The Direct Route
Purchasing a new motorhome from the factory offers a hands-on building process for a highly personalized experience
RVers love choices. Single-slide or multiple-slide configurations, standard or upgraded paint schemes, regular or residential refrigerator — heck, even paper or plastic, the more options available, the better. When buying an RV, your first choice of course is which type you’d prefer. But once that decision is made, another, equally important one comes next: Should I buy from a dealership or from a factory-direct manufacturer?
The virtues of buying from a dealership are obvious: There’s a wide selection from multiple manufacturers, meaning you can make a direct A-to-B comparison. Dealerships also often offer ancillary RV products, like sewer hoses, RV waxes and campsite gadgets, and also often feature service bays. And, buying from a dealership may mean that you don’t have to travel to a manufacturing plant not located in your area.
However, when you decide to go the factory-direct route, the buying process often takes on a different tone that can lead to a much more streamlined, cost-effective experience. “In general, factory-direct allows offering lower prices to the consumer, [because] the manufacturer can take the dealer’s price out of the product and give that savings to the buyer,” said Patrick Dwyer, executive vice president of sales at custom motorhome builder Newell Coach. But there’s more to the savings. “Buyers will find a better financial value [through factory-direct purchasing] due to no completed-vehicle inventory, low overhead and minimal marketing expenses,” said Annie Stein, director of sales and marketing at EarthRoamer, which makes rugged, Xpedition vehicles for off-the-beaten-path RVing. “The bulk of our marketing comes from happy owners and positive word of mouth,” added Stein.
While it is true that the bottom line of a factory-direct deal may save the buyer money, none of the motorhome manufacturers we spoke with listed that aspect as the top benefit of going factory-direct. To a man (or woman), the highest-rated value of the factory-direct process is a bit more personal. “One of the most important factors is cutting out the middleman and being able to build relationships directly with the customer,” said Steve Gerzeny, vice president at high-end Class B manufacturer Coach House. “It opens a direct line of communication for questions, warranty and customer service, and we think that gives the customer a more personal, comfortable, intimate experience.” And this experience extends beyond making new friends. “Buying factory-direct offers consumers a superior buying experience,” said Brian Shea, owner and founder of the RV Factory, manufacturer of Avion Class B motorhomes. “Dealing direct with the manufacturer includes factory tours and knowledgeable factory representatives guiding customers through their purchase decision whether they buy from us or not,” he added.
Also, the factory-direct process means prospective owners can speak directly with the builders and discuss precisely what they want, which eliminates a common problem associated with buying from a dealer. “If we received all of the details from a dealer after they sat down with the customer, a lot of the detail would be lost or misinterpreted,” said Dwyer. Another common problem is the potential for misrepresentation — albeit often accidental. “With a factory-direct process, the dealership cannot change the product,” said Paul Meyer, president of Sportsmobile Inc. “Our price is lower, and the customers pay for only what they need.” Plus, “There is no middle person modifying or changing the details and facts surrounding your purchase,” said Claude Donati, co-founder of Nexus RV. “As a manufacturer, we make commitments directly to the customer; this fact gives us specific clarity on the direction we receive from the customer.”
It’s that clarity that not only makes the buying process smoother, but directly results in more bang for your buck. “Buying factory-direct means you do not have to buy ‘off the shelf,’” said Kyle Hershberger, business manager for Class B manufacturer Phoenix Cruiser. “While we do keep inventory on hand and available for immediate purchase, about 80 percent of our customers choose the exact floorplan, paint scheme, interior colors and options that they want. Our customer’s money gets spent only on the options and equipment that he wants.”
Another benefit of factory-direct is knowledge; when you visit the manufacturer, he or she knows the product like the back of their hand, and listens to the consumer to point out the best available options. “By understanding what our customers want and who they are on a deeper level, we can design options that meet the needs of our specific market,” said Stein. “When a dealer has multiple product lines, it’s not easy for a salesperson to be knowledgeable on everything they sell,” said Gerzeny.
