RV dealerships are unleashing a wave of safety practices and technologies to defeat Covid-19. Here’s what eight truck camper dealerships are specifically doing, and what these changes mean for the future.
For the tens of millions of US and Canadian citizens under stay-at-home orders, the solution to reopening during coronavirus can seem obvious. Just wear masks, gloves and maintain social distance and we can get back to work, school, and generally living our lives. When a vaccine finally arrives, we’ll all go back to normal – right?
Well, yes and no.
Done correctly, wearing masks and gloves and maintaining social distance provides a foundation for staying safe, but truly keeping safe is significantly more complex.
This reality was made starkly apparent when we reviewed Four Wheel Camper’s extensive Return To Work Guidelines. Published in Truck Camper Magazine last Friday, the six-page document offers a helpful starting point for any RV manufacturer, gear company, or dealer preparing to reopen.
By requiring each employee to review and sign the guidelines, the document ensures every team member gets up to speed with Covid-19 safety protocols. Then the challenge becomes maintaining those protocols until the vaccine is administered.
Staying vigilant with this effort, day after day, week after week, and month after month, is the key – and the real challenge before us all.
How Dealers Are Conquering Covid-19
Starting in late-March, the RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) and Canada’s CRVA (Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association) asked federal and local authorities to deem RV manufacturers, suppliers, dealerships, service centers, RV parks and campgrounds as essential.
That push was not 100-percent successful (many RV businesses and campgrounds remain closed), but the RVIA and CRVA were able to declare RV dealers as essential under most of the federal and local guidelines.
In the RVIA’s own words, RV dealerships are essential to, “…perform critical maintenance and repairs for consumers who are currently RVing and provide liquified petroleum gas refills for heat and refrigeration. Moreover, there are RV mobile medical clinics already on the road now that may need service.” The CRVA statements were similar.
With that supporting language in place, many RV dealers have remained open, adopted CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines for Covid-19 safety, and found ways to continue business.
Some of the dealer initiatives have been quite innovative with the potential to push the RV dealer marketplace forward even after coronavirus is defeated. As the proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
To learn more about how truck camper dealers are adapting to the coronavirus situation and what innovations and technologies they are employing, we contacted truck camper dealers across the continent. Here are their reports.
Brett Hensley, Owner
Southland RV, Norcross, Georgia
We never closed and have been operating as an essential business. We were funded this week with the Payment Protection Program (PPP). That comes close to paying our workers for the next two months. With that, and the present rate that we’re selling products, we are doing well.
We locked our front door to comply with the local municipality requirement to have no more than 10-people in any building. We meet customers at the door and do everything outside – including paperwork. There are tables set up outside. Working in the sunshine is better than being in an office.
The State of Georgia now says we can open the door as long as we maintain social distancing, but that approach scares our employees. We are going to continue with the locked front door and safety practices already in place.
“It’s not about what Georgia says, but what we need to do to keep our employees and customers safe.”– Brett Hensley, Southland RV
We will continue with our locked door and safety practices until the numbers in Georgia come down and I feel we can take the risk. Right now what we’re doing is working, so why change it?
We did have a hard conversation with our employees at one point. We asked them to come to work and go straight home, but not to hang out with friends outside of work. If they do, they risk getting our employees sick. Almost everyone agreed and I’m comfortable that they are following that request.
There have been a few things we have learned that will continue after this situation ends. For example, the walkthrough videos. Before the videos, walkthroughs could last two to three hours. Now they’re 30-minutes. We still walk the customer through their camper, but now they also get a walkthrough video that they can look at again and again.
Customers who have received our video walkthroughs have fewer questions afterward, and call less as a result. We will eventually make these videos available to everyone. We just did a video on the new 2021 Cirrus 820 that got over 200,000 views in one month. I think our other video walkthroughs will also be popular. We are building a video library on YouTube.
Another technology we have been using is Facetime or Zoom video chats. We also use cell phones when people need to be more than 6-feet apart. When a customer drops off a unit for service, they call the tech and work through any details while maintaining a social distance. Everyone has a cell phone so that works well.
