Rhone RV at the Hershey RV Show in Hershey, Pennsylvania.




Rhone RV GM & PRVCA Chairman Brad Rhone Discusses Trends In Buying & Camping Lifestyle At Annual Pennsylvania Confab

Brad Rhone of Rhone RV in front of his dealer set up at the Hershey RV Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Seeing the perspective of an RV dealer while serving as the chairman of the Pennsylvania Recreational Vehicle & Campground Association [PRVCA] is a delicate balance. But understanding the customer and the interrelation in a larger scope with the manufacturers is just as critical. Brad Rhone of Rhone RV [of Cogan Station, PA] recognizes these different elements completely. Rhone sat down with The Buzz at the Hershey RV Show to discuss trends, show structure and the camping lifestyle.

The Buzz: Being a dealer at an RV show and how it works for the manufacturers is very interesting, and you're exclusively with Jayco at Rhone RV. Can you sort of talk about that? How that works?

Brad Rhone: Absolutely. We're one of three dealers in the display for Jayco, but we are an exclusive Jayco dealer. So that's all we sell from folding campers to the Class As to Senecas and everything in between. And it works for us. It's not for every dealership but we do very well. I like to be able to behind a good brand, and that's what we do.

The Buzz: Now, can you talk about what models come to a show, and how is that determined?

BR: Well, the Hershey show is a manufacturers' show. The first day’s today. And then they bring in all the units. I believe we have 92 Jaycos here. The three dealers divvy those units up.And we will buy whatever we sell or promise to buy. So they're all for sale by all dealers. This is a unique situation here. Not a lot of displays have three dealers in them. We're three friends. I'm celebrating our 50th year this year. We're the youngster of the bunch. Then at the end of the show, the units get shipped to whoever's dealership either sold or stepped up for them. And it usually works out fairly evenly. But that's how that works. Three dealers...all Jayco Dealers in Pennsylvania.

The Buzz: Now, does it depend on what customer comes up and looks at what different model? How does that work?

BR: It's sort of fair game. That's probably the biggest stressor of the whole show. Everybody's fair game. I win some. They win some. We lose some. They lose some. You got to take the attitude at the end, it was a win. It's 40, 50, 60 units that I wouldn't have sold last year. We’re three seasoned dealers who have respect for each other and do very well doing the show together.

The Buzz: Now, taking away from the actual show itself, can you talk about the current market for a dealer in this region between the Jay Flight versus the C versus others.

BR: We do all of it. We do trailers, fifth wheels, motorhomes. We have seen an uptick in motorized. I wouldn't say as large as the rest of it. Across the board, the market is strong. There is just no two ways -- these are the best of times for this industry. They really are. And the good news is nobody sees a cliff to fall off on the end. We're very strong. What has been driving our market [though] is smaller trailers…a lot of inexpensive, smaller, easier towed, not always lightweight, but easier towed trailers. But I've had a very good year in fifth wheels as well. I hear different spottiness on that.  We do some destination trailers, too. Large trailers that go and park but the increase in my business has really been in smaller, I'm going to say, beginner-type trailers, which is wonderful for the industry.

The Buzz: Can you talk about kind of demographic is doing that? Is it younger?

BR: It is. It's definitely the younger. I'm second generation. My son's third, and a lot of our increase has come from just general increase, but my son is also doing a very good job with the internet. We still have ways to go from where I did. But it's bringing that younger buyer in. We’ve had discussions recently about this. The younger buyer wants it [now]. “What do you mean, three days before I can get it? Can I take it home?” It's very much a millennial generation that wants it now, and we as a dealer buyer, we’re going to have to learn that. Now, there are limitations. These are not cars. We don't drive them off the lot, but we need to be more prepared to send them home. Instant gratification, essentially.

Outside of a Rhone RV repped JayFlight from Jayco at the Hershey RV Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: It comes to the fact -- if they want that quicker, they should pay more in terms of a fee (laughing).

BR: That's a wonderful thought, but the internet will fix that (laughing)

The Buzz: People do come and love to buy at a show because they love that rush of it, but the thing is they're going around with their phones now and comparing prices. How does that impact something like Hershey, from your perspective?

BR: Well, as far as coming and shopping and buying here rather than from a local dealer, you're saying? Well, there's no question. They should buy from their local dealers. Just back to the immediate gratification thing. This isn't a product that you don't have service and you don't need help with, and that kind of thing. Most people are not capable of taking care of all the needs of an RV.

The Buzz: But for people are coming in here from New York, New Jersey, and everything like that. A lot of those places don't have the sales and service structure like Pennsylvania has. And that's the paradox…

BR: It does put some people in some positions. And we as a dealership have taken on the attitude,  that we will service that customer. We take care of them whether we sold it or not. But I do have a dedication to my customers first. I have to take care of them first. But we'll take them. We'll take care of them, and hope to get them the next time. To put it very bluntly, there's a lot of positive to the Hershey show and buying, but there's some things that they need to be aware of when they buy here. They really do.

