers needed to find new ways to re-certify technicians, one of their most valuable assets. That’s how he and other colleagues came up with the idea for the Society of RV Professionals, of which Ferkey heads as chairman.
Certified techs have become an honorary role, recognized, even, during the first night of the annual RV Dealers Association Convention/Expo as certified veterans from over the years take the stage and accept rewards. Hung on the walls of each Greeneway RV bay are posters of every technician who has passed the certification courses.
In addition to the 40-plus hours required for initial certification, master certification requires five years of experience. One of Ferkey’s technicians passed the master test within two years. As a show of appreciation for his dedication and tenacity, the dealership gave him the pay bump reserved for that level.
Similarly, one employee began at Greeneway RV’s cleaning service, moved into a greeter position, became the warranty person, and, striving for a loftier, detail-oriented occupation, ultimately became a certified mechanic. Today she’s been with the company for over six years.
“I will be the first to tell you,” said Ferkey, who has 42 years of experience in the RV industry. “I took a couple of those tests, and it is no walk in the park. You better know what the hell you’re doing … The RVs are so sophisticated.”
In the past, Ferkey added, many dealerships “went by the seat of their pants.” There was not much training, and, really, considering the technological advances today compared to past decades, there wasn’t necessarily much reason to.
But after 2008, as dealerships painstakingly closed their doors, other RV dealers succeeded due to the customer loyalty through the sage-like expertise of their certified technicians. Through extended learning, possessing such knowledge on specialty devices (cabinets, electrical systems, etc.) can even help dealers in court, if it comes down to it.
“Competition drives professionalism,” said Ferkey. “The more professional dealers are, the longer they’re going to stay in business.”
There’s another side to the coin. Some certified technicians, after going through the training provided by a dealership, can take a job elsewhere. It’s why some owners are a bit more hesitant to certify.
“But if you put your time and money into a person, the majority of those people will stay,” Ferkey said. If they stick around for four to five years, he said, “you’ve more than paid for that training you’ve put in.”
Ferkey, like Brunoforte, said he learned that people are “the most valuable asset a dealership can have.”
Customer expectations are elevated each year as greater advances in RV tech hit the pavement. “Not only do we see the reward on the retail end,” said Brunoforte, “but we help people build treasured memories and get closer with their families.”