We have sold a number of truck campers to health care professionals. We sold two units to health professionals from New York. We had to create a very careful system for their pickup. We used extreme caution. They stayed 15-feet from us at all times and we all followed CDC recommendations. We pulled it off, and they got their campers.
We have been selling a lot of truck campers and May is already looking up. Long term, our big problem could be needing more inventory. We are down to about 75-units overall, where we would like to be around 130. We have to wait until the manufacturers are building again to get more units in stock.
The public needs to understand that we are doing our very best. Some changes may be inconvenient, but it’s for everybody’s safety – including our employees. The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority.
Tami Lewis, Owner
Triple A RV Center, Medford, Oregon
We are taking all the precautions we can. Everyone has hand sanitizer that is more than 70-percent alcohol, everything gets sprayed with disinfectant, and we have markers on the floor for people to stay 6-feet away from each other.
When a customer arrives, we explain what we do to keep our dealership safe and clean for our customers. Our top priority is that we want everyone who visits us to feel comfortable and to be treated well. We also don’t want them to be careless, so we make sure they’re compliant as well.
Our customers have been super friendly and understanding. They are preparing for when this is over. When the door opens, they will be ready to go camping.
When a salesperson is with a customer, they unlock the unit and let the customers go in by themselves. The salesperson stays outside the camper. After customers go into the units, someone here sprays down the unit and locks it back up. That has worked out well.
We have twenty-six employees. When this started we laid off all but ten. The first batch went on unemployment, and the second enrolled in Oregon’s work share program. To participate in the program, they can only lose 20-percent of their wages. To meet that requirement, we closed on Wednesdays since it’s our slowest day of the week. We were already closed on Sundays.
We also applied for the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loan and got it during the first round. I really thought we would need it. The bank and accountant were ready and helped us. Luckily, business has been good enough where I think we can get around it, but we don’t know what’s going to happen this coming winter. We may use the grant part and then give the rest back.
The first couple weeks of the Oregon shut-down were slow. Because there were only ten of us, we had to learn what our co-workers do day-to-day. That was a great opportunity and gave us new perspectives on how we could improve as a team.
I feel fortunate that our crew has been together for a while and we’ve learned that we can trust each other. They also know that, as the owners, we’re there for them as well. We care about our employees and our customers, and want to take care of everyone.
Last week was our first full six-day week with our whole crew back. Service and sales are now picking up. Saturday we sold two truck campers. We’ve been fortunate to continue our business through this.
Two different local companies have paid for supplies to sanitize our store. I have now outfitted our store with permanent hand sanitizer stations. That is not going to change after coronavirus because it promotes good health in the store.
As a dealership we have offered free camper drop-offs inside a one-hour radius from our dealership. I’ve only had a couple of customers who wanted to do the paperwork ahead of time at their home, but they came to the dealership to pick up their unit. With the paperwork they felt safer at home, but they wanted the walkthrough here. We have our walkthroughs outside in the open. The customers felt comfortable with that.
“We understand needing to be comfortable with the situation because we are all going through this.”– Tami Lewis, Triple A RV Center
Coronavirus touches everyone. A family member of mine got tested and it was a scary thing not knowing. My mom is scared to go out and is covered head to toe when she does. We need to let people know that we care and are willing to do what it takes to stay safe and make them feel comfortable. This effects everybody.
People have asked us, “If we buy a camper, where can we camp with everything closed?” Some private, national, and state campgrounds are closed, but there are some areas in Oregon where you can get away and camp. The good news is that you can enjoy your camper as you stay isolated and have a little bit of fun during this challenging time.
Once we get past this, our business will thrive again. There are always people who want to buy RVs. But, at this point we just want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe.
Campers are available. Fuel is cheap. Interest rates are low. I call it the trifecta. It’s a good time for the customers to buy a camper. They just have to feel comfortable again. I’m excited for the future. We’re going to get through this together.
