Business View Magazine interviews Loren Baidas, President of General RV Center, as part of our focus on best practices in American business.
“We’re the largest family-owned RV group in the country,” declares Loren Baidas, President of General RV Center, the award-winning company that sells and services motorhomes and travel trailers from its eleven locations in six states. “My grandfather started the business in 1962. He had owned a number of gas stations and decided, after taking his family on a vacation, that RVing was something that was going to be around for a long time. He decided to get out of the gas stations and start selling RVs. It started from one location and we’re now up to eleven and growing.”
Today, General RV Center has 1,300 employees working out of its six stores in Michigan, one in Ohio, one in Illinois, one in Utah, and two in Florida. Among them, they sell over 15,000 new and used RVs a year. And, unlike many other RV dealerships, countrywide, all of the company’s dealerships were built from the ground up. “We haven’t done any dealer acquisitions,” Baidas says. “In some cases we had a small store that grew to maximum capacity, so we built a bigger store nearby and closed the small one. So it’s all been organic and internal growth.”
Baidas maintains that the company’s growth plan has always been strategic, stressing the notion that “bigger isn’t always better – better is better. So, when we look at growth and opportunities, we want to make sure it’s an opportunity to make the company better and that we have the personnel to do it well,” he states. “We’re always looking for opportunities, not just in regional areas within our marketplace, but outside of our current footprint. We get calls from dealers who are trying to sell out, but again, that’s not our growth model. If we find a market that we feel is underserved and a place where we can walk in and our services would allow us to be one of the best, if not the best in that market territory within a year or two, those are the opportunities we look at. We’re not just going to grow for growth’s sake.”
Baidas believes that General RV Center differentiates itself from the competition because of several factors. “The biggest thing is relationships,” he asserts. “We have great relationships with our manufacturers, making sure that we get the best product that is available in the marketplace; in negotiating good deals and getting good programs that we can pass along to our consumers. That’s very important for us. The relationship with our employees is also important. We want to provide a great working space for them – not just for today, but for the long term. We have a lot of tenured employees here; we have a couple of people who have been here 35 or 40 years, because it’s a great place to work. The last part is our relationship with our consumers – making sure they have a great experience from the time they walk in the door, to finding the right RV, to delivery, and then to the ownership experience. We’re not just trying to sell you something; we’re trying to help you into a lifestyle and help you enjoy it as much as possible.
“The only other thing I would add is that we continue to reinvest in our facilities. Three fourths of our facilities are dedicated to service after the sale. When we came out of the Recession, we recognized that we needed to grow our service capacity even though we were probably one of the leaders in the industry as far as service capacity based off of sales. So we’ve more than doubled our service capacity at every single store over the last five years. And there are some dealerships out there that don’t spend a lot of time and energy and focus on that. So those are definitely some significant differentiations.”
Regarding General RV Center’s consumers, Baidas takes issue with the notion that all RV owners are Baby Boomers and retirees. “I think that’s part of the misunderstanding of the RV industry,” he avers, “that it’s 55 to 75 year-old people buying these RVs and that’s all it is. And it’s not. We’re seeing newer buyers come into the marketplace. I look at the increase that we’re seeing in the industry over the last year or two, and the significant part is from a younger crowd. It’s first-time buyers; it’s families and people getting away for the weekend or a week here and there; it’s people that haven’t owned an RV before and they want to try the RV lifestyle. Maybe they did it as a kid with their parents or grandparents and they want to provide that for their own kids.”
Baidas adds that a big reason he believes that a younger demographic has taken to the RV lifestyle has been the manufacturers’ drive to add more creature comforts and more bells and whistles to their offerings. “In the last number of years, flat screen TVs have been a big improvement,” he says. “You can put a TV just about anywhere, now. Six or seven years ago, it just wasn’t affordable. There are outside camp kitchens; more slide-outs to make more space. The technology has gotten significantly better.”
As for the future, Baidas says that expanding to more locations is less important than making sure the company continues to offer the best in product, pricing, and service. “For us, it’s about what do we do every day that makes us a better company? What items can we work on to make us a better company today and tomorrow?” he posits. “So, training and development is an area that we’re going to spend a lot of time on. We’re going to train and develop our people better; we’re going to give them resources to make them better at their jobs. We just spent money on Dale Carnegie training for our managers and our key personnel to get them exposure to training they probably hadn’t had before. We feel like we have the best people and we want to give them more tools to be successful.”
“So, we’re continuing to find ways to reinvest in not just us, but in our customers and in the industry,” Baidas states, summing up. “Those things are going to continue. We believe we can provide a better experience all the way through the sales and ownership process that most dealerships can provide. It’s in our DNA and it’s easy to see when you walk in the door. We’re going to be here tomorrow, and we’re going to work really hard to make sure you don’t miss a vacation.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: General RV Center
WHAT: A seller and servicer of motorhomes and travel trailers
WHERE: Wixom, Michigan
Stromberg Carlson Products, Inc. – Stromberg Carlson Products, Inc., located in Traverse City, MI, is a third-generation company that has served the RV aftermarket for over 54 years. The company was founded by David Stromberg, and is now run by his grandsons, Robert Brammer Jr. and Charles A. Brammer. Its products are available nationwide, and include: fifth wheel tailgates, RV handrails, steps and accessories, cargo storage and carriers, RV jacks, and more. – www.strombergcarlson.com