The Buzz: Can you talk about the industry side of this. This show is the first stop of the season.

BR: This is a buying show. This is not a spring show, where they go show to show to show to show to show. They come here to buy, and there are a lot of trailers and motorhomes sold here. I mentioned it in my talk last night at the PRVCA dinner. This puts a bump in this industry that we would not have. Being in September, the next two or three or four months, is when we need that business…we’re normally tailing off into a very slow time. I'm not going to tell you it makes us as busy as we would be in May, but it surely keeps a nice cash flow. And the business side of it -- and the manufacturer gains from that also. I mean, this is all put in here by the manufacturer. They wouldn't bring close to 100 trailers if there wasn't something good for them too. So, from a manufacturer's standpoint, this is a huge show. They love this show.

The Buzz: We talked about the younger generation but what about the older one?

BR: Motorized is important, and we do some more motorized than we did. The older people that are more seasoned campers -- and let me qualify this with -- I don't sell a Diesel Class A, which is where I think some of that business goes. But the Fifth Wheel market has been strong, the Pinnacle, the Northpoint, that high-end Fifth Wheel has been really strong for us. And they're your seasoned people. They've had their four or five or six [motorhomes] -- and we also see the opposite, people that have had that big rig that go back to a Class C. Let's call it a backwards slide. They've had the big stuff. They've bought a place or settled down but don't want to quit camping. So they buy something a little smaller. Even trailers…small trailers.

The Inside of a Rhone RV repped JayFlight from Jayco at the Hershey RV Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: Now, could you talk about how the aftermarket's affected this recently, especially with the millennials. They want more, more, more, more.

BR: Oh, absolutely. We have a large store and parts department. Satellites. We do a lot of Satellites anymore.

The Buzz: And that's evolving too.

BR: It is. That changes all the time. It's really not aftermarket, but I think what you're getting at is the remote control lights and the remote controls -- working it off my phone to run the jacks. It's generally OEM-type stuff, but they do want that. And everybody wants that stuff anymore. But I mean, some of that stuff -- remote control jacks, remote control slides on your phone -- are pretty inherent to the build of the trailer. And it changes our techs too. We have a real challenge with a guy that's a very mechanical guy. Now as our techs get younger that seems to get better too.

The Buzz: Where's the balance? Is there a balance of that in service?

BR: Well, it's a hard balance because getting techs, in general, is hard. All of my techs are old-time techs. Even some of our younger guys, my guys are all 10, 15, 20 years in the industry. I hired a kid out of high school who's here working with me in my parts department, and geez, if we get something out there where guys can't figure out on a TV or a radio, just send him out and he figures it because they know that stuff. But, yeah, it's a challenge for us.

The Buzz: So how do you try to think ahead of these trends? Is it just sort of trying to pivot when you can pivot?

BR: I think a lot of it comes from the manufacturer. I think our marketing is probably the pivot that we need to make. That that was hard for me and my son is doing a much better job than I was. I mean SEO? What's an SEO? (laughing)

The Buzz: What is it about this area?  What have you found has been sort of the localized sort of lifestyle for what people use camping for here?

BR: Well, we're located about 70 miles north of here. We’re more country. We're a little more rural than near the population center. And we've said this for years. I'm totally amazed that a farmer has a 100-acre farm, buys an RV, and goes camping. But it is a lifestyle that people get into. They enjoy it. They make friends. We're in some of the best camping area in the world. I mean the Pine Creek Valley and Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. We have rivers and lakes and that's where they go. The rivers are also a big thing for us. I mean river lots and boats. And then you have another sect that is your Florida -- we call them snowbirds -- they'll take RVs from here and head on south. And this newer customer seems to be event oriented. I mean they definitely do some campground camping. But the race, the wine fest, the beer fest. Just 20 of them get together in a field, you know what I mean? It's not the, "Let's go to the campground--"

The Buzz: Could you talk about loving what you do but also doing what you do?

BR: We do. And my whole family - my wife and myself - run the dealership. She's the financial side. I'm general manager. My son runs the sales now. My daughter is a little bit involved part-time. We really enjoy what we do, and we do what we do. We have a river lot. We camp at that. My wife and I spend about six weeks in Florida now in an RV. We do some motor homing. Not as much as I'd like just because of time constraints. But we use the product and I've got to tell you, from a dealer standpoint, I've learned more using it than I have selling it. I really have. You really gain a respect -- from a dealer standpoint -- you're selling something, [and say] "Yeah, just do this." Well, no you can't just because here's why.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

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