Mark Mallard, Owner
A&M Services, Kittrell, North Carolina
We are following the government guidelines including providing masks and gloves and using Lysol to clean everything. We are doing everything we can think of to keep everyone healthy and our facility and campers clean. It’s almost been comical. A customer will walk in and pick up a flashlight. As soon as they set it down, we wipe it clean.
“I think we have been through five gallons of Fantastik, five gallons of Lysol, and a countless number of Clorox wipes.”– Mark Mallard, A&M Services
I find myself washing my hands three and four times – even when I’m home. I recently sprayed the light switch with Lysol and thought, “Was that smart?”
We did not shut down, but we are working with a reduced staff. I had one tech with a grandson who tested positive. He and his family self-quarantined to make sure he didn’t bring anything to work.
After the schools closed down another employee didn’t have anything he could do with his kids, so he self-quarantined with them. Our policy is that if any employees have any possible symptoms, we want them to stay home.
Our customers have been very understanding. We are selling campers. I just delivered a Lance Camper to Virginia. Two units on our lot sold but the customers are in no hurry to pick them up. They’ll call us when they’re ready.
We are using online video technology. For the Lance Camper I delivered to Virginia, I did a video walkthrough and emailed it to the customer. We’re doing quite a bit of that.
Another customer is picking up a unit today. He is going to stay in his camper and not go into our office. We will keep our distance, prep his truck, and install the tie-downs. He’s older and understandably concerned. His wife is going to video record the walkthrough with her phone. That will all work out well.
As of now, we are stocked with truck campers and have more truck campers on order for a mid-summer arrival.
We have offered after-hours services so customers can be here by themselves. If you want, you can be the only customer at our dealership. Two customers have taken us up on that offer. It’s just one more way we are adapting to this situation.
Dara Kort, General Manager
Holiday RV, Poncha Springs, Colorado
Our front door was locked in mid-March to comply with local and state orders. This week is the first time we’ve had our full crew back. Everyone is social distancing nicely.
Starting today (May 1st) we are officially open again. We can have up to five people in the building and salespeople will be available outside to open campers. After customers go through the units they’ll be cleaned again.
We all wear masks. Colorado requires anyone out in public to wear a mask. My mom made cloth masks, so I have masks available if you don’t have one. Everyone here is healthy. I do not want anyone to get this or having it spread.
We removed chairs and moved the coffee pot and water cooler to eliminate a potential gathering area. Our county sent out a safety checklist which gave us additional ideas on how to stay safe. Sharing ideas to stay safe is one more way we’re going to get through this.
Our county requires is to take the temperature of our employees in the morning and after lunch. We have to check that they have no symptoms. I bought a touch-less thermometer for this purpose. As soon as our employees arrive, I check their temperature and record it. We need to provide a safe working environment here.
We had a meeting this morning where we were all 6-feet apart. I told the team we have to be good about this because I don’t want to do all of this again.
This entire time everyone here has stayed on the payroll. I applied for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and got it funded within a week of the application. That worked out well.
We had some curbside delivery for parts orders. We just set the parts out front and customers came to pick them up.
Our sales team is using Zoom with customers. That technology is new to us, but our team has taken to it. At one point I had to hold a phone for a salesman during a Zoom video session so he could get something from our service department.
We are well stocked with inventory. It’s always hard to know if you have too much or too little inventory going into the spring but, based on the number of inquiries we’re getting, I think we’re at a good level. By summer we will get more campers in from the manufacturers as we need them.
“People may have had planned vacations like Disney World. That’s not going to happen. Camping is a great alternative and will be the new summer family trip.”– Dara Kort, Holiday RV
We are getting inquiries like crazy. We received about 35 inquiries just over the weekend. People want to get out and go camping. Had we been open, I believe April could have been one of our best months ever. Once we open the doors and let people look at campers again, business will boom.
PJ Buerger, Owner
Princess Craft RV, Round Rock, Texas
We never shut down, but we did go to a skeleton crew. We initially thought we could run with just three or four people, but we had too much to do. That lasted about two weeks before we called back more team members. We’re bringing service back this week.