Some companies even take that knowledge to the extreme. “We only have one salesperson,” said Earl Robbins, sales manager (and lone salesman) at Phoenix Cruiser. “You will not have to deal with a rookie salesperson who does not know the product. I do not have to ‘go to my manager and see what he will do.’ Our customers deal directly with the decision-maker.” Gerzeny agrees. “By selling direct, we can demonstrate and feature/benefit our products without reservation,” he said. “Our salespeople are not typical; they are excellent at providing detailed information about the history of our company, product specifics and firmly believe in what they are selling.” It’s that inside information that is invaluable in the factory-direct experience; you’re dealing with the real experts on the subject, with no filters or sales gimmicks.
Still another often-overlooked benefit of buying directly from the manufacturer is that buyers know they are getting the absolute newest and “freshest” components on their factory-built rig. “Materials arrive ‘just in time’ and are installed during production of a customer’s order,” said Shea. “The product is then delivered immediately after production to the customer. In contrast [to the dealership model], mass-production model materials are ordered in mass quantities and stored sometimes outside … in a lot of instances, an RV may have more than a year in the elements before final sale, often containing outdated components,” Shea added.
Once construction is underway, factory-direct manufacturers tend to keep in close contact with the buyers about the overall manufacturing progress of the RV, including any questions that may arise. A customer is made aware of any contingency strategies while the coach is on the line, which all but eliminates the “surprises” that sometimes await buyers after they have already committed to a particular vehicle. Some manufacturers can even show a buyer their coach in various stages of development. “Our factory is open for customers to see every aspect of construction, and they are welcome to talk to every employee on our assembly line,” said Robbins. “We are able to work directly with the customer to get them exactly what they want,” said Shea. “The customer has access to the makers of the product, and their direct input makes our products perform better. We find the process gratifying to us as well as the consumer.”
Once the motorhome has been built, many factory-direct manufacturers offer quite a bit of fanfare for delivering the product. After all, the company has by then had a considerable amount of interaction with the customer, and treats them, as Meyer put it, “like a member of their extended family.” Pulling out all the stops is quite common, in fact. “When a purchase is made, the delivery experience is awesome with our signature ‘Red Carpet Delivery,’” said Gerzeny. “We put the unit in our showroom, literally roll out a red carpet and take the customer on a complete walkthrough specific to their new motorhome, assuring they’re comfortable prior to taking off on their maiden voyage.” Who better to walk you through your new motorhome than the people who actually built it?
“When a new owner picks up their vehicle, they are greeted by the entire EarthRoamer team,” said Stein. They are introduced to the men and women who actually designed and built their rig. When an owner returns for service or upgrades, they see familiar faces. This personal interaction really builds the EarthRoamer family.”
Once the RV is driven off the lot, the perks often don’t stop there, as most factory-direct builders offer varying degrees of aftercare and service intervals. “Our customers are not limited to any certain dealers for service,” said Robbins. “We will authorize any RV service center to help our customers in the event that they need anything.” In addition, says Sportsmobile’s Meyer, “[Factory-direct] allows us to establish a positive relationship with the factory for service and for future modifications.” Other manufacturers offer exciting trips and events, exclusive owners’ forums online and even 24-hour emergency assistance hotlines.
From a manufacturer’s perspective, the factory-direct process enables the company to focus on the customer and delivering exactly what they want. This in turn leads to those long-lasting relationships and repeat business. “We have been selling factory-direct for more than 55 years now, and [that model] has worked very well for our customers and us,” said Meyer. “We form a long-term relationship and have many repeat customers buying their second or even third Sportsmobile.”
What it comes down to is that an unpleasant buying experience from a dealer salesperson who doesn’t know his audience can lead to that customer avoiding a particular model or brand that they really shouldn’t; had the manufacturer been given a chance to get into their head and see what they wanted, the results could have been much different. “Everything we do is for the customer,” said Donati. “The factory-direct model allows us, the manufacturer, to focus only on how to help the customer.”
800-235-0984 | www.coachhouserv.com
303-833-7330 | www.earthroamer.com
918-542-3344 | www.newellcoach.com
855-786-3987 | www.nexusrv.com
877-754-8535 | www.phoenixusarv.com
512-835-4409 | www.sportsmobile.com
The RV Factory
844-284-6678 | www.thervfactory.com