“Sales and business have continued. Even in late March and into April, we were delivering eight to ten units a week.”– PJ Buerger, Princess Craft RV
The most challenging part of the camper sales process are the walkthroughs. To address this, we have produced video walkthroughs of the units that customers receive on USB thumb drives.
Right now we have about 20 truck camper walkthroughs on YouTube. We call them Technician Tours. This is something we will likely continue after coronavirus.
When a unit is sold, we explain the delivery process and everything we do to keep our customers and employees safe. Ninety-five percent of the time the paperwork is in the customer’s hands the day before pickup. That allows the customer to review it with us over the phone. It’s also faster when it’s done ahead of time.
Any remaining paperwork is done at a long table to maintain 6-feet of social distancing. We have new pens in the middle of the table. Our customers take their chosen pen with them. After each customer leaves we clean the table and chairs.
We are not asking customers to wear masks and gloves, but some do. We are being very careful about social distancing.
Our front doors are propped open so you do not need to touch the door handles. The service desk is protected with stanchion posts and belts. Customers can’t get close to the counter. Even the credit card machine is on a stanchion post so our employees don’t have to touch credit cards.
If customers have never loaded or unloaded a camper before, we stand to the side of the truck and talk them through the process. We are also able to deliver truck campers to a customer’s house.
If you need service, we have a touch-less service. All customers need to do is call for an appointment and drop off their camper. You don’t even need to see us. For the safety of our employees, we won’t touch your camper for 48-hours. We do the same when you pick it up.
Our Texas Truck Camper Rally has been postponed until September. We’ll have more information about that change in the coming weeks.
My first and foremost job is to protect our employees and customers. In the end, everything is going to be fine. We have Facebook Live sessions on Thursday afternoon as well as our podcasts. We will continue to share our videos of new products. I’m going to keep everyone moving forward and positive.
Bill Penney, Owner
Truck Camper Warehouse, West Chesterfield, New Hampshire
We never had to shut down. In fact, we are busy. Everything is slower, but we have ten to fifteen campers sold and waiting for customers. We have deliveries and appointments scheduled through the end of May.
We sold all of our used campers, but our new camper inventory level is good. We currently have about 100 truck campers in stock. We have a load of Northstar Arrows and 12STC models on the way. A load of Northern Lite campers is also on the way soon. Lance travel trailers are about to arrive and we stock the Lance 1172, 855S, and 650 truck campers.
Customers are coming in with masks and gloves. We’re all washing our hands 15-times a day. The hard part is not touching your face, but I’ve finally got that down.
I’m doing more communication over the phone. We are cleaning and sanitizing the dealership and campers every day. We made some changes to our showroom for social distancing. When the weather is nice, we put our tables and chairs outside.
While things are slowed down, we are working on a new site plan and cleaning out our lower building. We graveled the lower lot. We have seven campsites now, so our customers can camp here.
“This has been an opportunity for us to get to projects done that we don’t usually have time for. That’s been great.” – Bill Penney, Truck Camper Warehouse
During the clean out, we have asked our service customers to wait a bit. Unless you have an urgent need, we prefer you to bring your camper to us for service in June or July.
My wife, Robin, and I went to the Turks and Caicos Islands and returned just as this was starting. That was too stressful. From now on, I’m going camping. I don’t want to fly. I think that’s why we are starting to see more interest. There are a boatload of people who want to get out and see things, but don’t want to fly or cruise anymore.
I also think demand for campground sites is going to be very high after this. Do you want to spend $80 to $90 a night to stay at a campground? Truck campers and their ability to boondock is the way to go. There are so many places you can go with a truck camper that you can’t with the larger RVs.
There is nothing better than a truck and camper to get away and bug out. That’s why we sold every camper on our lot after 9/11. After coronavirus, I think we’re going to have another sales surge like that.
I’m optimistic. Truck Camper Warehouse is fine. We own all of our inventory. We received the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) within 24-hours. We’re in good shape. When the weather changes, everyone is going to want to get out and camp.
Dave Hofert, Co-Owner
D&H RV Center, Apex, North Carolina
We never shut down and have maintained normal business hours. Everything we offer remains available; sales, service, parts, rentals, and finance. Customers can visit the dealership as usual.
D&H RV Center is classified as a car dealership because it gives us the ability to sell trucks. We also offer a propane station. That’s how we were deemed an essential business.
We have complied with the North Carolina laws concerning the situation. We have six-foot markers on the floor for social distancing, constantly spray everything with bleach, and have masks available for customers.
Our general rule is to never be in close quarters. We don’t shake hands and handle paperwork from safe distances. We let customers browse our inventory without a salesperson and stand outside units if they have questions. Even before coronavirus, we were employing virtual online video walkthroughs for out-of-state buyers.
Overall sales are down for March and April, but other areas of our business are strong. People are still buying campers at our North Carolina and Florida locations. We sold four truck campers last week.
Our service department is off-the-charts right now. Most of our repair techs do their work independently and outside using Gator UTVs. They drive their Gator up to a unit and work on it. Unless something needs to be opened up for a while, we have always worked on units independently and outside.
The city of Fayetteville, North Carolina rented 22 travel trailers from us for quarantine purposes. We don’t rent travel trailers, but they asked me to put a rental program together for them. That was a good opportunity for us. We also applied for and received the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) to help us cover payroll.
“Truck campers are a dominant force right now. We have the truck camper inventory that we need and are well stocked.” – Dave Hofert, D&H RV Center
A load of Palomino truck campers arrives next week and we just received loads of Northern Lites, Adventurers, and Eagle Caps. We also ordered the new Scout Olympic 6.5 that was recently featured in Truck Camper Magazine. I am excited about that camper.
I believe the RV industry will thrive as the pandemic winds down. RVs are a wonderful way to vacation while controlling your contact and distance with other people. We are encouraged.
Jim Murray, RV Manager
RV Center of Montana, Belgrade, Montana
We’re doing well. Our business never closed. We did have shifts with our sales department because it was slow for a while, but sales have started to pick up again.
We may run out of campers because manufacturers are shut down. Most of the RV plants are talking about opening in early May. Like we experienced in the 2008-2009 recession, there could be a shortage of parts and workers.
We have a good number of Northern Lites and Lance Campers on our lot for customers who want them now. I think business is going to come back in a big way.
Most of the business we do starts on the internet. There was one week recently where we were getting ten to twelve internet leads per day. That’s very good and shows that people want to buy campers and trailers.
We recently sold a Northern Lite to a customer who needed to return to Florida. He said, “I’m not staying in hotels. I’ll use the Northern Lite to stay safe on my way back.” That’s not a typical situation, but it’s something that happened because of coronavirus.
We are very careful to maintain a 6-foot distance. We have marks on the floor in the office to keep people apart. We also have gloves, Clorox wipes, and hand sanitizer at the doorway.
A lot of customers are wearing masks. We do not enter units with the customer. After someone has been in a camper, we wipe everything down.
There are not a lot of coronavirus cases here in Montana. There are only about 400 confirmed cases state-wide. This week our governor allowed barber shops, bars, and restaurants to open. You must sit at tables six-feet apart from the next table. Businesses are able to do about 25-percent of what they would normally handle.
Some people are overreacting, but my daughter is an RN (Registered Nurse) at a VA hospital. She said you really can’t overdo things during a pandemic like this.
People still want to enjoy family time. The question is, what are they going to do? That trip to Disney World isn’t likely, but they can buy an RV and go fishing, bird watching, and four-wheeling – especially in the west where we have a lot of land to spread out.
“I think the RV industry is going to boom after this is done.” – Jim Murray, RV Center of Montana
It’s going to be a great summer for us here. My fear is that we will sell everything and then not be able to replenish our inventory. I would also be concerned if we get more cases and need to shut down the economy again.
If those issues can be avoided, and fuel prices stay low, people are going to buy RVs.
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